Yoga can be practiced by anyone, at any age. It helps young and old build strength, find balance, and stay flexible through low-impact movement.
B.K.S Iyengar, one of the world’s most well-known yoga masters passed away in 2014, just shy of his 97th birthday. He started life with a frail and sick body but grew to be able to hold conversations while standing on his head, a level of vitality he attributed to yoga.
“The practice of yoga asana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga,” he wrote in his book Light on Life. “Often, we hear people saying they remain active and light when they do just a little bit of asana practice. When a raw beginner experiences this state of well-being, it is not merely the external or anatomical effects of yoga. It is also about the internal physiological and psychological effects of the practice."
Here are some secrets from living master yogis, revealing how they use yoga and other holistic practices to stay healthy.
First Lady of Yoga, Lilias Folan
Lilias Folan, age 72, says the most important part of her practice happens in the morning.
“I start with about 5 or 10 minutes of bed-top stretches,” she told Yoga International. “I do some hip openers like baddha konasana (bound angle pose) and the beginning of pigeon pose. I follow that with about five minutes of kapalabhati (skull-shining breath). I visualize energy running up the front of my body and down the back, focusing on each chakra with the breath and sometimes repeating my mantra.”
Folan told Omega that she's enjoyed fairly balanced health for most of her life, until three years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"It did not take long for me to call upon every yoga skill I’d learned over the past 50 years and use them for healing on all levels of self," she said. "Visualizing and feeling my mind quiet, and the body as spacious and empty to receive healing energy with each breath, gave me strength and hope."
She says she keeps her eating habits and lifestyle quite simple these days.
"I enjoy a glass of wine or dessert of coconut ice cream. I keep up my hatha practice at home and attend classes. I turn myself upside down in some form of shoulder stand every day and work to keep my back and abdominals strong. What is different? Finding and feeling that which I feel grateful and thankful for, all throughout the day."
America's Got Talent Dancer, Tao Porchon-Lynch
Ninety-six-years-young, master yoga teacher (and dancer) Tao Porchon-Lynch says a short practice of yoga awakens the power of the inner energy like the dawn of a new day.
“I think a short practice of yoga resembles the sun rising over the horizon, opening up a new dawn of life for nature and mankind,” she told Omega.
“My own practice is based on the work I did in breathing with Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar in alignment. I'm constantly showing my students ways to accomplish asanas. I dive deep within and breathe the breath of life. I follow the energy of the life force up the ladder of life, the chakra energy centers. After my practice, my whole body is awake. It is as though I have opened up the door. Nothing to fear, neither physically nor mentally, like a flower opens up its petals to the sun and blossoms.”
Founder of the Bali Method, Madan Bali
Madan Bali, 91-year old yogi and founder of Yoga Bliss, says maintaining health throughout your life seems like a secret, but is actually simple.
“The antiaging process no longer needs any secret formula or external intervention, it's a conscious process and yoga provides a practical methodology of how to tap into inner reserves from its own pharmacy and help the body stay young and youthful,” Bali told Omega.
He recommends keeping tabs on our thoughts and emotions as they are the “content of our consciousness.”
“If there is any doubt, fear, or anxiety we will not only age the body but also wrinkle the soul,” he said. “It is the power of intention that can help the body to keep regenerating itself, and that is what yoga basically does—help shift our attention from the rational mind where we have judgment, expectations, and ego-based awareness that separate us from the source. Yoga helps to transcend the rational mind and shift into the transpersonal self where a sense of magnificence and infinite sense of resourcefulness with an automated technology keeps helping the body to regenerate and rejuvenate itself.”
Bali also recommends a healthy diet, “because food is medicine.”
When it comes to yoga practice, he says consistency is required to experience the best results. He recommends practicing twice a day to help hasten the body’s anti-aging process.
“In the plough and shoulder stand, the reverse antigravity positions can help bring the circulation into the brain centers (which are like the roots of a plant), and the bridge, bow, and cobra build strength and stamina, and stimulate cardiovascular benefits,” Bali said. “This routine has enabled me to not miss teaching a class of yoga due to sickness. Just like every part of a plant can only be nourished by the roots, there is no other way, likewise our body cannot flourish unless the roots (the neurons and the brain cells) are nourished profusely.”
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies