Benjamin Button and Yoga

Remember Benjamin Button? He was the lead character from the 2008 fantasy drama that starred Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The film, which received 13 Academy Award nominations and won three Oscars, depicted the life of a man who had to live his life backwards. Brad Pitt played the character of Button, who was born wrinkled and looked like an old man, but as the years passed, grew to look younger and younger. Eventually, he ended his life as a baby.

The picture, in my view, draws a number of parallels with yoga.

The first parallel is that a life lived backwards could be far more enriching. From a physical standpoint, the different inversion and backbend asanas from camel to wheel to shoulder and head stands, yield countless health benefits.

Two-thirds of our body resides below our heart most of the time.  The heart thus needs to work hard in order to send oxygen and blood round our body every millisecond. The heart also needs to send blood against gravity to our brain, which helps and guides the rest of the body to perform every menial task throughout the day. Whether upwards or downwards, the heart is a slave.

When we lift into a Sirsasana, all of a sudden, blood flows back to our heart more readily and our brain is a happy recipient of a pool of bonus blood and oxygen, making us more alert and reinvigorated.  Along the way, our digestive system takes the opportunity to remove stubborn remains in our intestines, just like how we flip our bags upside down to clear out rubbish sometimes. And strangely, there is a renewed sense of calm inside you just by viewing the world around you with an unusual lens.

The second parallel – the movie not only leaves everyone wondering whether Brad would end up with Cate, the film also piques the viewer’s interest from scene to scene wondering how he would look as he grew increasingly younger (and more handsome too!). I, for one, admit that when I first took up yoga, it was a case of using the stretching exercises in yoga to perform better at other competitive sports. It was a means to strengthen my core muscles, stretch out my hamstrings, and improve my flexibility.

But as I practiced yoga more regularly and developed a deeper understanding of this 5,000-year-old discipline, I started to realise, and experience, the anti-aging benefits of yoga too. My skin is clearer and firmer. My breath is deeper and more wholesome. My mind is clearer and more alert.  I feel young both physically and mentally. Today when I get into Trikonasana, it is not just about how I look, whether my body is in perfect alignment, it is also very much about how I feel and if I am happy. When I step out of the yoga studio, yoga has also become what I choose to eat and say, and very importantly, how I want to live my life and treat the people around me.

The third parallel — Brad knew when to give up when he needed to. In the film, he stepped back twice and left Cate, even though she was probably the only woman he had ever loved. As yoga students, we are told to suspend intentions or expectations because when there’s an intention, there is bound to be disappointment. When you do something without expecting anything, any outcome that comes along will be a bonus, a form of happiness. Do what you can, not what the person on the next mat is doing. It is only when you open up to your insecurities and fears, and acknowledge what your mind is telling you, that you can embark on a real path to conquer your wayward mind. And when the mind is conquered, the body will follow. So sometimes giving up and surrendering, in this case to yourself, is not a bad thing at all. You may just encounter a new, and happier, you.