Before we begin, I know there are lots of tonics, miracle vitamins, hormone therapy, cleanses and diets that have claimed to be the Fountain of Youth for those of us past age 50. So before you suspend belief or stop reading, check out this recent photo of me. The purpose of displaying this photo is to show how youthful I look and feel as my proof because I did NOT look this glowingly youthful a while back. (No, I am not about to share the before photos!) I'm in my late fifties by the way.
I haven't glowed like this since my pregnancies 26-plus years ago, and people mention it to me all the time that I look vibrant and healthy these days. It's not my eating habits as I have only recently begun to eat more healthfully, and have been known previously to eat Cheetos for dinner. (Now I am snacking on things like dry roasted seaweed -- thanks a lot Dr. Oz!)
I have to give credit for my fountain of youth to my exercise regimen: Bikram Yoga.
Here is my own brutally honest experience with this, but first read this quote: "Bikarm Yoga acts as an anti-aging and preventative medicine keeping the body young and healthy. Yoga maintains youth long. It keeps the body full of vitality, immune to diseases, even at old, old age. The Yogi never becomes old." (Bishnu Ghosh)
It occurred to me that I was crazy for even trying an exercise class that required me to exercise for 90 minutes in a 105 degree room with 40 percent humidity. It's like working out inside a very hot sauna. After my first class, exhausted, spent, and reduced to an absolute puddle of sweat, I was convinced I was insane. I looked around at some of the young "yoga" bodies who bounced up energetically after class, while I crawled on the floor while gathering my mat and towel, and then limped toward the exit.
I walked out that first time telling the instructor that I didn't know if I could do it again. The instructor looked at me and said, "You must come back tomorrow, and you will start seeing benefits."
I chuckled and shook my head. No way was that happening. Except that after I showered and survived the ordeal, I felt energized and great for hours later. That drove me to try it again the next day, and then the next day, and then a few days later. I made a routine of it, going several times a week because I felt so great afterwards.
For those who abhor Yoga in its many forms, I am one of you. I am a type A personality, and a bit hyper, and way too driven to have patience to sit there crossed-legged, pinching my fingers together and saying "Ohm." I am not the meditation type, or deep breathing type either, trust me. I have tried other forms of yoga and did not like them one bit -- not the poses, not the routine, not the breathing or meditating. Somehow the Bikram Yoga poses were more tolerable to me.
It was a long time until I pushed past the pain and discomfort in Bikram Yoga. Many people would give up way before I did -- and I have seen them drop like flies out of the studio I frequent.
I started out with a very inflexible old body, and couldn't even consider twisting my body into some of the poses required. The calm, all-knowing instructors encouraged me and told me to give it time. There are still times when I feel like my flexibility is akin to a whale trying to bend backwards at the middle.
A part of my personality is stubbornness, and that serves me well in cases like this. So I stuck to it as I saw how it basically detoxed me from stress and life on the run each time I went. I felt a kind of relaxation and energy afterward that is hard to describe. I am convinced that puddle of sweat I leave behind holds all the toxins I would have kept in my body. It is not comfortable leaving as wet as if I just came out of a pool, but I think of what I have released.
Slowly, I became stronger. In fact, Bikram professes to thwart osteoporosis by helping with bone density, and helps with balance, thereby preventing falls in the senior years. Another bonus was the calories I was burning during class let me eat at my normal appetite level and not gain weight.
Each Bikram Yoga pose has a specific purpose, and they are all health related. There are poses for the thyroid, for the colon and digestion, and on and on, and I felt the wonderful effects. After six months, I feel my digestion and metabolism have improved, and I have tons more energy. My immune system seems to have a boost. I feel a bit slimmer, although I am still not rid of my spare tire around the middle. Supposedly it can even lower cholesterol, and help with diabetes too. My varicose veins that started appearing have virtually disappeared.
About the heat: I am not going to lie. There are some days with my exertion level and the heat where I feel like I am broiling in a rotisserie. There is a good reason for the heat though. Benjamin Lorr said in his book, Hell-Bent, "increased room temperature correlates with improved physical performance of the body. Specifically, blood vessels dilate and tissue expands improving blood flow and distribution of oxygen throughout the body. This creates an overall sense of well-being."
I still look ridiculous doing some of the impossible poses, but I see all body types, all ages, and it occurs to me that except for the most advanced practitioners, we are all in the same boat, struggling to get through the session.
Now mind you, it is not an easy task to get into a routine of doing this. It's kind of like running the marathon and hitting that famous wall. If you can get past that torturous beginning, and take it at your own pace, you probably will succeed as I did.
We all need a little help to revitalize ourselves and fight off disease as we age. If you stick with this it becomes tolerable. This hard work and hours of commitment is my gift to myself; my own fountain of youth.
For more of my writing, visit my Hot Flashes blog at www.arlenelassin.com.