Yoga – the fountain of youth or just ask Grandpa

Through the ages there have been many myths and legends about the quest for rejuvenation. Greek historian Herodotus wrote of a fountain of youth, Alexander the Great and Juan Ponce de León are said to have searched for it. A Chinese emperor sent out young men on a quest to find a pearl that would rejuvenate him. In Japan there are stories of hot springs that can heal wounds and restore youth. In Europe from the Middle Ages to the end of the 17th century, alchemists were looking for the Philosopher’s Stone that could turn lead into gold, prolong life and restore youth. In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian sells his soul so that his picture ages and fades instead of himself.

Today, there are countless commercials for creams, vitamins, supplements and programs that claim to restore youth. Most of them provide temporary results at best.

Here’s what I’ve definitely seen work. My own grandfather at 87 years young, speed walks for an hour each day, even in the snow; last winter he bought himself a pair of battery heated mittens so his hands stay warm. He swims 40 minutes 5 days a week and has a set of 30-minute yoga-like exercises that he performs each morning upon waking. He also surrounds himself with lots of positive people and participates in fun activities. Last week he went flying in a little Cessna plane and complained that the plane was too light and too slow, which is understandable, after all he was a fighter pilot. He is a great example of how regular exercise and a positive outlook are effective tools for a long and healthy life. He says that the minute he stops moving will be the minute he dies.

Perhaps Alexander the Great, Juan Ponce de León, the Chinese emperor, medieval alchemists and Dorian Gray all looked in the wrong place.  Perhaps all they needed to do was stop, take a breath, and ask my grandfather for advice.

Here are some yoga-inspired movements from my grandfather’s daily practice:

Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with hands in Namaste variations (hands together in a prayer position, then backs of the hands together).

This is a great exercise to release the stress we place on our wrists when typing. Yes, my grandfather types a lot, he does not go anywhere without his laptop. Stand with your feet hip width apart, hips above ankles, shoulders above hips. Place your hands together into the Namaste or prayer position. If you have sore wrists then stay there, otherwise keep pressing your hands together while lifting your elbows, allowing your wrists to bend deeper. Take 5 deep breaths and reverse the hands. Place the backs of your hands together, fingers pointing down. This may be plenty or keep pressing the backs of your hands together as you drop the elbows toward the floor and flex your wrists deeper. Take 5 breaths here, release and shake your hands out. Repeat 2-3 more times.

Tadasana- Mountain Pose variation with hands clasped behind the back.

This pose rolls back (quite literally) the damage we do by stooping our shoulders.

Remains standing in Tadasana, feet planted firmly on the floor, back long. Clasp your hands behind your back, or hold a strap or a towel if you cannot yet clasp. Inhale your heart up toward the ceiling, spread across your collarbones as you reach your lower ribs toward your hip flexors. This dual action of heart up – lower ribs down will help to bring the opening into your upper chest and also protect your lower back. If you have fairly open shoulders, keep spreading across your collar bones as you reach the clasped hands up, otherwise keep your hands where they are while actively spreading across the collar bones. Take  5-10 deep breaths  here, using your breath to open up your heart.  Return to Tadasana. Change the clasp of your hands so that the other thumb is on top and repeat the pose with the alternate hand clasp finishing in Tadasana.

Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge).

This is a great pose to undo the daily damage of sitting.  It lengthens hip flexors and releases stress on low back.

From Tadasana, bend your right knee, step the left foot back and bring your hands to the floor on either side of the right foot. If you cannot reach the floor you can use two yoga blocks, one under each hand or you can have your chair nearby and place your hands on the seat of the chair. Keep the left leg straight if you’d like more heat, or place the left knee on the floor. If you have sensitive knees, you may place a blanket or a towel under the left knee for padding. Lengthen through the front of your torso and draw the tailbone toward the floor to lengthen the low back. Keep all sides on the neck long. Spend at least 30 seconds in this pose, return to Tadasana for a breath and repeat this pose on the other side finishing in Tadasana.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose) to  Utkatasana (Fierce Pose) sequence

And now, let’s get moving, warming up our muscles and joints. From Tadasana, inhale and lift your arms overhead. You may reach directly toward the ceiling or take a slight back bend. Exhale, take your hips back and down, your knees will bend as a result coming into the Utkatasana or Fierce Pose. You may keep your hands overhead or take them parallel to the floor. Inhale, straighten your knees and lift your arms overhead, coming to standing. Exhale, take your hips back, bend your knees and take the arms parallel to the floor. Inhale, straighten the knees coming to standing.

Repeat. My grandfather does 30 of these every morning. How many can you do?

Article originally published in Holistically Savvy

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