by Justine Glenton
An Ashtanga & Zen Yoga Teacher
We often hear of yogis living to a very old age. In his book 'Autobiography of a Yogi', Yogananda speaks of Trailanga Swami, who was reputed to be over 300 years old, and Shankari Mai Jiew, who was born in 1826, was still alive in 1946. Maharishi Raghuvacharya lived to the age of 115 and Devraha Baba was believed to have lived to over 250 years old. Yogis well-known in the west who lived to a very old age include Krishnamacharya (101), Pattabhi Jois (93) and Indra Devi (103).
Not only are master yogis long lived, but they also maintain excellent health. For example, BKS Iyengar is still going strong at 91 and he was in better shape at 80 than many people at 40. Photos exist of Krishnamacharya doing full parsvakonasana at 78 years old , and Pattabhi Jois continued to teach yoga until the age of 90.
Yoga is one of the most ancient healing practices around today that holds the key to healthy ageing and coping with age-related diseases, including arthritis and high blood pressure. Yoga is an ideal way to ensure that you are ageing well.
Breaking the process down in key areas within our bodies, let us begin with:
According to Dr. Hans Selye, one of the foremost researchers in the world on how stress affects the body and founder of the International Institute of Stress at the University of Montreal, “Every stress leaves an indelible scar and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” Stress presents itself in a number of ways, including headaches, muscle stiffness and tightness, fatigue, and anxiety. Chronic stress, as discovered by Selye, can lead to a number of degenerative diseases, including coronary thrombosis, brain hemorrhage, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, kidney failure, arthritis, peptic ulcers and cancer. Yoga is one of the most effective, natural ways to relieve the body of stress. For those of you practicing yoga already, I have no doubt that you find you enter a yoga class in one state of mind and tensions, and leave in a completely different state. I call this 'changing the channel'. Yoga cleanses the body and calms the mind.
There are two primary reasons for loss of memory as we age. The first is an inadequate supply of blood to the brain. This may be caused by a subluxation in the spine. The second reason is tension or scarring in the meninges, which puts pressure on the brain and prevents synapses from firing properly. Yoga brings blood flow to the brain. It helps keep cranial sutures mobile so they don’t cram the meninges. It assists the movement of the spine, preventing subluxations and reversing ones that are already present. Sirsana (head stand variation).
Salamba Sarvangasana, Sirsana
Balance is the ability to control and maintain the body’s position whether in motion or remaining still. As people grow older, they may have trouble with their balance. Asana (poses) help cultivate the tiny muscles around the joints, which are critical in the development of balance. These poses also strengthen the ankles and hips, which help balance. Inversions (ie, salamba sarvangasana - shoulder stands) rebalance the energy in the ear canal, making sure the inner ear has enough blood supply. Inner ear problems are known for causing balance problems. Salamba Sarvangasana options 1 & 2.
As we age, yoga is a panacea for increasing endurance. Yoga teaches movement of the body in a safe and aligned way. It relieves tension in the diaphragm and rib cage, which helps the heart pump more easily. Through the practice of mild inversions (upside down poses) blood is pumped into the heart. In fact, some research shows that you pump more volume of blood through your heart in five minutes of inversions than in 30 minutes of jogging. Prasarita Padottanasana A.
Any bone not used by putting pressure on it starts to lose density. Yoga teaches how to put weight on our bones safely to build the density back. When combined with a sound nutrition program, the proper food builds strong bones. The key is not only what’s in the food, but how the body absorbs the nutrients. In the case of bones, the biggest myth is that milk is good for building bones, but in reality, the phosphorus in milk affects the absorption of calcium.
Ageing makes it harder for our bodies to move freely. This is why flexibility is so important as we age. What many people don’t realise is that flexibility by itself can actually be dangerous. The key to flexibility is including alignment and strength to cultivate the joints. Yoga doesn’t just aim to make us more flexible, but also to balance flexibility with strength.
Prasarita Padottanasana A, Urdhva Dhanurasana
As the human body ages, muscle mass deteriorates. Traditional muscle-building activities such as weight lifting, however, can place undue stress on our bodies as we get older and may end up causing injuries. Yoga, on the other hand, is a safe and gentle way to help build and maintain muscle mass, using our own bodies as our gyms. While a yoga practice will not make you look like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, when practised properly, it is an effective means of maintaining and developing muscle mass. It also provides the added benefit of combining lean muscle mass with flexibility, which is much more beneficial to an ageing body than building bulky, tight muscles that lack flexibility. The body becomes physically very balanced.
Good circulation and good health are intimately connected. When the circulation of blood is restricted, the cells of our bodies do not get the oxygen and nutrients needed to function effectively. When our circulation is sluggish, our vital energy drops and our whole physical, emotional, and mental response to daily life tends to take a negative turn. Turning the body halfway or completely upside down increases the circulation to the upper body, including the brain. Blood circulates around the neck, chest, and head, helping the lungs, throat, and sinuses to become resistant to infection. The endocrine glands in the throat and head (thyroid and parathyroid glands) also benefit from improved circulation. Upside-down poses control the metabolism of the body and regulate blood pressure, glucose levels, and chemical balance. During the course of a typical day, most people spend 16 hours with the head above the heart, and the legs and pelvic area below the heart.
Yoga is an ageless, timeless, holistic health system that teaches that the years after midlife are a time of greater perspective and illumination rather than deterioration.