Whether it’s Madonna and her chiseled arms, Patricia Walden and her beautiful alignment or Ana Forrest and her awesome flexibility, people who practice yoga seem to defy time. Think about your fellow students and your teachers. How often have you done a double-take when one of them told you her or his age? It’s not just the rich and famous who are finding their personal fountain of youth on the mat. The optimism and energy of a youthful mind, body and spirit are available to everyone who comes to the mat—or takes their Yoga-Paws to the park.
While you may not be planning on doing 88 drop-backs as a birthday celebration (like Sri. K. Pattahbi Jois), yoga makes it more likely you’ll have the choice when that birthday comes. A regular practice keeps your body strong and supple—obviously. But it does the same for your mind and spirit. As you move through challenging asanas, you begin to gain confidence. You become more open to trying new poses, even the ones that look impossible. Like a young child, all you see are the possibilities. That’s not just feel-good conjecture. There’s science to support yoga’s role in keeping you young. That glow you leave class with isn’t just sweat! As with any form of exercise, yoga raises your metabolism and helps keep your brain engaged. Every deep inhale sends a fresh flow of oxygen to your cells, while every long exhale rids your body of toxins. Author Danna Demetre writes in her book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life: A Proven Plan for Healthy Living, that deep-breathing increases your immunity and helps remove toxins from your body by stimulating your lymphatic system. Inversions boost blood flow to your face. Lilias Folan
reminds students that every forward bend is a mini-facelift—and her youthful appearance offers more than adequate proof. Arm balances strengthen your core—and help define your abs. Twists engage the often-overlooked stabilizer muscles in the body, giving you better posture and a supple spine.
But, what makes your practice even more beneficial is the emphasis on mental serenity. Nothing ages you faster—inside or out—than stress. So what you can let go of on the mat might very well translate to fewer lines across your forehead, better hair or lower blood pressure. Yogi Sadie Nardini backs up that contention, citing a recent report that found regular yoga practitioners are biologically nine years younger than their non-exercising counterparts.
Whether you’re 20 and looking forward to 100 drop-backs at your own century mark or 99 and ready to do your first down dog, yoga can help keep you going and growing. Here are some starting points:
Cat/Cow Benefits: Renowned yoga teacher Sadie Nardini likes to use this pose to regulate reproductive and stress hormones. How to do it: Begin in Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Come up to your hands and knnes, with a flat back. With each inhale, arch your spine, drawing your shoulder blades. On an exhale, round your back, allowing your chin to drop toward your chest. Repeat for one minute or more.
Lunge (variation) Benefits: Nardini uses this twist version for its metabolic boost. How to do it: Begin in a lunge with your right leg front. Lift your left arm to your right knee. Slowly spin your right side up to clasp your hands in Namaste (Prayer Position). Gaze up to the ceiling. Lower your left knee if needed. Remain in the pose for five to 10 breaths and switch side.
Halasana (Plough Pose) Benefits: This inversion brings added circulation to your head and face. How to do it: Begin on your back with your legs stretched out. Press your palms into the mat, arms at your side. On an inhale, bring your legs up using your center and roll them to or toward the floor behind your head. Focusing on keeping your core engaged and lengthening your neck. Remain in the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then release.
Adho Mukha Vrkasana (Handstand) Benefits: This inversion stimulates blood flow to your head and strengthens your arms. How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), with your fingertips an inch or two away from a wall. Firm your shoulder blades. Bend your right leg in, keeping your left leg straight. Push through your left heel to kick up toward the wall. That may be as deep as you can go into the pose right now. If you can move into the full pose, engage your core and exhale as you kick up to the wall. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 seconds.
Sukhasana (Easy Pose)--Variation Benefits: This gentle twist massages your internal organs, stimulating digestion and the release of toxins. How to do it: Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your knees and drop them outward, cross both ankles under the opposite knee. Lengthen your back. Place your left hand on your right knee and your right hand on the floor behind you. Exhale and twist your spine. Hold for five to ten breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
As you practice these poses, let your mind become empty of stressful thoughts—while you are on the mat, you can’t also be getting groceries or answering your phone. Focus on the internal sensations of the poses. Feel your strength and flexibility.
Five poses for an energizing practice
Poses for a calmer day
Yoga Pose Library
As those who have been practicing yoga for a long time will agree, there is a strong connection between your body and your mind. When your mind is under stress, your body reflects it in many ways – poor posture, low back pain and tense muscles, just to name a few. It’s no wonder, then, that people who are under a tremendous amount of stress seem to age faster than those who have learned to manage it. Stress – and gravity, of course – is what makes us age.
There are seven basic attributes that characterize someone who’s vibrant and healthy, someone who seems to defy the effects of aging:
- Supple skin that radiates beauty
- Strong, shiny hair
- Well defined muscles and bone structure
- Boundless energy that lights up a room
- A light but firm and confident step
- A positive, well balanced attitude toward life
- A calm demeanor
Are you feeling it yet? Believe it or not, this can be you, and it has nothing to do with age. Enter yoga, the great age-defying stress reducer. Though not necessarily Ponce de Leon’s famed fountain of youth, practice yoga on a regular basis and you may just start to notice some welcome benefits. To start your own anti-aging campaign, try practicing the following a few times per week:
Flex Your Spine
Your spine is the foundation of everything you do. It helps your body maintain its structure, supports your head, arms and legs, and provides shock absorption for all of your activities. In addition, it houses your central nervous system, the highway that connects your brain to the rest of your body. With all of that work to do, it’s no wonder your spine gets tired on a daily basis. Even those with the best posture find themselves slouching at the end of a particularly stressful day. Give your spine some love with asanas (yoga poses) that elongate, strengthen and stretch your spine. Alternating cat and cow pose is a great start. A spine that’s flexible promotes good balance and strength.
Release Your Muscle Tension
Body aches and pains are often the result of tight muscles. From headaches
to back problems, tight muscles can slowly leave you permanently hunched over and limit your ability to perform activities that you love. Over time, range of motion can diminish and the activities you once loved can become challenging. Self-massage can improve circulation and warm up your muscles, encouraging them to release the toxins that cause you pain. A rule of thumb is to use light circular motion over joints and areas of pain and sweep with long strokes over areas such as the front of the thigh and arms. Self-massage is particularly useful to help you relax during the day – even if you spend just a couple of minutes massaging your neck. Another great time for self-massage is while you shower. Your skin and senses come alive in the steam of the shower and self-massage relaxes your muscles, readying you for the day ahead or preparing you for a restful evening.
Breathe in Life
Breathing correctly delivers oxygen to your bloodstream, nourishing every
single cell in your body. Breathing also acts as a purifier to help you rid your body of toxins collected throughout the day. The breath, or prana, is life. Pranayama is both the extension and the control of breath, and indeed the subtle energies of the body. Although there are many different schools of teaching, the most basic approach is breath awareness. Lying or sitting in a comfortable position and just noticing your breath for a set period of time reaps powerful benefits. You become more focused and relaxed. You can either simply notice your breath without judgment or focus your breath on a particular area of your body, such as that catch in your neck. With each inhale, you send the breath to your neck, extending love and compassion to that area that’s been crying for attention. With each exhale, you release, allowing tension and pain to leave your body with your breath. Pranayama is a gift you give to yourself.
Ready. Set. Meditate!
Looking for inner calm and a positive outlook on life? Take a minute – or ten – to bring your body, mind and senses into balance. Once you achieve this
balance through meditation, your nervous system will calm down, you’ll be less anxious and you might actually gain some powerful insights. About what? Only you can determine. There are a number of ways to meditate. You just need to find what works for you and stick with it. The process will show you the way. For starters, just focus on your breath with no judgment, as we discussed above. Just notice how it flows in and out of your body. Set a timer for five minutes and let go. If you notice your mind wandering away from your breath, gently bring it back to the breath. The breath is the beginning and end of all things.
Practicing Yoga at Home
Yoga and Stress