Fitness Magazine

Yoga for Healthy Aging: Our Philosophy and Our Tools

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Yoga for Healthy Aging: Our Philosophy and Our Tools

Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt

I always tell everyone, including Brad, that my husband is my worst employee. I mean, how long has it been since Brad has even written a single post for this blog? I don’t even want to know. But the reason I don’t just fire Brad—besides the fact that writing for our blog isn’t really a job and no one gets paid for their work anyway—is that when he does write a post, it is always really outstanding.
I’m bringing this up today because I just went and reread Brad’s very first post for the blog Full Disclosure because I’ve been thinking about how to express our basic intentions for teaching yoga for healthy aging. Just last week, Baxter and I discussed what we meant by “yoga for healthy aging”, and we agreed that “yoga for healthy aging” was both a set of yogic tools and a basic attitude or philosophy. You know, we said, that thing Brad wrote about the first week of our blog about acceptance and active engagement. And lo and behold! When I went back to see what he wrote, I found he expressed our basic philosophy so well, there was no reason even to rewrite it in any way.So as a scientist who studies the biology of aging and the many diseases that are associated with aging, I have come to my own personal conclusions on the importance of practicing a mind/body discipline like yoga. And as I approach my 59th birthday, the immediate realities of physical and mental loss become more apparent. And I am not one of those people who think I can avoid this. I do believe, however, that we have the capacity to regain some of theses age-related losses, and if not, at least slow down their progression. Regaining or maintaining a higher level of balance, physical dexterity, and cognitive function and resolution is therefore something that is attainable and has the capacity to make huge impacts on the quality of our lives. The aging component that works against all this and drives these declines, however, is scientifically and mechanistically poorly understood. This is what makes my scientific life and work so interesting. But as far as I can tell, the basic processes underlying human aging are largely inescapable, at least as we currently understand them. That doesn’t mean we can’t intervene or we have to give up, nor that some of the losses we associate with aging can’t be mitigated. We probably need to practice both acceptance and active engagement as we confront our own aging—part of the underlying philosophy of yoga that I am still struggling with. In any case, it can’t hurt to strive to feel better and think more clearly. There are few things that I would consider more important.At the time, I felt what Brad had said was very important, so I went ahead and expanded on the yoga philosophy he alluded to in his phrase “part of the underlying philosophy of yoga.” In my post Acceptance, Active Engagement, and the Bhagavad Gita, I explained that the main message of the Bhagavad Gita—one of the most important of the yoga scriptures—was about the benefits of acceptance along with the need for action. This is what is meant by when Krishna tells Arjuna to work “not for a reward” or, as in another translation, without being “attached to the fruits of your actions.”Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work.Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or failure.Yoga is evenness of mind—a peace that is ever the same. — trans. by Juan Mascaro
Krishna explains to Arjuna that work is a necessary part of human existence, so the only way to attain equanimity is to do your work without any thoughts of results, remaining open to success or failure. And that this approach—this letting of all results, whether good or bad, and focusing on the action alone—is the essence of yoga. 
But how does this yogic attitude relate to healthy aging? Although we recommend that you practice yoga regularly with the goal of attaining a longer health span and maintaining your independence (see What is Healthy Aging, Anyway?, Yoga for Healthy Aging is Not Science Fiction, and A Declaration of Independence), we also believe it is important to keep in mind results are never guaranteed. As Brad said, the basic processes underlying human aging are largely inescapable, at least as we currently understand them. So we feel that at the same time that you work toward staying healthy by using the tools in your yoga toolbox you should try to let go of all thoughts of success or failure and simply focus on your practice. Then no matter what happens, you’ll be prepared to handle it. (See Acceptance, Active Engagement, and the Bhagavad Gita for background information about the Bhagavad Gita and its basic message.)
In my post Opening Your Yoga Toolbox I provided an overview of the basic tools in our yoga toolbox, saying we had divided them into three groups.
  1. Physical health tools for body and brain
  2. Stress management tools
  3. Equanimity tools
All of these tools—including asana, pranayama, meditation, and yoga philosophy—are exactly what you will use to do to do your daily work, which is your yoga practice. And this set of yogic tools plus a basic attitude of acceptance combined with active engagement is what yoga for healthy aging is all about.
In this wisdom, a man goes beyond what is well done and what is not well done.
Go thou therefore to wisdom:Yoga is wisdom in work. —trans. by Juan Mascaro
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