Yoga - Yoga and longevity
by Shameem Akthar
The one enduring promise of yoga is that of vital long life through the practice of death-defying asanas
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
One of the enticing promises in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is that certain asanas are death-defying. If you check the life-span of great yogis, even in the recent past or through history, you will find they lived longer lives with all their faculties intact till their last breath.
The entire thrust of pure yoga is that of longevity and clarity of thought, even in old age. It was not like any other body science, but specifically crafted to maintain the body-mind balance to reach our spiritual goals.
To be born as a human, especially a spiritually discerning one, requires us to pass through 84 lakh lives. After this long passage, only a few of us are invested with the deep longing for liberation (mumukshutva). Those of us born with this yearning had yoga, a powerful, effective weapon that would help lead towards self-realisation.
The death-defying practices of yoga are mentioned in several texts. Some important ones, common to all these texts are, kapalabhati (hyperventilating, skull-cleansing breathing practice), viparita karani mudra (psychic union pose), ujjayi pranayama (victory breathing) to name a few.
Of course, the depth and duration required to ensure longevity is different. BKS Iyengar, in his book, Light on Yoga suggests that a shoulder stand (also regarded as death-defying as is the headstand, along with other inversions), should be held for a minimum five minutes for its benefits to be accrued! Inversions defy gravity, drag on our insides and revitalise organ systems back to continuous youthfulness. The brain gets a tremendous boost of blood, so also major systems like the heart and lungs.
Even if all of us cannot hope to halt death, we can ensure that we live well with regular and intense practice, by learning to hold the inversions long and intensifying the depth of our pranayama practice.
Some of these practices need the body to be in a sattvic or pure state. Favour sparse, vegetarian meals, wake up and sleep early, meditate daily, avoid an overload of information by the media, avoid negative spaces, people, or influences and seek natural remedies like ayurveda for healing.
Go on your fours as in the classic cat stretch, on your knees and palms. Drop on your elbows, placing lower arms on ground. Lift up on your toes, straightening the legs. Interlock fingers. Inhale. Exhaling, move the torso slightly over arms.
Hold for a few minutes. Then inhale, return to the starting position. This is essentially a push-up pose, rocking over the interlocked hands.
Do five times initially. Then increase rounds to ten or more.
Benefits: It builds strength, prepares you for the headstand and improves focus.
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