I will never forget the first time I heard the word yoga in the early 50’s. I was around 7 years old and my Mom and her sister were looking at the cover of a woman’s magazine. They were laughing as they read the caption, “An Exercise System From India, HathaYoga”. The idea of lying on your back in Corpse Pose, ‘Savasana’, and burning calories was hilarious to them. They equated exercise with calisthenics and Jack La Lane. I didn’t get the joke, but I loved the word yoga. So when I took my first class in college in the dance department in 1967, I fondly remembered the magazine cover. As the instructor took us through what seemed like familiar movements and played soothing music, suggesting we relax different parts of our body; I began a loving relationship that has lasted for some 50 years!
You know that you are maturing when people say, “YOU LOOK GREAT FOR YOUR AGE.” At 70 this is what I often hear and what I reply is, “I OWE IT TO YOGA”. I don’t just mean the practice of postures, “asanas” but a total yogic life style. Committing to a regular practice reflects a commitment to your total sense of well-being. According to the one of the main scriptures of yoga, the Yoga Sutras, before we even begin practicing the postures, we have to be in a certain frame of mind. For this Patanjali, the father of yoga and the author of theYoga Sutras, suggests we practice certain guidelines called the Yamas (abstinences) such as to not harm and Niyamas (observances) such as truthfulness before we can embark upon the asana practice. A practice that leads to meditation.
From the beginning, we see that there is more to a yoga practice than meets the eye. The practice of yoga is often equated with good posture and proper breathing. We honor the structural and inner body alignment of our bodies and practice smooth even breathing which helps prevent injuries as well as allowing our energy to flow freely. We balance physical body strength and flexibility, mental concentration and attentiveness, and experience a spiritual awareness of being. After an asana practice, the body should feel refreshed and the mind quite. Having said this, we can imagine that our practice must be appropriate to our stage of life. A practice for a teenager and a 65 year old would not be the same. Both the teen and the senior have to respect their needs and their needs do change! Feeling good and looking good comes from honoring this change.
After practicing for several decades you can’t help become attuned to your needs. My practice now is different than it was 20 years ago. Although I still love vinyasa yoga that focuses on alignment, I find that active yoga followed by some restorative postures in the Iyengar tradition work best to keep my body strong and limber These restorative asanas are a time in the practice for action and relaxation simultaneously by activating muscles, toning the body organs and releasing undue mental and physical stress. Throughout my practice my pacing is slower than it was many years ago. I focus on details that allow my once super flexible body to warm up. Patience is a valuable partner in my practice these days.
Inversions, which are sometimes neglected in vinyasa yoga are my favorite asanas to stay youthful. They revitalize the whole system by preventing the harmful effects of gravity. By inverting the inner organ, inversions activate parts that may be sluggish, they improve circulation and tone the glandular system. They help concentration as blood is brought to the brain, and are a marvelous aid to sleep.
Another famous, hatha yoga text, Hatha Yoga Pradipdika states, ‘The practice (of inversions) should be done daily gradually increasing in duration; after 6 months, gray hairs and wrinkles become inconspicuous.” Although I still have gray hair and wrinkles and practice inversions 20 minutes each day, my “staying youthful because of yoga both inside and out had its moment a few years ago. After a viral infection, my doctor suggested I have a sonogram of my organs. When the technician saw the results he was amazed and asked if he could show his colleagues my pictures. “I have never seen such youthful organs in a woman of your age”, he proclaimed. A few months later, I was chosen to be the AARP Yoga Model. Although I don’t have any photos of my organs, here is a photo taken for AARP. You can see for yourself, if yoga does help us age in reverse!