It seems as we age, we become more and more interested in the topic of aging. Some questions arise about how to age well, how to avoid aging altogether <wink>, and how to keep our physical and mental faculties so we can enjoy our latter years.
These are not new questions, even if the asking seems a bit more frantic in this youth obsessed era. Let’s look at some exercises designed to help one age more gracefully. Breathing exercises and meditation are an essential part of any good anti-aging program. It is considered normal that the brain shrinks as we age. This doesn’t have to be the case, or we can at least slow this process down with meditation and breathing.
The Rejuvenation Meditation and the Frontal Lobe Exercises are good examples of what you can do to slow the aging process and bring health and regenerative capabilities to the mind and body. You can introduce one or both of these exercises into your daily routine. Though you may start to feel immediate benefits of conscious breathing and caring for your health, greater benefits are felt after practicing these exercises daily for 40 or more days in a row. 40 days is the amount of time it takes to establish a new habit, or put another way, the amount of time it takes to change a pattern of thinking and establish a new pathway in the brain.
Yoga at Your Desk
There are lots of different stretches and techniques you can use to get through your day at work. Mainly it is important to move around and interrupt prolonged periods of sitting and staring at a computer screen.
Increasing Lung Capacity
The lung capacity of a person can be as little as 300 cc’s (.3 L or about 1.25 cups). Normally it should be 500 to 700 cc’s (.7 L or 2.75 cups). It can go up to 1800 cc’s (1.8 L or 1.75 quarts).
“Oxygen purifies the blood and puts the red back in the corpuscles. If your lung capacity shrinks, the amount of oxygen you can intake will shrink, and your blood will not be cleansed well. This will expose you to infections.” - Yogi Bhajan
In the average person, the amount of oxygen in the blood is 11-15%, but there are breathing exercises that can increase that percentage (by helping improve lung capacity). Of course, physical exercise will also do this, but for people with restricted movement or injury, breath work is a useful approach. As lung capacity increases, so does the percentage of oxygen in the blood (aiming towards 21%). The more oxygen in the blood, the more capable we are to burn fat, manage weight, and resist infection. It also means that more oxygen is supplied to all the major organs of the body, leaving them in better state. (Note: most organs will tolerate between 11-17%, but the brain needs more oxygen; 18-21% for optimal function).
Fatty oxidation can only occur in the presence of oxygen. Carbs, on the other hand, can be broken down without oxygen present. This is why as activity levels increase there is a conversion from fat being burned primarily towards carb burning.
Bottom line: With adequate levels of oxygen, the body can burn fat. Without enough oxygen, the body can no longer burn fat and may instead burn protein or carbs, or simply become fatigued and not have the energy required to properly feed the brain and major organs.
When my classmate did this exercise, 15 minutes per day for 40 days, he lost 12 lbs. Results may vary (every body is different, lung sizes are different, amount of body fat different, etc.), but it is guaranteed to improve your health in many ways as a result of consistent practice, including healthier internal organs. Pumping the navel point, which happens naturally when you laugh, is a fantastic abdominal massage. It helps keep the internal organs healthy. There is an ancient yogic belief that “pumping the navel point every day will keep 500 diseases away”. Another great reason to practice Breath of Fire and to laugh every day! I am about to start a 40 day experiment, adding this breath exercise into my daily routine. I will report on the results once it is complete.
The Exercise: Breath of Fire
One of the easiest and most effective ways to increase lung capacity (and therefore better oxygenate the blood), is to practice the breathing technique called “Breath of Fire” for 5-15 minutes per day. The idea is to use the navel point to actively control exhalation. Pulling in the navel and lower abdomen forces the diaphragm upwards which then pushes air out of the lungs. Then relaxing the navel point on the inhalation draws the diaphragm downwards making space for the lungs to expand as we passively inhale.
1) Sit with a tall straight spine. Note: For this exercise, the body remains relatively still except for the pumping action of the navel.
2) Pull the chin back slightly (this helps to avoid feeling too light-headed during the exercise).
3) Inhale (relax the navel and let the belly expand). Exhale actively by contracting the navel point.
4) Repeat step #3 taking care that the inhale and exhale are equal (both take the same amount of time). The breath is powerful and rhythmic.
Start with a slower pace, and then aim for 2-3 breaths per second. When you first begin this daily habit, one minute of this type of breathing may feel like a lot. Start with that, increasing the duration an extra minute or two every few days up to 15 minutes daily as you feel you can.
Clay Foot Bath
Have you ever tried soaking your feet in hot water to which some clay has been added. The heat of the water opens the pores in the feet. The clay in the water helps to draw out toxins. You are left feeling relaxed and your feet feel spectacular. See the clay soak video or follow the instructions below.
When is a good time do a clay soak?
- When you have swollen feet or ankles at the end of a long day of sitting or standing
- Your feet have a strong unpleasant odor
- The bottoms of your feet are strangely colored (for example, very yellow)
- You are stressed and need to relax
You will need a basin that will fit your feet, and be deep enough to let them soak up to the ankle, green powdered clay (which you can find it at most health stores or online), and essential oils (optional).
- Fill a basin with hot water (to a temperature which you can just stand to put your feet).
- Add 2 heaping tablespoons of clay (or about a tablespoon per 2 L of water).
- Optionally add a few drops of essential oils to suit your needs, lavender oil is a good choice to relax.
- Soak your feet in the water for 20-30 minutes (you may want to boil a kettle so that you can heat up the water midway through your soak time).
- After the soak time, rinse and dry your feet. If you are going to bed, rinse your feet with cold water to help you sleep. If your feet are particularly dry, rub some natural moisturizer into them.
- Dump the clay water outside in your yard or garden.
Shankaprakshalana… Intestinal Wash
“Shanka” or conch describes how the ancients thought of the curling shape of the digestive system. ”Prakshalana” refers to a process of cleaning or emptying. Falling under the umbrella category of dhauti, this intestinal wash has 2 forms, the short or long version. Both involve drinking a large amount of warm salt water in combination with doing a series of yoga postures to promote the emptying of the digestive system.
The short version is not as exhaustive, lengthy or thorough as the long form, though is still very effective. With practice, it takes as little as 20 minutes to complete, but it is good to set aside several hours to not feel the pressure of time. It is not advised to do the long form without proper and experienced supervision. Shankaprakshalana should be done on an ‘as needed’ basis (when there is impaction or chronic constipation). If the digestive system is working well, this cleanse is not necessary. There are gentler ways to maintain the optimal health of your digestive system. This is a ‘when nothing else is working’ cleanse rather than a maintenance routine.
Drinking the salt water alone, though it will cause you to ‘evacuate’ a lot of waste, is not as effective as combining it with a yoga set. The postures in the set are ones that move and massage the intestinal tract, and help tone and release the valves along the way. Waste that is stuck on the tract walls or diverted into prolapsed areas is more likely to be released if one moves the body in this vigorous series of postures.
Here is a video demonstrating the yoga poses to accompany the short version of this dhauti cleanse.
0) Before you begin, determine if this cleanse is needed. If you are chronically constipated or irregular, AND have tried (with no success) to improve your diet, perform abdominal massage and other gentler methods to resolve your digestive issues (such as the 7 day colon cleanse), then proceed to step 1).
1) Perform this cleanse in the morning hours, before eating or drinking anything. Mix the salt drink (3 litres of warm water mixed with 6 teaspoons of sea salt).
2) Quickly drink 1 - 2 glasses of the salt water (drink only one if you have a small stomach, or find that you need to go to the bathroom before completing the yoga set).
3) Perform the yoga set (the 5 postures as demonstrated in the shankaprakshalana video). Repeat this yoga routine 8 times.
4) Steps 2) and 3) are considered one round of shankaprakshalan. Repeat steps 2) and 3) twice more for a total of 3 rounds or until your digestive system moves and you need to go to the washroom. You will want to complete enough rounds (not surpassing 5 or 6 rounds) that when you go to the washroom, you are passing almost clear liquid with no solid material left to pass.
5) When completed, rehydrate the body by drinking several glasses of fresh water.
If you have to go to the washroom before finishing the third round of yoga, return and finish the yoga set after using the washroom.
If after 3 rounds, you still do not have the urge to go to the washroom, repeat steps 2) and 3) again. Do not exceed 5 or 6 rounds. You may need to perform the exercises more vigorously to move the system.
Wait at least 1/2 hour after this cleanse before consuming any food.