One of my dearest friends, who is quickly approaching her 75th birthday, often reminds me, “getting old is not for sissies.” This saying always makes me chuckle and think of all of the ways we approach aging. When we no longer dread aging and appreciate it (especially as opposed to the alternative) it is one step towards living a happier and more rewarding life. Regardless of our attitudes about another trip around the sun, yoga offers many advantages to the aging process. Learn the top 5 ways Baby Boomers and seniors can age gracefully with the Koshas below!
We recently published an introduction to the koshas through yoga asanas. This article offers an exploration of the koshas with a little more depth. As a reminder, the koshas are layers of our whole selves and include:
- Annamayakosha – body sheath
- Pranamayakosha – breath sheath
- Manamayakosha – mind sheath
- Vijnanamayakosha – wisdom sheath
- Anandamayakosha – bliss sheath
Annamayakosha explains our body, both inside and outside. It accounts for our physical appearance, physiological systems (reproductive, nervous, skeletal, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, urinary, eliminatory, endocrine, lymphatic, and immune), and the five elements of creation.
Since Annamayakosha is responsible for how we physically show up in the world, it is essential to explore how the body ages before understanding how we can age gracefully with our external sheath.
According to the Johnson Memorial website, this is a high-level overview of how the body changes as we age:
- Cardiovascular system – the heart has a more difficult time circulating blood throughout the body as fatty deposits can build up inside the arteries, and blood vessels begin to lose elasticity.
- Muscular system – loses mass and flexibility.
- Skeletal system – more prone to fractures as bone density decreases.
- The digestive system slows, the esophagus has a more difficult time pushing food down, and digestive enzymes produce more slowly.
- Urinary, endocrine, and eliminatory systems – these systems are all connected. The kidneys begin to shrink in size, making them work less efficiently. Changes in hormones can contribute to urinary incontinence. As we age, we also sweat less.
- Hair, skin, and nails – the nails can become more brittle, develop ridges and grow more slowly. The hair may become thin and grey. The skin loses collagen and fat, which causes wrinkles to appear and increase in visibility.
5 Ways to Aging Gracefully with Koshas – Annamayakosha
1. Yoga Asanas
The physical practice of yoga has many benefits for aging. Yoga poses build and tone muscle, increase strength, balance, and flexibility, reduce pain, and improve sleep quality. We’ve identified the best classes and poses for seniors and baby boomers if you’re looking for ideas.
2. Eat a healthy diet
Eat a varied, balanced and healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, antioxidants, fiber, and omega 3’s. Annamayakosha is also about what we put into our bodies to support it. Here are some fun food combinations to try:
Salmon with broccoli, cooked pineapple, and couscous
Cod with olives, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, and riced cauliflower
Avocado filled with chickpeas and drizzled with balsamic vinegar
3. Drink water!
According to Pure Lux Medical, Drinking water “Reduces Wrinkles. Water keeps your body hydrated and refreshed and helps maintain your skin’s elasticity. People who drink large amounts of water are less likely to suffer from scars, wrinkles, and soft lines, and they won’t show as many signs of aging as those who drink little amounts of water.”
4. Practice proprioception exercises
Proprioception is the “mind-body connection.” According to WebMD, our muscles, joints, and tendons contain tiny sensory receptors. When we move, these receptors send messages to our brain, which communicates with our nervous system, vision, and system that controls coordination – the vestibular system. These exercises, aimed at increasing proprioception, will help us reduce slips and falls while enhancing our balance.
One leg balance
while holding on to a chair back, balance one leg for 15 seconds. Switch to the other side. Continue for another round, this time with your eyes closed. Next round, try for 20 seconds. Continue to build up over time. Aim to balance on each foot for one minute.
Heel to Toe walk
Put your right foot in front of your left with the heel of your right foot touching the toes on your left foot. Next, move the left foot in front of the right. Place the weight in your heel first, then shift the weight to the toes. Continue alternating between feet. Do this for up to 20 steps. It is more complex than it sounds!
Again, have a chair nearby should you need it. Place one foot out in front of you. Close your eyes and touch your left finger to your nose, then your right—switch feet and repeat.
Nose and ear touch
This one feels a lot like trying to pat your head and rub your belly simultaneously. Begin in a seated and upright position. Place your feet on the ground and hands, palms facing down, on your knees. Bring the right hand up and gently touch/squeeze the tip of your nose. Keeping the right hand on the nose, cross the left hand over and touch the right ear lobe. Bring the hands back to the lap, and do it again on the opposite side – left hand to the nose, right hand to the left ear lobe. Keep moving through this sequence as quickly as possible. Challenge yourself to build speed and accuracy over time. You may even want to try this one with your eyes closed.
5. Walking in nature
A walk in nature increases our strength and balance, supports our cardiovascular function, and increases our respiratory output. Walking in nature also enhances our senses and can provide an overall feeling of wellbeing.
5 Ways to Aging Gracefully with Koshas – Pranamyakosha:
Various pranayama exercises can help to change the vibrational frequency we are feeling. Breathing exercises can also directly impact our mood. Before exploring how to age gracefully with koshas – Pranamyakosha, it’s essential to discuss contraindications of breathwork.
- Practice breathwork on an empty stomach.
- Do not practice breathwork without sign off from a medical professional if you have any of the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease (congenital or aquired)
- Chronic bronchitis, cough, or asthma – any breathing concerns
- Recent thoracic surgery
- Anyone at risk for a stroke
- History of migraines or severe headaches
- Detached retina
1. Double Breathing
This breathwork will increase energy and make you feel more alert. It is best to practice first thing in the morning. To practice double breathing:
- Take two breaths in through the nose – the first is quick and sharp, followed immediately with a solid and lengthy inhale.
- Without pausing, follow the same pattern and exhale through the nose and mouth. The first should be a quick and robust exhale followed by a long forceful exhale.
- Repeat 3-5 times and then take a pause for a minute or so – you can complete up to three rounds.
2. Bellows Breath
Bhastrika, bellows breath, is a great way to get you out of an afternoon slump or practice following an afternoon rest.
- Start by sticking your tongue out and panting like a dog – this will allow you to notice how the core engages when you are breathing in this manner.
- Bring the tongue back and close the mouth. Continue the “panting breath” with your mouth close. Ensure the belly is pulling in on an inhale and pushing out on an exhale – imagine a bellow used to stoke a fire.
- Continue doing this for about 10 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of a normal breath.
- Repeat the cycle 3-5 times.
- If you notice you are getting lightheaded or developing a headache, please discontinue the practice.
3. 4-7-8 Breathing
4-7-8 breathing is a great option before bed or at any time during the day when you want to relax, calm the mind, and slow the body.
- Take a comfortable seated position and close your eyes if it feels good for you.
- Bring the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, placing it just behind the front teeth.
- Breathe in through the nose and count to four. Hold the breath for 7 seconds, and, last, exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds.
- You may find it rewarding and relaxing to make the breath audible on the exhale.
- Continue through for four rounds – eventually, you can work up to 8 rounds.
4. Alternate Nostril Breathing
How To Do Alternate Nostril Breathing
Studies show that alternate nostril breathing balances the nervous system by creating an even flow of breath through both nostrils. Typically, one nostril is dominant over the other through various points in the day. Practicing alternate nostril breathing provides a feeling of calm and focus. Here is how to do it:
- Pinch the right nostril closed with the right thumb. Inhale in through the left nostril.
- At the top of the inhale, pinch the left nostril closed and then release the thumb, exhaling the air through the right nostril.
- After complete exhalation – move back in the opposite direction. Breathe in through the right nostril, hold, exhale through the left.
- Continue for as long as necessary to feel a sense of calm and relaxation.
5. Five Finger Breathing
- Hold your less dominant hand out in front of you
- Take the pointer finger from your dominant hand and begin to trace the outside of your thumb.
- As you trace upwards, inhale. When you reach the peak of the thumb, start your exhale as you come down the thumb.
- Continue tracing each finger and continue this breathing pattern.
- When you get the outside of the pinky finger, work your way back through to the thumb.
- If you’d like, switch hands and continue.
This pranayama exercise is not only calming, but it also is an opportunity to practice mindfulness by focusing on all of the senses at work – site, touch, and even sound if you listen closely enough. This technique is a good bridge from Pranayamakosh to Manomavakosha.
Here are additional pranayama exercises for youthful and healthy skin.
5 Ways to Aging Gracefully with Koshas – Manomyakosha:
Keeping the mind sharp is imperative to aging gracefully with the koshas. Activities that involve concentration and mindfulness activities are ways to bring focus to our mind sheath. Mindful practices for Manymayakosha:
- Five Senses: Sit in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath. Notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Counting: Counting often has a rhythmic feeling and can help us relax and focus simultaneously. We can do this practice in multiple ways.
- First, count to 100 by touching your hand to the major joints on the opposite side of the body – left hand to the right ankle, right hand to left ankle, left hand to the right knee, right hand to left knee – continue with the hip, elbow, and shoulder.
- Next, count to 100 by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, 25’s, and 50’s – then go in the opposite direction by 50’s, 25’s, 10’s, etc.
- Palm Tracing: Trace the lines of your palm with your opposite finger.
- Pet a Furry Friend:
- Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- Pet your favorite animal until the timer dings.
- Try not to focus on anything else during this time.
- Candle Trance: Light your favorite scented candle. Set a timer for five minutes. Bring your full attention to the flame. Notice how it dances and flickers. Allow your gaze to soften, blur and melt into the fire’s flame.
This wisdom we gain is one of the best gifts of aging. One can age gracefully with koshas merely by accepting the aging process. The following practices honor the wisdom sheath that is Vijnanamayakosha.
5 Ways to Aging Gracefully with Koshas – Vijnanamayakosha:
- Practice meditation for 5-15 minutes per day. Whenever an outside thought bubbles up, place it on a mental sticky note, and set it aside.
- Create a wisdom jar or journal – honor the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years. Whenever you have a flash of insight into something you’ve learned, please write it down in a journal or on a slip of paper and place it into a jar. Plan to gift the wisdom to a loved one in the future or be happy knowing that someday, the right person will happen upon it at the right time.
- Create an “oh well” mantra: Something didn’t go as planned, “oh well” – what is something unexpected that happened as a result?
- Look at and honor your reflection in the mirror – notice and accept the lines on your face. Those creases by your eyes? Evidence of your smiles. The elevens by your brow – you’re a deep thinker! The lines across your forehead represent your expressive and animated storytelling abilities.
- Don’t believe everything your brain tells you: Notice the stories our brains try to create when we don’t have all of the information. Just acknowledging that the brain is making something up is powerful. Once you accept that your version of the truth may or may not be accurate, use that as an opportunity to make up a new story, one that offers grace and the benefit of the doubt to others involved.
This kosha is all about finding one’s bliss – being content while we accept our whole selves. While bliss and contentment are a way of being more than a practice, there are things you can do to honor something with which you’ve made peace or accepted with love.
5 Ways to Aging Gracefully with Koshas – Anandamayakosha:
- Sing your favorite song without worldly care of what you sound like or who hears your voice.
- Paint a picture to express a mood – have no judgment of the finished project.
- Write: Set a timer for 15 minutes. Freeform write with no concern for spelling, grammar, punctuation, or topic.
- Dance like no one is watching – be content if someone sees you.
- Send love to all of the parts of your body you’ve spent decades hating – chubby bellies, bird ankles, big noses, and thinning hair are all a part of the perfect picture that is you.
While the koshas are the layers that surround our soul, honoring every part of oneself is a critical way to age gracefully with koshas. Our external appearance, physical body systems, breath, awareness, wisdom, and joy all make up our whole selves. Honoring these layers as we age will bring us bliss and tranquility and help the aging process be one of enjoyment and gratitude.