I’ve had quite a few students tell me that for them, Yoga is their Fountain of Youth. I think there are a lot of factors that go into aging with grace, and I can think of many aspects of Yoga practice that help in that respect. A large segment of my clientele is retirement aged, so this subject is very much on their minds. I have a number of posts I’d like to share over the next few weeks concerning aging, including how to approach Yoga with an older body, how to be healthy, active, and fit with a body that’s just not what it used to be, and how keep both a young state of mind and a graceful, vital state of body. I’d like to start with a larger overview of what everyone can do, at any age, to capture and retain a bit of youth.
This may seem a little odd coming from someone as young as me. I’m in my mid-30’s and certainly still consider myself young and vital. However, I am frequently mistaken for being about a decade, or more, younger than I actually am. I do volunteer work at a wildlife center where my experience and knowledge has allowed me to train and supervise other volunteers. On more than one occasion, new volunteers treated me somewhat dismissively because they mistakenly thought I was a very mature teenager, when in fact, I’m older than them by several years. Sometimes people react dubiously when they discover I’ve been through college twice, traveled abroad, and had a book published. They think I’m much too young to have done all that. It would certainly be a difficult list of things for a 20 year old to accomplish, but well within the scope of someone over 30. There is that old adage about not judging a book by its cover. Some of my clients think I must know some sort of secret to age prevention. That actually remains to be seen, but I’ll gladly share some of my thoughts on the subject.
I’ve written several posts on this, but lack of sleep definitely negatively impacts your health. In addition, it ages you. There are hormones and chemicals your body releases while you’re in deep sleep, and if you do not reach a delta brainwave state (which happens during deep sleep), you don’t get this benefit. Without this little bio-chemical restoration from your body, you not only have less energy, but gain weight, look older, and may develop chronic pain. So get plenty of rest.
Along the same lines, stress has a wide range of negative effects on your health. Stress ages you. If you haven’t incorporated a regular relaxation and self care routine into your life, it’s time to make some space for yourself. Looking and feeling younger is one of the many positive benefits of a weekly or even daily Yoga or Meditation practice. Yoga is a lifestyle for me, but in addition to it, I have a self care routine that I commit to so that I can keep negative effects of stress minimized. One thing that I personally do is go to the women’s day spa once a month every month as part of my dedication to self care. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but you do need to figure out successful methods to let go of the stress.
As a general rule your relaxation should not involve substance use, because that will be counterproductive. I like a cup of coffee to calm me down when I feel stressed, but I do not include this in the category of self care or relaxation practices. Things like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, which many people use for recreational purposes, do not help you prevent aging. In fact, I’m pretty sure they pack the years on. I’m not going to preach to you and say don’t do those things, but I will say, the less you do them, the younger you will look and feel consistently.
Brush your teeth. I'm serious. Especially if you're into one of the above vices (coffee, cigarettes, alcohol), because they stain your teeth. We didn't choose the teeth we were born with. Some people were blessed with lovely straight teeth, some people endured years of pain as teenagers to attain straight teeth, and some people were given by genetics a wild and crazy set of teeth. Whatever you've got, you need to take care of them. Dental problems can be life threatening. Think about this, your mouth is really close to both your heart and your brain. If you've got an infection in a tooth or your gums, where do you think is the first place it will circulate to in your body? How about your brain, heart, and lymph nodes. None of this is good. There is a direct correlation between mental health and dental health. If you take someone who has been experiencing extreme mental distress or illness and put them on a good dental plan, symptoms of their psychosis will abate. Plus dirty, stained teeth make you look older. Keep them clean and care for what you have no matter what you were given. You look nicer and you'll be healthier. You might even be less crazy. I'm pretty sure I'd be crazy if my mouth were in chronic pain.
Drink more water. Do I really have to tell you the reasons? You know your body is mostly water. If you want your organs to function properly, drink more water. When your organs don’t function as they should toxins can build up in your body and lead to illness or exacerbate existing problems.
This is probably a good place for me to make a few comments on skin care, since those who want to keep a youthful appearance always have an obsession with skin care products. This is actually also kind of laughable coming from me. I have really nice, clean, clear skin most of the time. I’m forever being complemented on my skin and hair by friends, family, clients, complete strangers in the super market, you name it. People love to ask me “What do you do to have such beautiful skin?” Nothing. I do absolutely nothing. You probably should, too.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I don’t think it is that I have abnormally good skin compared to other people. I think I just haven’t damaged my skin with the over use of products it wouldn’t need if you weren’t using so many products. I wash it. End of routine. If the weather changes I might use a dab of moisturizer. But rarely even that. I don’t wear make-up that much either, and while I have no issue with the general practice of wearing make-up (for women or men), the reality is, if you like to cake that stuff on, your skin can’t breathe. That is the problem. When I was a professional actress, I used to purposely only wear make-up on stage. Putting on the make-up was part of creating and becoming that character for me. No two characters of mine wore the same stage make-up. I always came up with a different set of shading, colors, and order of application for every character I played. As a result, when I am myself, and not a character, I just don’t wear any face paint. If a little make-up helps you feel good and glamorous, you should wear it. I believe in feeling good! But if you’re piling it on, you might want to try a bit less to see if your skin improves. My skin would have fits of breaking out and being temperamental when I was in the middle of a running show and having to pile the make-up on and scrape it off every night. Now that I don’t do stage work anymore, I have beautiful skin all the time. I’m only sharing this because I think they two things are related.
Too much sun ages your skin. But, don't get me wrong, sun is good for you. It is good for everyone to spend a little time in the sun when they can. However, it only takes about 10 - 15 minutes of sun exposure to get the full amount of vitamin D that you need. I love being outdoors, so I totally understand that a really long list of fun, healthy, invigorating things, that you can and should do, will involve more than 15 minutes of sun exposure. The important thing is that you protect your skin appropriately for your skin type. Skin that has been burned or over exposed many times looks like tanned leather, because it basically is. So, a little sun is good and even healthy, but a lot of sun on unprotected skin makes you look about 20 years older than you actually are.
Attitude is everything. When you’re frowny, your face gets wrinkly. Laugh more. Laughter keeps you young. I’m pretty sure heartfelt joyfulness is the true Fountain of Youth. Follow your bliss. Find your joy. That is more important than anything else I've listed here.
Regardless of your actual age, or feelings about growing older, I hope that you will find a way to make peace with your physical body. Being happy where you are, as you are, with who you are is the most important thing you have on your journey through this life.
Keep an eye out for my next discussion in this series. I’m going to move on to some Yoga related things you can do to guard your youth and some things that older folks might want to practice in order to keep an aging body vital.