Q: I have been practicing yoga regularly for 20 some years and am approaching my 55th birthday. While I know my asana practice has been immensely helpful with my aging process I have still had trouble with a few issues: blood pressure, glaucoma, heart rate, fatigue. Lately I have been working with my diet and specifically cutting back and nearly eliminating alcohol (I do miss the occasional glass of wine), dairy, and a few other foods that seem to aggravate joint pain, heart palpitations, and lethargy. Some but not all of these choices line up with my doshic make-up (pitta/vata). Most of the choices come from Alejandro Junger's book Clean. I am curious about diet and asana choices for particular conditions related to age.
A: As a scientist who also studies aging, I am especially intrigued about how diet can influence lifespan and health. However, that is not something I want to discuss here, as I am not a nutritionist or trained in this area. It is also something that is hugely complicated, and some of the better scientific controlled studies are not done in humans, but rather in mice or other animal models. For example, I recently attended a symposium in Cape Cod in March on Metabolism and Aging sponsored by Cell Symposia and Elsevier (see here). Data is clearly emerging about how diets high in fat and/or cholesterol are contributing to metabolic dysregulation. But defining the precise molecular pathways that regulate and control our basic metabolism and how diet can contribute to age-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, is still in its infancy. At this point I would recommend only common sense. You know, the stuff your grandma was supposed to teach you: eat in moderation and eat your vegetables. --Brad
A: To be honest, I’ve been dreading this question, but, sigh, I knew it was coming. Unfortunately, although it is commonly acknowledged that a “healthy” diet is an important aspect of healthy aging, there is so much controversy about what that healthy diet entails (dairy, for example, is recommended in some diets and not in others) that we have decided not to address this issue on our blog because a) we don’t have the expertise and b) diet doesn’t fall under our topic of “yoga for healthy aging.” In addition, none of us are experts in Ayurvedic medicine and we do not follow its dietary recommendations, so we are going to refrain from commenting on that as well. (Personally I think that is important to listen to your body; if some type of food has a negative effect on you and eliminating it doesn’t compromise your ability to get complete nutrition, then go for it.)
For your high blood pressure, heart rate, and fatigue, you may find the practices Baxter and I mentioned this week (mindful meditation, yoga nidra, and breath awareness) useful. And we’ll be sure to recommend more poses for each of those conditions as time goes on. -- Nina
Q: Any suggestions for very sore shoulders/neck besides downward facing dog, twists and standing yoga mudra?
There are two different approaches to relieving pain in your neck and shoulders. You can stretch them (as you have been doing) or you can relax them. A pose for stretching that shoulders and neck that can be particularly helpful if you’ve been sitting at a desk all day is a passive backbend over a rolled-up blanket or yoga mat.
|Passive Backbend (from "Moving Toward Balance," Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow)|
If your head doesn't reach the floor in this pose, place a folded blanket or towel underneath it for support.
Baxter recommends dynamic movement to release the shoulders and neck, such as moving from Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your arms at your sides to arms overhead (Urdva Hastanasa) with a slight backbend, following your breath.
A good pose for relaxing your shoulders and neck is Standing Forward Bend at the wall (sometimes called Wall Hang). This allows you to release your shoulders and neck with gravity. Here are two versions:
|Wall Standing Forward Bend Version 1 (from "Moving Toward Balance")|
|Wall Standing Forward Bend Version 2 (from "Moving Toward Balance")|
Q: One of the major challenges for me is allowing myself time to do yoga practice at home. I feel so much better when I do, even a brief morning session, but I seem to find it very hard to give myself that space in my overly busy life. I realize this arises largely out of my own issues, but do you have any comments/suggestions besides trying to make it part of my usual routine, like brushing my teeth?
Congratulations on starting a home practice! Practicing at home is one of the best ways to do yoga for healthy aging because you can do what you need (rather than just hoping your teacher will be on the same wavelength that you are that day). Here are a few suggestions for motivating yourself to practice at home:
1. Start with a very short routine, maybe even just a single pose, so it’s not too overwhelming to contemplate. Your practice will build over time.
2. You don’t have to practice in the morning if that doesn’t work well for you. Some people like to get it over with first thing, but others like to wait until they’re really in the mood, like in the afternoon or early evening.
3. Find a practice partner. (I used to think that no one would ever want to come over to my house and practice with me, but I turned out to be very, very wrong.)
4. Listen to music while you practice, wear your favorite perfume, pet your dog between poses, or do anything else that makes it a little more fun.