Dance is healing in many ways. If I am really stressed, dance is an enormous antidote. It has, literally, saved me over the years. But it only helps if I can shut out of my mind what I’m freaking out about and stay in the moment. When I have been extremely upset, dance can be an escape. In those tough times my only choice is being present while dancing; otherwise I would be unable to move at all. When we are present and engaged in what we are doing, it is truly medicinal.
Often I find being in the moment challenging. I’m thinking about what I have to do next, or who I need to talk to or what phone call I have to make. I have to really force myself to stay present. Honestly, half the time I am not successful. This is why it’s called a practice, I guess.
The researchers, Calvin Harley and Elissa Epel, have studied telomeres.** These are structures on the ends of our chromosomes. Stress is one of the main reasons that telomeres shorten. This shortening causes cell replication to slow down and also causes the cell to be unstable. Non-replication and cell instability cause breakages in the chromosomes which, in turn, cause tissue damage. The result of this is what we see as “decline.” Epel says, “Stress is time travel.” We are upset about what happened in the past and worried about what may happen in the future. We are not engaged fully in the moment.
Stress causes the mind and the body to react in unhealthy ways. It can literally spin us out of our bodies. That is when we get lost. When we are not in our bodies, we are not in present time.
They found that telomeres can resist deterioration by the practice of being in the moment. And this is science! Meditation is a wonderful tool for the practice of being in the now; however it can seem daunting. You can use anything: dance, walking in nature, conversation with a friend, etc., to practice being present. It all counts.
The body’s job is to always remain balanced. When you overheat, you sweat. When you’re cold, you shiver to create more heat. When you get a cut, the body immediately begins a healing process. If stressful thoughts and feelings contribute to telomere shortening, why can’t positive thoughts and feelings promote telomere re-growth? I don’t know, but it seems reasonable to me. And fair, dammit!
If no one around us talked about how age causes degeneration, and if we didn’t see the result of all this talk encouraging the expectation of decline with age, and if we weren’t constantly bombarded with the collective thoughts of the culture that age means deterioration, how would we age?
I’m willing to bet that in all of us there is an 18-25 year old person who just doesn’t believe that she won’t be able to do x or y because of age.
That’s where I want to live.
The power is within you to decide how old you want to be.
The great news here is, even if you don’t believe that you have this power, if you practice being in the moment, the quality of your life and relationships rises because you are really here. Now.
**Here are Calvin Harley and Elissa Epel, the researchers lecturing at TedMed: (Click on the Q&A, too, it’s very interesting!)