Yoga – A Secret to Longevity?
Plenty of people do associate yoga with old people, typically either ancient, 3,000 year old indian yogis or cheesy old westerners trying to keep fit or ‘burn that belly fat!’.
The truth is that, yes, plenty of people into yoga are old. The truth is also, however, that people of all ages do, can and should engage in yoga or yoga-like activity to promote longevity and live long and well enough to be ridiculed as the ‘3,000 year old yogi’!
Yoga has a long history of being related to, and in essence IS, human beings trying to find harmony and balance within themselves and with the world around them in order to lead peaceful, fulfilling lives. What is longevity? In a slightly more philosophical but still very true sense, it’s really just the same thing; as people grow older and older, we start to become more and more concerned with things like peace, harmony and balance. When applied to aspects of our lives like diet and exercise, these things are exactly what gives us longevity.
To put things mathematically, then, yoga = longevity, pretty much.
Completely irrespective of your own personal history, level of ability or strength or even how many limbs you have, yoga can be used to keep your body fresh, young, supple and healthy for years to come. It’s literally for everybody and that’s largely why it’s become so accessible over the last few decades in particular. However, being so adaptable and vast also makes it easy to personalize yoga for yourself and your body, helping it keep all sorts of different individuals healthy and strong.
But why exactly does yoga promote longevity so well? What does it do that helps us so much?
First and foremost, yoga obviously helps us build strength throughout the body.
A main reason people, particularly females, take up yoga is to build bodily strength without putting on too much size – it’s that beautiful control-over-your-own-body-type strength that helps us a lot in everyday life and keeps us lean. When we practice yoga, we typically load the joints in various asanas. These may be more minor and easy such as planking poses like Kumbhakasana, or they could be more difficult like full-blown handstands. What they have in common, though, is strengthening of the muscles as well as loading of the bones and joints with weight in such a way that the tissues that make up our joints are strengthened, loosened and stabilized to promote maximum joint health.
I myself, prior to doing much yoga and gymnastics style work, picked up dodgy elbows from years of unbalanced activity specializing in boxing. My elbows would often crack and hurt when I locked them out for straight armed poses. After a while though, and with attention, care and softening work too, my elbows developed and stabilized to the point where now I can almost get a free handstand and can do long wall handstands with no pain at all. My joints were gently introduced to load and stabilized itself as a result because of yoga, and I am grateful for this every day as I look forward to healthy elbows in my old age.
Some of yoga’s anti-injury abilities and its ability to promote joint integrity also comes from the fact that it helps us increase our flexibility.
When the joints have more range of motion, wear and tear is significantly reduced and they can be softened and relaxed in order to optimise healing. Moving in repetitive patterns and, as a consequence, becoming stiff and tight, is a leading cause of plenty of injuries in both athletes and regular individuals. It can be so easily avoided – the secret? Do yoga!
Most people are only really interested in the physical, blatant aspects like the fancy postures, the handstands and superhuman feats of flexibility, but one of the most significant reasons yoga helps to promote longevity is not in the strenuous poses or the stretches – it’s the breathing. Yogic breathing, is known as the art of pranayama (prana being the word used to describe the universal energy or force all around us). B. K. S. Iyengar said “Pranayama is a conscious prolongation of inhalation, retention and exhalation” and he really hit the nail on the head. It is used in various yogic practices and yoga styles to induce a meditative state and often has profound effects on energy levels and mood.
Yogic breathing can help reduce the rate of breathing in an individual.
The body gets trained to breathe more deeply and slowly, rather than breathing in the more typical shallow, chesty, panicked way that we often do, especially in corporate western society. Reducing breathing rate can help reduce heart rate as well, which in turn leads to reduced blood pressure and the relieving of unnecessary tension in the body. You can get a much better stretch and lengthen muscles more effectively if you breathe properly, deeply and slowly, and this leads on to many more benefits.
More efficient breathing ultimately gets more oxygen into the body with less effort and so gives the heart, lungs and other organs a big break. When they are less stressed during resting time, they are at less risk of becoming damaged or worn away. Yoga and yogic breathing exercises have been shown by studies to help reduce risks of cardiovascular disorders. Apart from just the breathing, yoga as aerobic activity has also been shown to reduce risks of heart disease. This is important when talking about longevity because heart disease is such a massive killer in both men and women and can be prevented with a healthy routine.
Finally and most simply, yoga promotes longevity so effectively because of the profound effects it often has on the way its practitioners look at life and their bodies.
With such an emphasis on finding harmony, living in the moment and experiencing your own body and self, yoga causes people to become far more conscious of their own bodies and the sensations they feel on a day to day basis. When you regularly practice yoga, it is a lot easier to notice the tiny things like a slightly abnormal sensation in the stomach or a feeling of slight imbalance around the shoulder etc. Being more aware of the body all the time goes a long way to ensure safety and sensibility, helping people to better look after themselves and their bodies. Being more aware of breathing and the body could definitely save plenty of people from a lot of the problems they have, often caused by things like overeating and sedentary living, or pushing through injuries unnecessarily. Self-awareness, in many many ways, is definitely the greatest gift yoga can give many of us.
Hopefully this article has been able to give you some insight into why people do yoga for longevity and why you should as well. I thoroughly enjoyed writing for this blog and hopefully I’ll be able to do it again before too long. Thanks for reading!