There are seven yogic health secrets for a long life. Living long is not the goal of yogis as such, but leading a healthy and long life provides enough time to master oneself and to achieve the ultimate spiritual state of oneness – which is the goal of yogis. It is for this reason that yogis have given recommendations on how to live long and while alive, how to keep the body and mind healthy and happy. Obviously living long in an unhealthy body and ill mind is not in anyone’s interest.
According to yoga there are seven “secrets” of longevity.
1. Proper physical labour
Exercising the body on a regular basis is essential, particularly in today’s world when physical labour is no longer a part and parcel of daily life as it used to be in the past. Most people’s lives are sedentary with little if any physical exertion. People sit in their cars while driving to work, sit in the office all day long, return home by car and often spend several hours in front of the television or computer once they get home. Lack of exercise and physical inactivity, as we know, causes a number of illnesses. Hence it is imperative to add at least light exercise to your daily routine. Activities such as walking, running, dancing or sports will not only exercise your body but also generate energy and maintain a healthy mental state.
2. Going to bed when one feels sleepy
With all the stimulation we are constantly exposed to from computers, phones, tablets and other electronic gadgets, the natural wake/sleep cycle has been severely jeopardized. We are constantly exposed to electrical lights and the night can easily be turned into a day. Our glands are confused and are no longer able to alarm us (via hormones), that it is time to retire. Both yoga and ayurveda recommend to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. Sleeping during the day and remaining awake at night is very detrimental to our health and it is well known that such a lifestyle causes disease. Coffee is a huge culprit and is taken by many people so that they can study or work at night. Eventually staying up all night or till late into the night becomes a habit which is difficult to change. It is unnatural and shortens the life span. According to yoga therapy such a lifestyle is one of the major causes of cancer, hence it should be avoided at all costs.
3. Eating when one feels hungry
It sounds straightforward but it isn’t. This is so because people eat for so many reasons. Sometimes it is done for the sake of socializing, or because it is a certain time of the day, so I must eat. Often various emotional conditions trigger the urge to eat, such as feeling lonely, frustrated, overwhelmed or simply trying to numb emotions which we don’t want to feel. Hence food has been abused and the simple and pleasurable act of eating is no longer what it was meant to be – an act of nourishing the body and receiving prana and energy from food. And then there is overeating. If we eat for the wrong reasons we will experience indigestion, acidity and constipation. This can lead to a host of other more serious diseases, such as diabetes, high blood sugar and cancer. Some people eat all the time so they have completely forgotten what it feels like to be hungry and to have a healthy appetite. The yogic advice is to eat when one feels truly hungry and if there is no appetite, it’s better to wait for some time and then eat a proper meal. Between meals drink water or tea. Never get into the habit of ‘grazing’, i.e. eating bits and pieces every once in a while, as that will destroy your Agni (digestive fire) and ultimately wreck your health.
4. Regular fasting
Fasting is one of the best things you could ever do for your health. It detoxes your entire system and provides rest to your digestive organs. If you had to work day and night without any break, what would happen? You would collapse and perhaps even die within a short time. Yet when it comes to our digestive organs we go on eating and they have to work continuously. They even work during the night when they try to break down the dinner we have had later than was actually good for us. Yogic fasting is prescribed for one full day at a time and it allows the digestive system to rest fully. In a way we are resting the system whenever we complete a full yogic fast for 36 hours, without food or water. On a fasting day we can share food with those who have none and we can devote more time to our spiritual practices and intellectual endeavours.
5. Ablution before sleep
Not only is it a prerogative to sleep at the correct time in accordance with the natural cycles, but it also helps to cool down some of the major body parts such as our forearms and hands, calves and feet, genitals, neck and face. This is achieved by using cool water, below body temperature, just before going to bed. If you incorporate this into your routine you will find that you will sleep more soundly, wake up fewer times during the night and that your sleep will be peaceful and undisturbed. Washing certain body parts (has to be cool water) will relax the entire body and calm the mind. In the morning you will wake up refreshed and rested.
6. Regular meditation
The findings of modern science prove what yogis have known for millennia – that meditation has a profound healing effect. Neuroscience has discovered that regular meditation causes changes at the cellular level and that it can even alter DNA. Our mental state has measurable physical influence on us – more specifically on our DNA.
Meditation helps to maintain and/or re-establish homeostasis in the body, which is essential in maintaining proper health. Homeostasis refers to the stable condition of the body and its internal environment. This is a state wherein there is balance of the bodily functions, such as the proper body temperature, correct blood sugar and fluid levels, to name a few. Each of these variables must be maintained regardless of changes that occur in the environment, such as outside temperature, diet, etc. When homeostasis is lost, especially over a longer period of time, disease sets in.
Many diseases are psychosomatic, as we know, stress and anxiety cause a variety of illnesses. Not only that. When we meditate the relaxation response comes into effect, because the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated. This reverses the fight and flight response (triggered by the sympathetic nervous system) while rest and repair – functions of the parasympathetic nervous system – takes over without any inhibitors.
In conclusion, regular meditation improves, physical and mental health and thereby has a direct correlation to the quality and length of our lives.
7. Asana Practice
You may be wondering why asanas are not listed under exercize. The answer is simple and straightforward: asanas are not exercizes, but rather innercizes. We call them innercizes because their effect on the inner body, the inner organs, glands and especially the chakras is far more important than their effect on the muscles and joints.
In the West we have come to equate the term “yoga” with yogic postures, but in fact they form only a small – albeit important – part of the whole system. The term yoga in fact implies a whole way of life with yoga postures as one of its many facets.
In the Sanskrit language, yoga postures are called asanas. Asana means “a posture producing physical comfort and mental composure”.
Asanas, when practiced with a certain number of repetitions and held for a specific amount of time, affect the glands, nerves, muscles and all the organs of the body. There are many physical benefits, but the most important effect is on the mind. The practise of asanas places pressure on the endocrine glands and this results in the regulation of hormones secreted from those glands. The hormones are closely related to our emotions and the resultant emotional balance facilitates concentration.
So even though asanas, or yoga postures tone the muscles, increase flexibility and improve the posture through alignment, more importantly due to their impact on the endocrine glands, they are balancing the secretion of hormones and thereby restoring psychic and emotional well-being. That is why the emphasis is not on vigour of execution, but on proper positioning, proper breathing and a quiet, but persistent flow of movement, which in turn applies pressure on the relevant glands and inner organs. Thus, in Rajadhiraja yoga one not only develops strength and flexibility, but achieves a general sense of well-being.