The holidays are coming. People will be bustling up and down Michigan Avenue with large shopping bags and puffy coats, fuzzy hats and determined gait. If someone knocked into you on the sidewalk, would you be stable enough to hold your space and not get pushed over?
I asked this to a friend today, a woman about my height and twenty pounds lighter, ‘bird-boned’ by her own description. I swear, she looks like a feather to me. We were talking about our habits, what seems to be changing as we approach menopause, and how we envision our best selves in old age. I thought about the elder women in my family, who are all healthy in general, but not necessarily fit. What if someone knocked into them this holiday season, would I be dealing with a hip fracture over Christmas? The mortality rate for people over 65 in the year after a hip fracture is somewhere on the order of 25%. My friend and I definitely do not envision this for ourselves.
So what needs to happen in order for me to stand my ground in the face of some external force? I need a stable foundation, my feet in firm contact with the ground. I need a low, massive center of gravity. I need fast reflexes to contract and relax opposing muscles groups to bear the sudden and unexpected load. I cannot be rigid and brittle; rather I must exert flexibility, to absorb enough force to move with it and away from it on my own terms. I need to stand tall and face the force head on, with openness and grace, firmness and self-assurance, ready to assess instantly whether it was inadvertent or intentional, benign or malicious. And then I need clear-minded judgment to determine how to respond to either condition.
This may come naturally and easily in our 20s. Today, bum knee notwithstanding, I feel confident that I could meet such a force with appropriate strength and stability. My friend and I agreed today on a shared vision: STRONG OLD LADIES. We understand that this will not just happen because we will it; we need to fuel and train, rest and recover, and cultivate our mind-body connections, as well as our connections with others. Small habits, sustained over time, positive or negative, will yield predictable results. So the time is now to pay attention and establish some excellent patterns.
It occurs to me that this idea of stability and strength relates our physical to our mental and emotional well-being. While Amy Cuddy’s research has recently been called into question, I still adhere to the idea that power posing and physical posture can enhance or diminish confidence and self-efficacy. Wide stance, low center of gravity, elongated spine, and open arms: Stand strong, feel strong, think strong, speak and act strong. I have practiced power posing before presentations since 2015 and I believe I am better for it. And if it’s a placebo, I’ll take it—the benefits so far have outweighed the risks and costs.
Lastly, I think we can also apply this stability and strength awareness to our inner lives. Here I refer to our integrity. Our world changes ever faster, technology offering capabilities we had not dreamed even a decade ago. It seems every interaction these days is shorter, more ‘efficient,’ less personal. That is the default goal—low cost, high speed above all else. Change is often good. But we must also exercise judgment, and practice taking the long view, casting light from our core values onto a cautiously optimistic future, attending to and addressing the shadows. We should gut-check, with ourselves and one another. What are we really getting here? How will we use it mindfully? How can it serve us, rather than us serving it? When we are stable and strong in our shared humanity and collective goodwill, we arrive at the best answers to these questions. Then we can all be stable and flexible, and stronger as we age together.