Here is a true story:
I went to the bank this afternoon. The good-looking young security guy on the door stared at me when I went through the exit door. I wondered if he was going to check my bag. I said, “Have I done something wrong?”. He said, “No, you look really pretty. I wanted to know if you’re taken. Would you go out with me?”. I nearly dropped dead. Nothing like that has happened to me for about 90 years.
I burst out laughing and said, “Sweetheart I’ve got two children and I’m really old.”
But he made my day!
If this lady had been interested in staying ageless, this was one big missed opportunity. Instead she rejected youth in favour of a more elderly self. By aligning herself with older people the young guard would not have found attractive (she even mentions the number 90), by using condescending vocabulary (“Sweetheart”) in the way her mother may have done before, by stating she was ‘really old’ when she was only 50, she was instructing her body to appear that way in future, even though that morning it did not. How did she react to compliments from young men when she was 30? This is how she should also have reacted now.
We are more powerful than we know. If we are interested in staying ageless, we never mention our age. We never state, “I’m really old”. Not even, “I’m too old for you”. For every such statement sends us down a rung on the ladder of decline.
Every age has a vibration. Ages where we are potentially in transition – often the start of a new decade – are danger zones for vibratory shift. When we reach 40, 50, 60 our subconscious sends a powerful message to our bodies. Belief is the foundation of all realities – see examples of physical changes in people with multiple personalities and the blog post The Vibe of Youth). Subtly, slowly, we transform into the societal archetype of our new age, morphing into the picture of those we have known who have reached that age before us.
If 50, 60 or 70 had no social meaning it would be safe to state our age. But we have all been conditioned to expect certain behaviours and appearances from humans according to how long they have been around. Even for those who look young for their age, stating it becomes a game, one of fishing for compliments. Take the following scenario:
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know. 45?” (which probably means the person looks 50)
“I’m 60 years old!”
“Wow, you look amazing.”
This does us no good at all. Looking young considering how old we are is still sending the same message to our cells and tissues : we are 60 – with all that implies – even though we may not currently comply with how the majority of 60 year olds look.
For those who wish to remain ageless, if anyone does ask us such a direct question we can say :
“Oh dear…memory fails me, ask me another one.”
“I was born in the 20th century, that much I know.”
“Sorry, classified information.”
“In Martian years I’m coming up to 24.”
Curious individuals may use more subtle tricks to make us state our administrative age. For instance :
“Oh your eldest son is 22?” and later, “So how old were you when you had your first child?”
“How many years’ experience do you have in this area?” and later, “How old were you when you got the job?”
“Of course the people who arrived in the eighties had a tough job” (use of flattery)…and later, “You must be over 55, right?”
“So how many years do you have left until retirement?”
It is not easy to find an evasive answer without sounding rude, but “I can’t remember,” and a quick change of subject is better than falling into the trap and later thinking, “It’s no good. I can’t escape it. I’m on the way out.”
If we want the collective consciousness to harmonise with our chosen age, we do not want our “administrative” age to be “out there”. We never say “guess my age”, we never want to look “good for our age”, we never align ourselves with our age cohort, ever, unless we actually are the ‘social age’ that we wish to appear. A 26 year old who looks 26 could state her age, though it would be good to get out of the habit from the beginning. A 52 year old who looks 15 years younger should never do so, not even to him or herself, if intent on staying ageless. This is an area where a foggy memory is a good thing.
There are of course circumstances where it is impossible to conceal the number of earth years we have been around, such as in dealings with authority. In the film “The Age of Adaline”, when a police officer is startled by the age on Adaline’s ID, her instinct is to flee to another city. Such drastic measures are unnecessary. If we know we are about to have to reveal our age and yet we appear much younger, we can make an effort to veil our appearance in order to avoid the “shock” reaction in the person opposite us, which could jump our body into the parallel world where we aged like everyone else (“She said I couldn’t possibly be 65, that there must be a mistake. My appearance is therefore a mistake….”). Sometimes we can even put our adopted age rather than our administrative age on a form – the gym doesn’t need to know how old we are, nor do the supermarket loyalty card people. But this is not always possible if we want to avoid being charged with fraud. In order to avoid the startled reaction by a person who has our administrative age on file, a gorilla suit – or perhaps wearing large spectacles, ageing head-wear, severe hair styles and unflattering clothes for the few minutes of the interview – are temporary ways of avoiding having to justify our appearance! Experienced reality surfers can choose to temporarily appear older by consciously aligning themselves with their administrative age for a few moments, but this is only advisable for those no longer subject to the hypnotic power of this world of illusions – and how many of those people are there around!? But even if we have to strip naked for a new medic (medics who have known us for years usually fail to notice we aren’t changing due to change blindness), we can rest assured that we will soon be forgotten as the doctor moves onto other patients and to his/her own worries and cares. We slip away at the end of the appointment, not to be seen again until the next scheduled routine scan…perhaps in two years. Some choose never to see a doctor at all.
A situation where change blindness can fail is when we meet someone from our past who has not seen us in many years. If they are aware of how they themselves have changed they may well express genuine surprise. If they are from our own age cohort – for example an old school friend – this is dangerous territory. They don’t have to ask our age since they know already, and their energy and memories could affect our vibration, since we are ‘entangled’ with them from the past. Humour and moving swiftly on is a way out. For example :
“Maureen, you haven’t changed a bit. No, really. My God. You’re exactly the same. It’s incredible.”
“Must be the lighting in this bar; hey you’ll never guess who I heard from the other day.”
“Maureen, you still look like a young girl. I don’t believe it.”
“And you Betty – I’d have recognised you anywhere! Hey the risotto looks good, I’m having that. Now do I have a story for you. Remember that guy I nearly married?”
Many who apply the rule of never stating their age are mocked for their vanity. No matter, since it is not for vanity that we are refusing the age society wishes to pin on us. Instead we are aligning ourselves with our ideal age, soaking our bodies in the vibration of youth, affirming that growing younger is as natural as growing older, believing that regeneration is easier than degeneration, transcending the ageing process with the mind, which is the sole source of reality.
Did you know that how we position ourselves can affect what hormones are released in our bodies?
Try holding something between your teeth when feeling gloomy or uneasy about something. The ‘smile’ response will trigger feel-good hormones, whether there is a reason for smiling or not. Hormones are crucial to our continuing health, but they are not independent of our will, and we can control the amount we allow into our systems. Here’s why:
Social scientist Amy Cuddy’s TEDx talk explains how her team discovered that when assuming an alpha role in a situation or organisation an individual’s testosterone goes up significantly within days and their cortisol – the stress hormone – drops. To demonstrate this they had volunteers adopt high power poses (hands on hips, legs spread for instance) and low power poses (hunched, rubbing neck, hands between knees) for two minutes, after which they were asked to spit into a vial. Their saliva samples showed that the ‘low power poses’ caused a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. The ‘high power poses’ led to a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. Nature has ensured that those in control are both mentally strong and laid back at the same time.
Cortisol is one of the most damaging hormones to our DNA. Learning to adopt physical poses and facial expressions which counteract feelings of victimhood and suffering is a powerful way to combat the kind of disease and tissue damage seen in ageing. Ageing is not something that just happens with the passing of the years; it is the result of prolonged exposure to environmental stress which causes DNA damage and tissue inflammation.
Body language is part of what is known as non-verbal communication. Non-verbals govern how we feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds therefore, as illustrated in the above experiment, but by pro-actively adopting powerful poses, our minds can decide to change our bodies.
Our body language changes as we age. The question is to what degree are these changes inevitable, brought about by muscle loss and skeletal degradation? Exercise increases bone density at any age and nutrition can do wonders in avoiding these problems, but our attitude to our body is also crucial. Take posture – are we walking like an old person because we really can’t walk any other way, or could we stand straighter, walk more briskly? How often do we shuffle? Do we examine the pavement or engage with the outside world? When we shake someone’s hand, is it the firm grip of a confident person, or the limp, weak handshake of someone who has given up?
Adopting the physical gait and posture of a person in their prime triggers an immediate response in the body (see Ellen Langer’s Counterclockwise experiment). Just acting as if we were young has actual effects on our physical capacities – ranging from strength, memory, mood and even leading to better eyesight and hearing. We can ‘trick’ the body into being at its best in exactly the same way that the social cues that come with turning 60, 70 and beyond ‘trick’ us into believing we ‘just can’t do that anymore’. Our daily speech should ban forever all talk along the lines of “I’m doing this course before I go completely gaga”, “I’ll go on that trip before I become totally decrepit” and “I notice I’m much more tired these days”. Fatigue in particular is quoted as being part of the nocebo effect : patients in trials receiving a sugar pill who were told the new drug caused fatigue reported feeling so exhausted on some days they could not get out of bed.
Science is slowly confirming the Latin aphorism Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body), which is just about the best medical news of the 21st century. Let’s not lose the spring in our step. Believing in our continuing vitality is an excellent tool for avoiding the physical deterioration that so often accompanies later life. So let’s fake it till we make it.
Brigitte invited her husband to a university reunion 25 years after she graduated. Afterwards she remarked on how little everyone had changed and how young they all still looked. Her husband laughed and said she had to be joking. To him, they looked every inch like a bunch of middle-aged ladies, and Brigitte’s confusion grew when he said a couple of them looked like they would soon be drawing a pension.
One of the strongest cues that prevents us from ‘ageing backwards’ is the idea that ageing is a one-way street. The information that ageing is inevitable is seared into our world view, and to question it is considered merely vanity. However, underneath the fear of vanity there is often a greater fear, that of questioning the status quo, the world-as-is, of daring to transcend the reality we have been confronted with since childhood because the consequences of doing so are unknown, and may be dangerous.
Stepping out into the unknown is not for the faint-hearted. A paradigm shift – a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science – is a revolutionary move that threatens to alienate us from society, and perhaps isolate us completely. Who wants to be a circus freak?
In this way our thoughts and perceptions perpetuate our reality. Challenging the collective consciousness seems frightening, but there is really no need to fear people’s reactions if we succeed in convincing the cells of our body that we are 30 instead of 60. The reason? No one will notice.
Change blindness is a well-studied phenomenon where people fail to notice even glaringly obvious changes to their world because of the way the brain works. According to scientists in the Department of Psychology at the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, the brain uses memory and recall perception rather than what is actually there when viewing a familiar object or environment. We can only focus on a small part of our visual field, since trying to take in all details, all the time, would be exhausting. So our brain fills in the rest from memory even if things have changed since we first saw them. It saves energy by predicting what it is likely to see. This is one of the reasons we do not notice people ageing.
At a lecture given by a neuroscientist, the backdrop was an image of a European street. At the end of the lecture the professor asked the audience if they had noticed anything about the picture. No one had. Then he displayed the original image from the beginning of the lecture. There was an audible gasp – dozens of details had been changed, and no one had noticed. The brains of the people in the audience had used memory to predict what they were seeing at the end of the evening – thus completely missing the changes. The visual cortex does not simply react to visual stimuli but proactively predicts what it is likely to see in any given context – for example, within familiar environments such as your house or office.
This process is known as predictive coding and it suggests the brain is actively anticipating what input it will receive, rather than passively processing information as it arrives. This is why sometimes we miss new sights in a familiar environment. Our brain is seeing what it expects to see, rather than what is actually there. The brain transcends reality and replaces it with what it thinks should be reality. In Kantian philosophy, to “transcend” a direct observation or experience is to use reason and classifications to strive to match prior knowledge with the phenomena that are observed. Spot-the-difference games use many areas of the brain at once and are actually quite complex tasks, used in ‘brain training’ exercises.
Interesting experiments have been done demonstrating this “change blindness” (see video page). In one experiment a man at a desk bends down to fetch a document for a test participant, and hides while a completely different individual, with different hair type and colour, stands back up and continues to explain the test. 75% of participants failed to notice. The brain is very good at concentrating on individual tasks but can also make us miss something happening right in front of our eyes. Although individuals have a very good memory as to whether or not they have seen an image, they are generally poor at recalling the smaller details in that image. When we are visually stimulated with a complex image individuals usually retain only a gist of it and not the picture in its entirety. Magicians of course exploit this.
People reinterpret events to fit their view of reality, to avoid the collapse of their world. If we suddenly looked years younger most people who know us probably wouldn’t notice and if they did they’d put it down to more sleep or a better diet – even though tests have demonstrated that telomeres actually get longer even simply with lifestyle changes. Strangers however will see someone young. Did the world collapse when Christie Brinkley turned 60 and still looked 40? No, people merely laughed and asked who her surgeon was, which fits the current view no one over sixty can look young and beautiful without artificial help. But surgery alone can never make anyone look that much younger.
This is a post for advanced shape-shifters (see blog post “Shapeshifting”).
For every study linking healthy lifestyle to longer life, there’s another that contradicts it.
On the one hand studies of ageing show that only 20 to 30 percent of your chances of living to 80 are due to your genes. Twin studies in particular where one twin is healthier and lives longer than the other demonstrate that environmental factors are more important than genes. These environmental factors include diet, exercise but also where you live and what job you did. After 80 however, disease irrespective of lifestyle becomes far more common. It’s true we are living longer – a hundred years ago life expectancy was on average around 50 – but we now spend more time sick towards the end of our lives.
On the other hand, the number of supercentenarians is increasing. What distinguishes supercentenarians from the rest of the population is they generally remain healthy until shortly before death. In a study done on centenarians by Nir Barzilai in 2010 he found that they had no better habits than the rest of us – many smoked, were obese and did no exercise. The finding contradicts twin studies, and it would seem this is because the environmental factor does not apply to super-centenarians. This tiny proportion of the population seems to have exceptional longevity coded into their genes. Researchers believe only 0.002% of the population have these genes.
Several of these genes are associated with a lower risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, such as APOC3, IGF-r, and CETP. People with the rare favourable variant of APOC3 do not get heart attacks and may be protected against diabetes. The IGF receptor mutation affects how the body regulates insulin-like growth factor-1, a hormone that plays an important role in growth and metabolism and that appears to be important for longevity. CETP refers to cholesteryl ester transfer protein. Having the favourable CETP genotype is associated with increased levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and reduced levels of the bad LDL cholesterol. And people with this genotype have reduced rates of diabetes, heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
One thing is however clear : all these genes protect against conditions that we can protect against ourselves by tweaking the body’s environmental conditions. Diabetes and heart disease can be controlled by diet, exercise and stress management. The IGF receptor mutation is thought to be involved in the protective effects produced by calorie restriction. Dementia and Alzheimer’s can be tackled by constant learning and avoiding social isolation. So not having the genes the supercentenarians have does not mean the rest of us will not be supercentenarians. It simply means we have to work at it – and they do not.
Conscious of the fact most people will not have the staying to power to micro-manage their physical, emotional and mental lives in this way, companies are springing up everywhere hoping to produce drugs that mimic the effect of the super-longevity genes. The global anti-ageing industry is already set to grow to $275 billion by 2020 according to the market research firm Global Industry Analyst. Currently products seek mainly to minimise the effects of ageing (creams, Botox) rather than reverse ageing, but life extension research is stepping up to the plate and many – including Aubrey de Grey, chief scientific officer at the SENS Research Foundation – believe anti-ageing medicine will be the biggest industry ever to have been created. Hedge fund manager Joon Yun has launched the Palo Alto Longevity Prize for restoring vitality and extending lifespan in mice by 50%, and the California Life Company’s mission is to reverse engineer the biology that controls lifespan through age-defying drugs. Human Longevity Inc. plans to create a giant database of 1 million human genome sequences including from supercentenarians. Drugs such as Rapamycin (organ transplant drug) extend life in mice by 25%, the greatest achieved so far with a drug, and protects them against diseases of ageing including cancer and neurodegeneration. Tony Wyss-Coray at Stanford is researching using blood from the young to rejuvenate Alzheimer’s patients after blood plasma from young mice restored the mental capabilities of old mice.
Targeting individual diseases of ageing is not, scientists recognise, going to extend life span much. Fix the heart – you get diabetes. Fix cancer – you end up with Alzheimer’s. The Holy Grail of this research is to find the single Magic Pill that would reverse ageing in all organs at the same time. The approach is, however, a purely biological one, regarding humans as organic machines that can be kept alive indefinitely with the right maintenance and with regular replacement of worn-out parts. Only one major area of research differs from this approach. Dmitry Itskov, the Russian multi-millionaire internet mogul, has launched his “2045 Initiative”. The idea is to create technologies allowing our personalities to be downloaded to a non-biological body – a more advanced one – extending life to the point of immortality.
Leaving consciousness out of the equation when developing anti-ageing strategies is typical of the compartmentalised approach of modern science. Currently there is no real distinction between mind, brain and consciousness. Materialists believe consciousness is produced entirely by the brain and that mind has no effect on the body. The placebo/nocebo effect is a thorn in the side of those who believe this. Other posts on this site deal amply with the effect thought and perception have on ageing, and yet the current life-extension research ignores consciousness, despite the fact many studies indicate that feelings of hopelessness and a fatalistic approach to life are correlated with cancer and heart disease (see the work of Dr Peter Fenwick, neurophysiologist). In a 1998 Harvard study, watching compassionate acts was shown to upregulate the immune system of a group of students. There is evidence thoughts and emotions exist outside the body from hospital reports on people who have been resuscitated and then described in detail the actions of the CPR team, seen from a point a few metres away from the operating table. The “NDE” has been reported by something like 13 million people from all cultures and religious backgrounds. These incidents are ignored by reductionist materialism since it has no explanation for them.
We do not just need a healthy diet and exercise programme, we need healthy relationships – with ourselves and others. We need a healthy mind. Those who attend religious services live up to 14 years longer. Overwork counts too – those who fail to take a holiday are a third more likely to get heart disease. Optimists are also 77% less likely to get heart disease. If you have a negative thought (loneliness, the stress of abusive relationships)…stress hormones are activated, the fight or flight mode is triggered and if this continues over time…illness occurs. Self-repair mechanisms only kick in when the relaxation response is switched on.
In the great chain of explanation where physics explains chemistry, chemistry explains biology and biology explains parts of psychology, consciousness doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yet it is consciousness that creates the thoughts that turn on the stress response – and of course the relaxation response.
Increasingly some thinkers, even scientists, are seeing consciousness as fundamental to how the universe works. Only when we come to grips with consciousness and its effect on the way our body ages will we find the key to life extension, and perhaps even immortality.
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Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
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Hazel works for an NGO in Amsterdam, and describes how in the 1980s she took her parents who were visiting her there to see the Whirling Dervishes. “The ritual fascinated me, and the entire audience was electrified. You could have heard a pin drop. But my parents insisted we leave during the interval. Over a beer my father laughed in disbelief at how so many people could be duped into paying money to see a bunch of guys bowing and spinning around. I remembered this when this year I watched a role-play video on YouTube featuring someone pretending to give you a haircut. I now believe every one of the captivated members of that audience was in the minority of people who experience ASMR.”
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and describes a feeling of well-being known as attention-induced euphoria. Those who have experienced it talk of a ‘brain tingle’, ‘shivers on the scalp’ and ‘goose pimples on the neck’, a sense not of joy exactly but of satisfaction and contentment. The feelings always go back to childhood, and were often experienced when other children played with their hair, or during a dictation, or when the teacher wrote on the board and the class was attentive. Later in life these same sensations recur during religious rituals– Holy Communion for example – or during a medical examination, hair cut or interview of some sort. The key seems to be non-threatening attention, and often gentle individual care, where you have another person’s full attention and they are focused on you. Some scientists have pointed out the similarity to physical grooming in primates, where the aim is not to clean but to bond, or the purring in a cat when stroked, and that it also induces pleasure in animals.
“When I was a child I sometimes experienced a pleasant tingly, shivery feeling in my scalp when someone touched or stroked me. I don’t believe it was sexual, but was always afraid to mention it in case anyone thought I was weird. It is such a relief to suddenly find ASMR is now “a thing” “.
There are now thousands of ASMR videos online. Many feature young women speaking to the camera in a soft voice, often a whisper, and assuming a maternal, reassuring role. Some have foreign accents, enabling the listener to move easily beyond the meaning and into the sensation of sound, and many feature crackling, the uncapping of bottles and ruffling noises into binaural microphones to simulate sounds being made close to each ear. There are people pretending to give you a ‘cranial nerve exam’ featuring ‘follow the light and finger’, typing sounds and close-up personal attention, which appears to be the key. Others feature the sounds of pages being turned, the tapping of lacquered nails and the crinkling of new shirts. Another video is of a young woman showing you her Middle Eastern spice collection giving you her full attention while demanding nothing from you.
“I recall another ASMR moment, when I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language,” says Colin, an aid worker. “When I was approached with a toy by a young child, I expressed interest in it, as I could not contribute to the conversation the adults were having around us. The child responded by bringing me, one by one, all of her cuddly toys and explaining to me in baby noises who they were. I experienced shivers over my scalp and the back of my neck. I could have sat there for hours and have hundreds of toys explained to me in this language I didn’t speak, frozen in the delicious moment. You could describe it as a sort of pleasurable seizure.”
No research has yet been done into ASMR, but what seems to be happening is the triggering of the body’s relaxation response. Like meditation it is possible the brain begins to generate theta waves, the waves of deep intuition and the magical mind, but unlike meditation it is triggered by an external force, one which is non-threatening and which requires nothing of us, but instead appears to be serving us, giving us care, attention and honouring us. Endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin may be the associated hormones.
The placebo effect has been explained by the tender nurturing effect of a health-care provider – the doctor is the placebo. The doctor can also be the nocebo if he/she announces “You have an incurable disease”.
It may be that the intellectualised world in which we live has all but eliminated the relaxed, ‘cared-for’ response, which in some cases appears to get more difficult to trigger with age. Feeling deep connection with our being and the environment is not something Urban Man is used to, and thus these feelings may seem surprising when they occur. Those who for years said, “I thought it was only me,” are now seeing that few human experiences are confined to only one person. If the most popular ASMR videos are currently reaching over million hits worldwide, something is clearly happening here, and it is clearly “a thing”. Fans report that the videos alleviate stress, anxiety and insomnia, and it is this that makes it relevant to anti-ageing. Anything that relieves stress levels, induces the relaxation response and rekindles a sense of connection to the Source of all that is, slows down ageing.
It might therefore be worth checking these videos out. We may find we are part of the ASMR-experiencing minority.
Organised religion often gets a bad press. It is held responsible for corruption, intolerance, fanaticism, exploitation, declarations of holy war and rigid thinking. Ironically, peaceful existence of large numbers of people was first made possible by organised religion. It created society, solidarity, a sense of belonging and made agriculture, education and literacy possible. It inspired our laws and as a patron of the arts, creativity. People sometimes prefer to refer to themselves as spiritual rather than religious, but attending a religious service has surprising benefits, whether we are religious or not.
The main benefit is the sense of acceptance and identity. There is plenty of evidence that social contact and the feeling of belonging prolongs life. Rituals known and loved by a large group of people may not be seen as “useful” by non-religious folk, but what they do is enable synchronisation. This form of group cohesion is achieved by brains locking in to a common theme. When a song becomes a hit, millions of brains around the world synchronise. The internet has provided a new way for people to align without even being on the same continent, but actual physical presence increases this further. Emotion, movement, chanting and the recognition of patterns and rhythms have a powerful effect on the body and mind.
Recently ‘mirror neurons’ have been discovered in the brain. These are cells that respond to the actions of others as if one were carrying out the action oneself, thus provoking empathy. If music is involved in a religious service, the effect is enhanced. Singing together synchronises our heartbeats. Swedish research has found that joining a choir not only increases oxygen in the blood but triggers the release of oxytocin which lowers stress levels and blood pressure. Making spine-shivering harmonies with others seems to cause a cascade of deep, healing emotion in the singers and their audience. 60% of people with mental health issues see a distinct improvement a year after joining choirs, and many no longer meet the criteria for clinical depression; symptoms of other diseases (Parkinson’s, lung disease) also improve as well as posture, confidence and breathing. There is something unique and powerful about producing music with others.
“I don’t know what it is about sitting listening to a sermon,” said Agnes a 42 year old parishioner in South Wales, “But irrespective of the content, it makes me feel good. Many of the congregation are strangers to me, but we are all one community, and I like that.”
In the Christian religion, when the priest holds up his hand to bless the congregation, The Peace of the Lord be with you always, this promotes a sense of bonding, and triggers the all-important relaxation response. This is true of all organised religion.
Ritual is an extremely powerful force. The appeal of organised religion is not just intellectual and emotional, as those outside it may believe, it is physical. It taps into the sense that those who have been to the edge of death and back often speak of: the sense of the connection of all things, the universality of human consciousness. Such people often report feeling they were connected to all people everywhere, and all living things in nature, strongly contradicting the sense of separation and individuality many of us feel most of the time.
Though we are many, we are one body……
“I saw the Duchess of Valentinois at the age of seventy as fresh and attractive as when she was thirty…she was greatly loved and attended by one of the greatest, most valiant kings in the world…. I saw this lady six months before she died, still so beautiful that even the hardest heart, as far as I could tell, could not remained unmoved. Her beauty, her grace, her majesty and attractive appearance were the same as ever, and she had a pale complexion without using powder…..I believe that if this lady had lived another hundred years she would never have aged.”
Thus spoke Brantôme, a contemporary chronicler, of Diane de Poitiers, the great love of King Henry II in 16th century France.
Diane was a noblewoman at the court of King Francis. She was known for her great beauty and became the hated target of the King’s mistress and favourite, Anne d’Heilly. The fact that it was the king’s son Henri who fell in love with her and remained devoted to her till his death, though he was 18 years her junior, makes her unusual. Diane de Poitiers succeeded in overcoming ageing at a time when people were often worn out by thirty.
She was not just beautiful; there were psychological reasons for their liaison. Henri had a difficult childhood, having lost his mother as a little boy and remaining unloved by King Francis. Diane had been married at 15 to a man 39 years her senior. Despite this fact, and although he was also a hunchback, she gave her husband two daughters and remained faithful to him until his death But from a mother figure who educated Henri as a boy she became his mistress, somehow managing to remain beautiful until her death at 66.
Henri married Catherine de Medici. It was a political move and he probably had very little say in the matter. But the relationship with Diane continued (despite the fact Catherine was 19 years younger than Diane) and Catherine produced no heirs for nine years. When Henri became king in 1547 he was 30 and Diane was 47. Diane became the most powerful woman in the kingdom. It was only when Catherine was about to be sent back to Italy because of sterility that Diane insisted that Henri visit her in her chambers to produce heirs. She probably did this because Catherine could be controlled, and any other future queen was an unknown quantity. Curiously there is a lot of evidence that Catherine and Diane were close, spending a lot of time together; Diane nursed her back to health when she was ill with scarlet fever for example. Nevertheless, together Henri and Diane created a love symbol that was engraved over all Paris – two interwoven D’s with a line through the middle forming an H. All state documents were signed HenriDiane.
She was an intelligent businesswoman and managed her money so well she acquired great wealth – making her daughters rich when she died at Anet, the château where Catherine had banished her after Henri’s death at 40 from a lance through the eye during a tournament. Catherine de Medici was known for saying of Diane’s undying youthfulness, “Is it a potion of youth or some mysterious magic?”.
What did Diane do to stay so ageless?
• She bathed regularly – at a time when doctors thought water was harmful. Her doctor was Ambroise Paré, a famous surgeon, who encouraged her to wash (in cold water) every morning. In this way she protected herself from disease and boosted her immune system – she was known for never being ill.
• She used her intelligence to survive at court, not only overcoming the negative emotions of jealousy towards the queen by encouraging Henri to give Catherine children and thus secure her own place of influence, but also by using her influence with his father, sidestepping the very real threat from Anne d’Heilly who accused her of using witchcraft to stay young. She could have been burnt at the stake – but instead of succumbing to the incredible stress of such a threat, thought her way through it. She also used her influence with King Francis to obtain a pardon for her father who was about to be executed for his alleged involvement in a plot.
• She practised calorie restriction. Balzac mentions in La Comédie Humaine that she always ate sparingly.
• She maintained her mental agility, being highly cultured and a lover of the arts.
• She exercised regularly – highly unusual for the time and a woman of her status. Every morning at 6am she would go for a swim in the river close to the château, and she rode and hunted regularly. Modern forensic scientists who examined her bones testified to the fact she had led an athletic life.
• She relaxed every day. Immediately after her swim she would retire to her chambers for a massage with perfumed oils, a siesta or to read – thus triggering the relaxation response. Short-term stress followed by relaxation can trigger the body’s repair mechanisms (see blog post When Stress is Good..).
• She had a stable personality – she had been kind to her husband to whom she had been faithful, and good towards her daughters whom she made rich on her death. In her will she expressed the desire there should be no conflict between her children. She knew how to control negative emotions.
• She had a very strong motive for staying young – preserving her youth to remain attractive to the king. This may have enabled her to overcome social cues that cause ageing.
• She may have practised tantric sex. Her fascination with alchemy, the mystical version of which teaches that the font of eternal youth is found in “sexual transmutation” involving controlling orgasm, is well-documented. She always wore black and white – colours of mourning for her first husband perhaps, but curiously also the colours of the Yin-Yang circle representing the combination of male and female energy. She did not become pregnant even though her affair with Henri is thought to have begun when she was in her thirties. The alchemist Nostradamus was around, consulted regularly by Catherine de Medici. He became famous when the following verse seemed to come true when Henri was killed :
The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death.
It seems unlikely that Diane did not speak to Nostradamus; she may have consulted him on the secret of eternal youth. Nostradamus was a master of the Jewish Kabbalah, an initiatic system of ten levels of consciousness akin to Hindu Kundalini Yoga (tantra). Catherine de Medici treated him as her personal “psychic” and received many beauty potions from him.
Diane made one fatal mistake : she did not rely exclusively on her own spirit to overcome ageing. From somewhere – an alchemist, an apothecary – she obtained liquid gold. Gold, the inalterable metal, was believed to make the body inalterable too and was used as an elixir of youth. Even today some luxury anti-wrinkle creams contain gold. ‘Gold water’ varied in concentration – many alchemists simply poured water over gold to obtain “spirit of gold” – but Diane’s wealth enabled her to obtain a yellow solution containing real gold. When her bones were examined in 2009, along with a lock of hair snatched during the French revolution from her desecrated tomb, toxicological examinations carried out at the Raymond-Poincaré de Garches Hospital in Paris and published in the British Medical Journal found concentrations of gold 500 times higher than normal. This would have led to chronic intoxication, causing nausea, anaemia and brittle bones and hair. She also had no teeth left – but her doctor Ambroise Paré was a pioneer in dental prostheses and probably provided her with a set towards the end of her life, thus allowing her to continue to look stunning.
Failing to trust herself and the three rules of agelessness – calorie restriction, stress management and belief – proved fatal. She died of gold intoxication at the age of 66, still as beautiful as a young girl.