With curiosity, I applied a new lens to my yoga practice — is it good for my longevity? It’s a wonderful puzzle to consider the arcs of now, the future and the possibility of an elder future and how every moment I am planting seeds, or making choices, that impact all three of these stages of life.
What does a yoga practice look like that is an offering to all three of these versions of me? Before I share what I’ve found to be true for me, let me share a bit about my existing framework.
First, I believe yoga is one of many means to a healthy and fulfilling life, it is not the end itself. Even for me, someone who has made a career out of yoga, someone who feels called to teach yoga, it is not my only resource nor my only passion. It’s a supplement, or a field of practice, that improves my quality of life. Just like anything else, the most helpful dosage changes over time and sometimes I have to try a different flavor or a different practice altogether to restore balance in my system.
Second, I believe human beings belong to nature and that we are cyclical. There is the BIG maha cycle of life and infinite smaller cycles. Interestingly, a healthy cycle, no matter how small or large, follows a pattern:
Birth — Growth — Peak — Decline — Death — Rebirth
Generation — Maturity — Fruit —Seed — Rest — Regeneration
Birth — Life — Death — Rebirth
And here’s where it gets exciting, because there are so many aspects of being human, life is so rich, we may be in decline in one area of our life while regenerating in another.
So, knowing that yoga is just one tool kit among many and that we are cyclical beings, what kind of yoga practice promotes longevity? Here are the important characteristics of a yoga practice for longevity.
Yoga for longevity is accessible, adaptable, balanced, compassionate and diversified.
Accessible— a practice that is accessible during all or most stages of life. Regardless of your mobility, flexibility, coordination or strength. This means that “peak” poses and alignment are out and props and mindfulness are in.
Peak poses, as the name suggests, are only suitable for one stage of your natural cycles. Either that, or a radical shift in perspective about what a “peak” is… What if the “peaks” of your Yoga practice are the moments you feel at home inside of yourself?
Alignment and technique you often use to “improve” a posture but in some stages of life, like declines and rest periods, aiming for improvement is not realistic or supportive. In a longevity practice, alignment and technique are of little importance and only serve to prevent injury and provide helpful instruction.
Props and creativity can make a lot of yoga poses accessible and beneficial. Using props illuminates the poses in a different way and you can use them in any Yoga practice, but especially longevity practice.
My teacher Sarah Powers once said that mind states, or the ability to move energy with the attention of the mind, is where your human potential lies. Framing mindfulness in this way is a huge moment of reckoning and empowerment. There may be times in this life that you cannot move your body, what will you do then to create inner circulation? Amazingly, this frontier of your human potential is also highly accessible. Thus, significant components to accessible yoga are mindfulness and meditation practices.
Adaptable — adaptability goes hand in hand with accessibility. Adaptability is one of the most defining characteristics of the human species. It goes well beyond your body’s capacity to adapt (but that’s also quite extraordinary) and deep into your problem solving and creative capacities.
For the instructor, this means offering a lot of variations and encouraging the practitioner to find their own expression.
For the practitioner, this means exploring and being curious. Can you adapt the practice to where you are at today? If you get sick, have an injury, feel heavy, feel light, feel rigid, feel soft, can you adapt the practice to be supportive?
Balanced — there are two pieces to this.
First, given everything else you do or don’t do in your life, how can a yoga practice provide balance? Your life will move in cycles and what you need to move towards balance will change. Moving towards balance begins with self-awareness and becomes an art as you become more adept at knowing yourself.
Second, the practice itself is balanced between movement and stillness, between attending to the body and attending to the mind, between the inhale and the exhale, between that effort and the ease, between the instruction and the silence.
When I say “the practice” I don’t mean one yoga class. I mean the average of anything you would consider your Yoga practice. Classical Yoga offers eight limbs, see below. You can have however many branches to your practice that you want. I put the limbs of my practice below, too.
When you think about all of the pieces of your practice fitting into a whole, is there a balance between your input and your output? Are you nourishing all aspects of your being?
Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga
Caitlin’s Limbs of Yoga
Compassionate — how you practice is just as important as what you are practicing. If you are beating yourself up for any reason or feeling negative about your body, your emotions or any part of yourself, your yoga practice can become toxic.
If you are not used to listening to your body and you are aggressive, pushing through pain or resistance, you will cause more harm to your body than good.
A quote of Pema Chodron’s that I love is, “We are all neurotic and we are all wise.”
Let’s approach the yoga practice with our wise selves turned-up and be tender towards ourselves on good days, bad days and everything in between. Meet yourself where you are at compassionately.
Diversified — one of the most common types of injury yoga practitioners get is a repetitive movement injury. We can also get repetitive movement injuries from anything we do a lot of, like typing, driving, pulling espresso shots, carrying the kids, etc.
Here’s a visual I hope will help…
Imagine that your body is made from hundreds of thousands of pieces of thread and like fabric, these threads are woven together and run alongside each other. If we always stretch and strengthen the body in the same way some of those threads get frayed from over-use while other threads get clumped and tangled together from under-use.
Rather than doing the same practice over and over again, or the same poses week after week, which will over-use some of our tissues and under-use others, you gently glide, stretch and strengthen as many threads in your body as you can.
Diversifying means exploring ALL ranges of movement and attending to not just the muscles, but also the fascia, tendons, ligaments, bones and internal organs. This means incorporating both dynamic practices like gentle flows and holding strength building shapes with longer passive holds (Yin Yoga).
Putting it all together… Practicing with a lens for longevity has made my practice more joyful. I relish holding an active strength building pose more because I know it’s value and I know the value of its opposite. Sinking into stillness no longer feels anxiety provoking, it has become a respite from overstimulation and excessive output. Gentle movement shines a light on the path for how I can practice for a long time to come, even hopefully as an elder. Finally, the combination of it all gives me resources to adapt to the seasons of my life and integrate my Yoga practice with other parts of my lifestyle.
If you would like to practice Yoga for Longevity, I’ve put together a package of classes on YogaDownload that offers Yin Yoga, Breathwork, Gentle Flow, and Mindfulness. I hope you enjoy it and bring your own creative adaptations into your practice!
By Caitlin Rose Kenney
Caitlin Rose teaches yoga to satisfy the whole being and speaks about the physical practice as an access point for widespread change in mental patterns, emotional states, and connection to spirit. Caitlin Rose is known for holding space with a calm confidence that allows practitioners to move safely, feel their experience, revitalize and heal. Her gentle demeanor and articulate instructions aid students at any level to advance their ability for precision and graceful embodiment.
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