Yoga - Forever Young
by Shameem Akthar
Yoga practice yields youthful luster, arrests old age, and helps retain mental clarity and enthusiasm
Yogic lore is replete with stories of gurus living long and healthy lives. Gurus like Kuvalyadham, Krishnmacharya, Indra Devi lived into ripe old age enjoying a mental clarity youth would have envied. They also continued their asana practice right into old age. Today ‘the rock stars’ of yoga, Pattabhi Jois (in his 90s) and B.K.S. Iyengar (in his late 80s) can put many a youth to shame with their youthful energy and vigor. Both attribute these to their yoga practice, of course.
The purpose of yoga was to extend life so that this rare gift of human birth was put to valid use. It was not out of fear of death or out of egotistic impulse to prolong life, but for a higher goal that, in effect, transcended both. Yoga was a tool then to push this pulse of spirituality to its fruition, so that we could use every moment of this human existence for its actual purpose. Geranda Samhita advises us, “The body always wears away like an unbaked clay pot placed in water. Therefore, one should cultivate bodily fitness by tempering it with the fire of yoga.”
If you have heard of gurus who died young, it may be only because their social and spiritual commitments prevented them from their yogic sadhana, devised by rishis precisely to enhance health and longevity so that spiritual enthusiasm could be supported by physical youth. By constantly activating purification in the mind and body – through food habits, kriyas or cleansing practices, asana and pranayama (postures and breathing), spiritual consciousness (whatever your religion)– yoga rejuvenates and recharges the body constantly. Whatever your age, disability, even inclination (even if you are the lazy sort who dislikes any form of exercise!), yoga has a solution for any body or mental type. The only thing demanded from yoga is discipline and regularity. It is amazing that a 15-minute practice daily should yield youthful lustre, arrest old age, retain mental clarity and enthusiasm that even the chronologically young lack. This is because yoga has been crafted with astounding scientific precision that continues to amaze the medical community. Unfortunately, a majority of Indians seem to view yoga as some sort of old-age practice for which they will find time only during their retirement!
If you start yoga today you can dispense with your pots and creams (if you are a woman), packets of medicine and stacks of medical bills, say goodbye to aches and pains, diseases and decay to rediscover youth that is, otherwise, being siphoned out of you every second! The best part is that yoga is an absolutely inexpensive investment (barring your one-time investment in fees – and in India even that is laughably low). And you are forever empowered physically. Some of the yogic gurus were so empowered that they could, like Swami Sivananda – my Sadguru, decide a year earlier on the day he wanted to die because of its ausipiciousness and, without an iota of fear over death, enter mahasamadhi.
The most important asanas for a youthful body and mind are viparita karani (covered earlier), sirsashana or head pose, sarvangasana or shoulder stand, paschimottanasana (forward-bending), ujjayi or victory breathing.
Ujjayi pranayama is a simple breathing technique with powerful impact. Sit in a meditative pose. As you inhale, press down on your glottis (in the throat region) so that a slight snoring sound is produced. Only you should be able to hear this sound, which must be gentle and soft. As you exhale, you must repeat this pressure and sound. This has a marvelous impact on blood pressure, which is actually part of the body’s regulatory mechanism. This breathing also lowers BP by giving a signal to the baro-receptor in the under-jaw region, the message to relax. It also seems to have an important impact on the powerful vague nerve which is a component of the parasympathetic nervous system, or the rejuvenating other half of our autonomic nervous system.
Though it is essential to have an equation of counts to which you can inhale and exhale, initially only concentrate on extending the exhalation. Ujjayi is known to stop decay and disease in the body.