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Elixir of Youth: Yoga Truth or Anti-Aging Propaganda?

True or false: 70 is the new 50 and 40 is the new 20? Certainly anyone approaching either of these milestones—age 70 or 50—would concur with the statement, at least in theory. But it’s not about how you look, is it? It’s about how you feel. And I think most of us would be happy with a little luck (or genetic inheritance!) on both sides.

Multimedia in general and health and wellness outlets in particular are the go-to source for learning what’s in and what’s out, who’s fit and who’s fraught with envy. Generally speaking, the yoga industry isn’t much different. Add a little picturesque contortion to the mix and you get, well, you get the yoga picture. But there is more to grace and beauty than meets the eye. Aesthetic appeal and superhuman flexibility aside, there are some giants in the field who exemplify the full gamut of what yoga has to offer, beyond fitness fashion and impressive postures. Christine Felstead is one of those people.

Felstead was a die-hard runner and gym enthusiast for over 20 years before poor posture and excess stiffness brought her to the practice of yoga. Pre-yoga, she could run for hours at a time but had difficulty “bending over to tie her shoes.” Amass running bibs and worn out track shoes, Christine was also collecting a gamut of injuries. “So, by 1996,” she says “complimenting my running practice with a yoga practice wasn’t just logical, it was necessary.” Not long after, Christine traded in her runners for a yoga mat and began teaching what she had learned to people who experienced what she knew so well: tight bodies.

Christine offered her first workshop in 2002 and has since become a widely celebrated author and international presenter, creator of an online training program, founder of Yoga for Runners Teacher Training, and the leading authority on yoga for runners and endurance athletes. Right up until last year, she practiced the most physically vigorous form of yoga (Ashtanga) in the traditional (6 days a week) format. Christine is 64 years old. For Felstead, yoga is not just another empty promise at the end of a fruitless search for eternal youth. It is the key to sustained longevity, mobility, a safeguard against injury . . . in essence, a tool for helping people stay healthy and active well into their 60s, 70s, and beyond.

Aging Gracefully

“You are as old as your spine is flexible.”

Although the now-departed B.K.S. Iyengar may not have stolen the cover of GQ, he certainly earned his spot on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Aged 95 when he passed, the native Indian guru, largely credited for bringing yoga to the West, maintained a committed and vigorous practice until his last days. Often quoted as saying, “You are as old as your spine is flexible,” Master Iyengar showcased graceful aging at its best and most pure, with a level of flexibility that the lithest and most youthful westerners could only dream of achieving. His life is a testament to Felstead’s own belief that getting older does not mean an inevitable descent into frailty and fragility!

“What I have seen with many people my age is an acceptance of physical limitations that they feel is normal due to age. A plethora of sore hips, painful lower backs, bad knees, pain lifting out of a chair. Many are popping muscle relaxers and pain killers to get through their day. Luckily, I also have a plethora of people in my age group who are strong, mobile, energetic, and pain-free.”

Cliché as it sounds, age is a state of mind, and the older you get, the wiser you become. The wiser you become the more mindful you are of the passing of time and—most importantly—its preciousness. These are qualities and gifts that can only be appreciated after a certain amount of life experienced has been gained.

“Anti-aging is a bit of a misnomer. At least for me, it conjures up images of cosmetic intervention and chasing the well-marketed outward appearance of youth. Let’s call it something like healthy aging or aging gracefully.”

Although we have yet to find a well-marketed miracle cure for the inevitable (and entirely natural!) process of aging (that’s assuming that we want to), according to Felstead, “How we age is something that we can influence and have great control over.” And according to her, yoga is the closest thing we’ve got to an ‘anti-aging cure.’

“In many ways yoga creates a more youthful body—not by eliminating wrinkles or liver spots but by creating a healthier body, specifically by creating healthy joints with an adequate range of motion, muscle strength in our upper body to keep our spine healthy and posture erect, strong legs to keep us moving well, and improved balance to safeguard against falling. And that’s only the effect on the physical body! Yoga’s effect on our energy system is paramount. Through both physical practice and pranayama, we can maintain a higher energy level and greater vibrancy. Meditation brings us a sense of reassured calm, peace, and acceptance of ourselves.”

Cutting-edge research, medical science, and evidence-based insight on how to live healthily and heartily well into our 90s reassures us that the boomer generation (often fittingly called ZOOMERS) have no intention to kick back in a lazy-boy and and wait for frailty, senility, and death to set in! Hell no. Our current generation of seniors touts an entirely new perspective on what it means –physically, emotionally, and spiritually–to grow old with grace.

From a scientific perspective, we’ve discovered cures and developed treatments for ailments and diseases that would have rendered a person incapable of enjoying a fully functional life, just decades ago. But that longevity is largely wasted as we spend increasing time behind screens and on couches and less time moving our bodies in the way they were designed to move. There is no shortage of people who are young in years but aging energetically from the aches and pains of a sedentary life. Thus far more worth of investment and aspiration than a wrinkle-free face is a body that can walk, run, twist, turn, invert, and otherwise move well into it’s 70th year and beyond, a spirit with the ambition to do so, and a state of mind so bright that it shines from the inside out.

Christine’s Top 11 Reasons to Do Yoga at Any Age

  • Balance, strength, and flexibility

  • Erect posture and ease of movement

  • Pain-free living

  • Upper body strength

  • Healthy joints and range of motion

  • Strong legs for reliable transport and independence

  • Pelvic floor strength for healthy bladder and continence

  • Deeper connection with self and intuition

  • Positive outlook on life

  • Heightened vitality and increased energy

  • Sharp mind and mental clarity

  • Sense of peace, calm, and serenity

Nobody would suggest that we leap towards new physical activities or attempt daring feats with the exuberance of a foolhardy teen, but this doesn’t mean kicking back and waiting for an opening at the old-age home, either. Yoga’s great forte is an emphasis on balance and moderation—a philosophy wisely heeded when approaching movement practice in later years.

Christine’s Tips for Approaching the Mat with Maturity (at any age)!

  • Find a style and an instructor that suits you

  • Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself

  • Take a playful approach to finding your edge

  • Adapt and modify as needed (kick ego to the curb!)

  • Banish the expression, “I’m too old to . . .”

Christine pioneered the development of Yoga for Runners and is the leading authority on the practice. She presents at international conferences and has appeared in numerous publications. She has produced best-selling DVDs, authored Yoga for Runners and offers YfR teacher training. Christine recently launched YfR Educational Series, a six-class progression, each including an anatomy overview and detailed instruction. Her true passion is turning athletes onto the benefits of yoga in order to give them longevity in their sport.

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