As we age, our body tends to stiffen and tighten, which makes it increasingly uncomfortable to live in. There are many beauty products on the market claiming to prevent wrinkles, lots of ‘superfoods’ that are said to stop aging and many articles and websites that claim yoga can prevent or reverse aging…but what lies behind these claims?
Regular yoga practice can certainly help to improve your reach. For example, if you stand and bend forward (standing forward bend or Uttanasana) – maybe you can touch your toes or maybe you can not. Many people in their 30s or 40s or older, who are new to yoga, can not reach their toes without bending their knees. The body has become stiff from sitting hunched over a computer or laptop or at a desk for eight hours (or more) per day. The back muscles are tight, so too are the hamstrings. With regular yoga practice the flexibility in the body will improve and increase, until eventually you can reach your toes (and beyond) in comfort.
Yoga, with meditation, also releases tension and tightness, improving flexibility. The regular movement opens and releases the muscles and body, whilst strengthening them at the same time.
Back problems tend to increase with age. Sometimes this is due to slipped discs or other problems, but often it is because the muscles in our lower back and abdomen are weak (another side effect of sitting at a desk all day). Yoga (and pilates) works to strengthen these muscles, providing more support for the spine, thereby reducing back pain.
As the number of birthdays you celebrate increase, humans often seem to slump a little, as the posture starts to decline. This is partly due to the muscles tightening and shortening which pulls our skeleton down. Regular yoga practice helps to improve your posture. For example, we learn to stand in mountain pose (Tadasana), spreading the weight evenly across the feet with the pelvis tucked in to make the lower back stay in neutral and keeping shoulders down. In a yoga class, a teacher will remind you to activate specific muscles when you are practicing one asana (pose), and to relax others, so that the body re-learns to maintain the correct alignment. Sometimes the teacher may make an adjustment here or there, so that you really feel it in your body.
There is also some research available which shows that yoga can help to prevent osteoporosis, due to the weight bearing element (holding your own weight).
Overall, yoga helps to bring increased strength, flexibility and balance to your body; maybe not reversing aging but you have fewer aches and pains! And it certainly can help to release and prevent stiffness
So, what about nutrition; how does nutrition contribute?
An important element of the food that we eat is antioxidants. Anti-oxidants prevent cellular damage by preventing the free radicals from starting a chain reaction that leads to cell damage – free radicals are the things that cause signs of aging. If your diet is also providing all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs for optimum working, the impact of free radicals on the cells in the body are reduced.
The main antioxidants are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene. Good sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, spinach, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries. For Vitamin E eat nuts, seeds, wholegrains and apricots. Best sources of beta-carotene include carrots, spinach, broccoli, tomato and peaches. Our body also needs the mineral selenium to make use of these antioxidants, so include wholegrains and seeds in your diet for selenium; brazils nuts are a good source.
By eating a diet full of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, with nuts and seeds, like we serve here at La Crisalida, you will be supplying your body with all it needs to combat free radical damage, thereby helping to slow the aging process.
We also recently read an article that was published on the BBC website which describes a number of studies that investigate the science behind meditation and preventing aging. Many scientific studies have now found evidence that meditation can have a direct and positive impact on the body, slowing down aging. Meditation (which they suggest is the ongoing practice of slow, regular breathing and being present) certainly reduces the effect of stress on our body. This can be measured in the laboratory in humans. It is clear that regular meditation can help to quiet the mind, with a knock on effect on stress reduction, both of which help to reduce or slow down the aging process.
So, can yoga and nutrition reverse aging? Whilst none can roll back the actual numbers, here at La Crisalida we believe that combining regular yoga and meditation with good nutrition, means you will feel younger and more flexible in your body, no matter what your actual age is!