Health and Wellbeing magazine, published an extract of this feature I wrote on how yoga can help you drop a decade – in the June 2018 issue. Read my full blog below.
Modern life ages us quickly if we are not careful. Most of us spend our time sitting at desks, staring at computer screens or sitting in car seats for long periods of time. We nod our heads, crooking our necks, looking at our phones. All this leads to bad posture and it can start at a very young age. As we get older, our routine can become more regimented. The things we do and our movements become restricted to our familiar patterns. The old saying ‘use it or lose it’ is very true. Over time new movements become challenging and we blame it on our age. If we continue to neglect our body and mind we age quickly developing aches and pains, we find we can’t do what we used to and can become depressed. The truth is you are never too old to start getting younger.
When I was in my late 30’s I struggled to tie up my shoelaces in the morning. I had stiff hamstrings and lower back pain from this simple movement. Every day I let out a groan as I put my foot on the second stair to help my forward fold to tie my shoes. I was well on my way to a steady decline in health. So I decided to take up yoga. That was 12 years ago and I now feel stronger, more agile and alert than I have ever felt (I’m 50).
Yoga keeps our bones, joints, muscles and all internal systems healthy. This includes the quality and radiance of our skin and the brightness of our mind. A regular Yoga practise of just 10-60 minutes a day can: Improve blood circulation adding a healthy glow to the skin. Aid digestion helping us absorb important nutrients. Help strengthen bones, improve arthritis and joint pain. Burn fat, help release toxins and tones muscles keeping us flexible and agile. Regulate blood pressure and pretty much improves every system of the body. All this boosts immunity, fighting disease and illness which ages us in big steps. Another major benefit is a better posture. We become more upright, this opens the front of our body, helps us breathe and enables energy to flow through us more freely keeping us feeling alive and energised. This increased energy helps our mind stay positive, stabilise emotions and helps us fight depression and anxiety.
If you want to take your practise further, inversions (going up-side-down) flood the head with fresh blood which revitalises the skin encouraging youthful looks. The good news is you don’t need to do headstand to get these benefits, simply laying on your back with your hips raised above your heart and legs up a wall will bring a youthful glow to your face. Breathing and meditation practices calm the central nervous system and reduce stress. When stressed we hold expressions, frowns and tension. When calm we relax and create less wrinkles. Yogic breathing is our natural Botox as facial muscles relax wrinkles disappear. Yoga has a way of turning back the clock.
A simple daily Yoga routine to help stay young is set below. Stick with stage 1 or add stage 2 or 2&3 depending on your available time. Try to do this daily or at least most days. You should find this investment in time pays you back many times over as you become more energised and see that life becomes easier. In addition try to get to a yoga class once or twice a week. There are many Yoga exercises to invigorate the body and it’s good to vary them from time to time.
Stage 1 – Sun Salutations (10 minutes)
Sun Salutations are a great all over body workout for our spine, shoulders and hips. If done with the breath it will also calm the mind and central nervous system. Do 3-10 sets of these every day.
Stand in Tadasana (toes together, heals apart, straight legs, engaged thighs, lift the pubic bone to tilt the hips back, pull in the lower front ribs and squeeze the abdominal muscles, lift the head to the ceiling to straighten the spine, drop the shoulders pull them back and push the chest forward).
- Inhale – Keep the arms straight, palms facing forward, and raise the arms above the head.
- Exhale – With everything straight fold forwards and reach for the floor (bend your knees if you need to), look to your toes.
- Inhale – Keep the fingers on the floor and lift the chest horizontal to the floor, straightening your back, look forwards.
- Exhale – Place palms on the floor and step back to plank (knees on the floor if you need to).
- Inhale – Hold plank.
- Exhale – bring the knees to the floor, keep your hips up and lower your chin and chest between your hands looking forwards (bum sticking up in the air).
- Inhale – Slide your chest along the floor, push with the hands lifting the chest and squeeze the lower back, look forwards.
- Exhale – Push with the hands, raise the hips to downward dog. Take a few long slow deep breaths here, looking towards your knees.
- Exhale – bend the knees to prepare, look forwards.
- Inhale – walk the feet forwards to joint the hands, lift the chest horizontal to the floor.
- Exhale – Fold forwards (bend your knees if you need to).
- Inhale – Keep everything straight as you hinge at the hips and raise your hands up above the head, push the hips forwards to a backbend.
- Exhale – hands down to your sides into Tadasana.
Stage 2 – Spinal twists, Forward folds and Back bends. (5-20 minutes)
It’s good to focus on the spine push it to its maximum movement in every direction. Twisting and flexing the spine is incredibly good for us. It helps refresh the blood and strengthen the tiny muscles around the vertebrae and also squeezes our internal organs giving them a healthy detox.
Exercises such as:
Cross legged spinal twist. Simply sit cross legged, place your right hand on your left knee and your left hand behind you, wrist touching your sacrum and fingers facing behind you. Inhale as you lengthen the spine making it vertical, exhale squeezing the belly in and twist to the left. Hold for 5-10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Forward Folds: When folding forwards its the back of the legs we are stretching (the hamstrings) always try to keep your back straight to avoid damage to the discs.
Back bends: Try Bridge pose, Bow pose or Wheel pose if you want more.
Stage 3 – Shoulders and hips (5-20 minutes)
Our shoulders and hips take a big hit with modern life so it is important to give them a good stretch. Most shoulders rest hunched and rounded closing the front of the body closing us to vitality. Hips can vary greatly from tilting forwards or backwards, both extremes putting strain on the back. This often leads from the hamstrings up to the hips creating bad posture up the spine.
Exercises such as: Warrior Pose 1&2, Triangle Pose and Table top pose are great for both shoulders and hips.
Shoulders: Eagle pose, Bow pose and Cow Face Arms pose.
Hips: Wide legged squat, Pidgeon and Happy baby pose.
No matter what stages you have practised, at the end of the routine make sure you find time to lay on your back in Savasana for 3-5 minutes to let the body settle. This is a great opportunity to begin to meditate and let your youthful child inside see the full joy of life.