Bye-bye beauty salons! The anti-aging benefits of yoga

There are various health related benefits to yoga. The good news is that anti-aging is one of these benefits! I have in fact met some instructors whom I thought were in their 40’s, only for them to surprise me by telling me that they were in their 60’s!

So, why exactly does yoga come with anti-aging benefits?

· Based on deep breathing

In the world of yoga, there is a breathing method called Pranayama, which is regarded as one of the most important aspects of yoga.

By performing these deep breaths, it has the effect of bringing energy into the body. This breathing method is what produces the following health benefits.

–   Normalizes hormone balance, allowing you to become youthful from within.

  • Lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow, helps digestion and activates metabolism of cells.
  • Stimulates parasympathetic nerves and furthers relaxing effect, reduces stress and anxiety, and suppresses inflammation in the body which causes aging.

–   Promotes turnover of the skin, improving skin glow and blood color.

・Trains your muscles to become elastic and supple
As we get older our muscles slowly deteriorate, and it is said that muscle fibers become thinner. However, similar to the brain, our muscles become stronger and more effective the more we train it.

The relaxed movements of yoga stimulate our tightened muscles without adding undue stress, and helps train them. It helps with skeletal realignment and improves our posture. As it places stress on our joints and connective tissues, our joints become strengthened as well.

As blood flow improves, our internal organs become active and metabolism improves, assisting in resolving obesity and improving body balance.
Furthermore, since antioxidant substances (substances to remove reactive oxygen) in our blood increase, waste accumulated in the body can be discharged, leading to the rejuvenation of the body. Because a strong core (mainly deep belly, pelvic floor, muscles along the spine etc.) will also be trained, we will become better at using our own body, and less likely to become injured in our daily lives.

・Improved balance and stability

We lose our sense of balance as we get older, as well as stability. Falling and broken bones are the most common reasons we need care as when we age. The number of people who suffer a broken femoral neck increase exponentially in accordance with age.

Yoga contains many poses which force us to maintain balance. Our brain and body must work in unison when trying to balance, and furthermore both sides of our brain must fire together. Yoga is also a good way to train both sides to communicate more efficiently.

・Heightened sense of inner consciousness, allowing us to live more mindfully

We often feel stress in our modern society. It is said that “stress is the source of a million diseases”, and stress can in fact trigger serious sicknesses. In addition, there are many people who are too busy with their daily tasks that they cannot devote any time to managing their own health.

Practicing yoga will allow you to turn your eyes toward your body and thoughts, and to notice even the subtlest of changes. It will also allow you to build healthy habits to not accumulate stress.


2 Recommended Anti-aging Poses

・Shoulder Stand
A pose that secretes hormones for rejuvenation. It is effective for improving poor circulation and swelling.

First, lay down facing up. Keep your legs perfectly straight, and slowly extend them towards the ceiling. Hold your hips with both hands, and continue to lift your butt and hips toward the ceiling, in that particular order. Try to think of it as standing on your shoulders and keep your body as straight as possible.

Exhale and inhale for a few repetitions, slowly bring your body back to the floor and you’re done!

・Camel pose
It is a pose that improves blood flow, activates internal organs and produces a detox effect. It is recommended for people with desk jobs, stiff shoulders, and hunchbacks.

First, spread your legs slightly and stand on your knees with your toes vertical to the floor. Exhale slowly while pushing your pelvis forward, and open up your chest while looking up at the ceiling.

If possible, try to touch your heels with your hands for a better effect. Exhale and inhale for 5 repetitions in that pose, and slowly bring your body back.

Haruka

Yoga = Instagrammable Poses?

When you think of Yoga, what comes to your mind?

A bearded monk meditating in India ? A flexible woman who is in an Instagrammable pose? Or a fashionable lifestyle practiced by celebrities in Hollywood ?

Yes, these are the typical stereotypes about Yoga. But these stereotypes are often misleading. Yoga is not all about poses.

Yoga in our modern society has been commercialized to a large extent and it has lost some of its originality and tradition.

The purpose of practicing Yoga in the modern context is “to attain good physical health”, however, originally it was “to attain peace of mind”. In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, the word “Yoga” means “connection”, where the mind, body and soul are in perfect harmony.

The basis of Yoga is “the ability to control your thought fluctuations” as mentioned in Yoga Sutra, a widely regarded primary text on yoga, and the best way to achieve this is through meditation. Fundamentally, meditation requires one to close out all other senses and to concentrate or apply single focus on one particular objective. Being in a meditative state is Yoga itself.

In Sanskrit, these poses are referred to as “Asana”, and the root meaning of the term Asana is to be in the sitting position. Contrary to popular belief, the numerous Asanas practiced in yoga serve as building blocks to build a strong foundation for one to meditate which often lasts for hours. 

It might seem illogical but Asana in its original form, which is the sitting position is far more difficult than the other forms and positions of Asanas which are practiced today. This is because sitting asana requires a long sustained combination of controlled and steady breathing, upright posture of the torso and most importantly, which happens to be the most difficult, a fully-focused mind.

The Yoga Sutras refers to eight limbs (Ashtanga) of yoga, each of which offers guidance on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

  1. YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
  2. NIYAMA– Positive duties or observances
  3. ASANA – Posture
  4. PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
  5. PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
  6. DHARANA – Focused concentration
  7. DHYANA – Meditative absorption
  8. SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment

The first five of eight limbs including Asana which is the third limb, serve as a preparation for the last three limbs which are forms of meditation.

Modern practitioners have lost their ways by coming up with versions of yoga such as “Dog Yoga”, “Beer Yoga” and the like and have deviated from the true form and meaning of yoga.

While it is great that people are starting to take care of their health through yoga, I sincerely hope that the original meaning, practice and art of yoga will never be diminished and always be kept intact in its truest and original form.

Haruka

Asana is not a competition – It is rather a tool to face your inner self

For many of those who practice Yoga, it is not an exaggeration to say that their only goal is to be able to do those poses well.

In our modern competitive society, we are being compared with one another in many facets of our lives, ranked, categorized, and always being concerned with evaluation and critique by others. For that reason, many of us compare ourselves with others and become discouraged when we can’t pose as well as others. I believe there are many people who gave up on Yoga for this very reason.

I heard from an instructor who has practiced Yoga for many years say, “I have seen a lot of people who are strongly motivated by self-manifestation, become arrogant, and become more competitive only because they can do advanced poses.” The instructor continued, “There were many people who were pure when practicing yoga, but became egotistical once they became yoga instructors.”

However, originally, Asana is not intended as a competition for the beauty of the shape of the pose. The purpose of Asana to see one’s own inner self, and to be done in sync with one’s breathing. Asana aims to allow people to notice their own essence by abandoning their own obsession, purifying themselves and turning their consciousness inwards. In essence, a person being able to do highly advanced poses does not necessarily mean that that person is deepening his or her yoga experience.

Among the teachings of yoga is Aparigraha (often translates to ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness). This means to not become greedy, conquer one’s possessiveness, not become overly attached to things, and to first notice the things we have at hand, before we begin to desire other things. It is a philosophy that teaches us that “as long as we desire things from outside, we will never be able to realize our inner happiness”.

In yoga, it is believed that inside our exterior lies our true inner self, and our inner self is completely and perfectly content and happy with its current state. People become so caught up in obtaining happiness from without that we don’t notice our happiness from within, and suffer as a result. The true mission of yoga is to be able to find our already content inner self.

What should we do?

I believe that it is important to first realize that we are comparing ourselves, correct ourselves when we notice this, and to gradually shift our focus from comparing ourselves with others (focusing on things outside of us) to noticing our own state and feeling changes occurring within. Another philosophy of yoga is that if we somehow go down a wrong path, we are allowed to correct our course as many times as it takes. If we must compare, it is important for us to compare ourselves today to ourselves from the past, rather than comparing with others.

 

The reason I decided to write this article is because I myself have actually experienced this recently. I did yoga with classmates who are much better at posing than me during TTC (Teacher Training Course), and became disappointed when comparing myself with them. Every time I became discouraged I tried over and over again not to compare myself with people but to turn my consciousness towards my own growth. And three weeks later, I feel like I am gradually becoming able to accept that I need to progress at my own pace, and to be able to praise myself for growing ever so slightly every day.

Even in the aspects of my daily life other than yoga, I will try to stop comparing with people and turn my eyes to the inner side of myself, and be able to constantly maintain “Shanti”.

Haruka

What was the biggest change that occurred during my first week of TTC?

I have just completed the first week of my TTC training.

I have learned so much in this past week, but one of the biggest lessons of them all was the importance of raising awareness to my own body, by giving myself ample time to study my body on a daily basis. I was able to notice slight quirks and conditions of my body by performing Asana.

When most people think of yoga, “flexibility” probably first comes to mind (I was also one of those people before I started TTC) but in actuality proper body alignment, stability and increasing are just as important as flexibility, if not more. Very basic Asana is performed over and over in the first week of TTC, to allow you to build the foundation of the aforementioned aspects.

With that being said, I noticed that there are similarities to poses that are difficult to perform, and poses that help realign your body.

For example:

・The unnecessary protruding of my butt during the chair pose was corrected

・I was told that there is pressure on my back when performing the downward facing dog

・My back hurt every time I performed a back-rounding pose, such as the Pawan Muktasana

・I couldn’t properly twist for twisting poses

etc.

The reason?

The cause of these problems was lordosis. Lordosis is an excessive inward curvature of the lower back.

During the class, Master Paalu said, “Stand with your back on the wall. If your fist fits in the curvature of your back, you have Lordosis.” I tried it and sure enough, my fist fit between my back and the wall. I noticed at that moment that all my problems with my back were being caused by the excessive curvature of my back.

The excessive curvature of my waist was causing imbalances in my shoulder blades, shoulders, and upper back. I always had chronic pain in the region between my shoulder blades and the spine below the shoulder blades. I would feel a huge knot just by breathing in deeply. I had always felt better after receiving a massage or going to a physical therapist, only for the pain to return after some time.

Master Paalu advised that I should focus on twisting my body, and I continued this for a while. I also researched and tried solutions for lordosis, and voila, the back pain that had long haunted me got much better! If you have pain in your shoulder and back like I used to, you just might have lordosis as well. You may be able to cure with just a little bit of training, as I was able to.

We, including myself, are part of a generation that is constantly busy and spend the majority of our days sitting in front of a computer or fiddling with our smartphones, and as a result have our wellbeing and time to focus on our bodies very low on our priority list.

Even just 10 to 15 minutes a day is enough, so I plan on performing Asana every day to be able to be able to understand where I may have issues in my body, and to be able to fix these issues on a daily basis.

Haruka