Stretching your Way to Beauty

Young woman in paschimottanasana pose, home interior background,

Regular physical activity can help keep a person young. Our bodies are designed by nature to be used. As my father says – “What we need is a good sweat”.

However, ‘civilised’ modern living moves us moving us further and further from this. A lot of the more desirable and higher income jobs are also some of the more sedentary. Office jobs and professional occupations expend lots of mental energy, but little physical. Even jobs that do require activity don’t necessarily make for healthy people.

As a counterbalance, we have to incorporate regular activity, exercises, training or gym-work into our daily lives. Even cleaning your home with vigour (a practice of George Ohsawa) can make a difference. But first the habit to do so has to be made and then maintained. If not, it is so easy, to go the path of least resistance – of doing nothing physical and gradually becoming unfit as the years progress. Eventually when you get old, it catches up with you.

Regular practice of any sports or exercise is what is needed. It doesn’t matter whether it is tai chi, yoga, martial arts, dancing or gardening. It is the activity that keeps you young and mobile.

An old English proverb:

A rolling stone gathers no moss

Movement keeps us clear of Ki-energy stagnation and muscular restrictions. It keeps us loose and supple.

Here is an quote from the Yoga teacher Richard Hittleman from his book – Be Young with Yoga:

Flexibility and Grace; Stretching your Way to Beauty

Usually the first physical characteristics of which we become aware when we see someone is his or her movements and posture. The way in which a person moves, gestures, walks, sits and stands actually makes a strong impression upon us.

Isn’t it true that if a person, regardless of age, moves with a certain sprint and agility that he appears youthful and alive? Is there not something magnetic and radiant about the man or woman who walks, stands and sits with natural grace and poise? And on the other hand how quickly we will regard as “old” those people who have allowed their spines and limbs to grow stiff. Stiffness and tightness will always lead to varying degrees of immobility, slumping, stooping and awkwardness and we seem to be instinctively repelled by those characteristics which detract from what should be the natural beauty of the body.

Flexibility, balance and poise are not characteristics which can be “faked”. That is, you cannot force a good posture or move with grace and agility if you don’t really feel these naturally. But in reality the body is the temple of the spirit; therefore, it is the natural condition of the human body to have the attributes of youth and beauty and it is only through neglect that they are lost. We can regain them as we stimulate and increase the vital force through the Yoga exercises.

The major offenders from the standpoint of stiffness, tightness and resulting lack of agility and poise are the spine and back. The joints also play a major role… The Yogi will tell you that you feel and look as young as your spine is elastic. You have only to look at the people around you to determine the truth of this idea. Your friends and relatives who may be young in years will appear to be “aging” as their spines and joints stiffen and they find it increasingly difficult to accomplish the necessary tasks of everyday life, let alone moving their body with agility and poise.

On the other hand you will find a certain “ageless” quality in that person who regardless of age in years, has maintained the elasticity of his spine. He walks, moves and bends with ease and grace; he appears poised and agile and as such is bound to radiate the characteristics of youth, health and even optimism, attributes which we find so positive and attractive.

Be Young With Yoga, by Richard L. Hittleman. Pages 155-156

 


Be Young, even if you’re Old

Some examples of how daily exercises over a lifetime (in any discipline) can help you ‘Be Young’:

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Madam Suzelle Poole – Started ballet at 7 years old and was still dancing at age 77. (YouTube Video BBC3)

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Tao Porchon-Lynn, 93 year old yoga instructor, and listed in the Guinness Book of Records. (YouTube Video)

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And…

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Jack Lalanne (YouTube Video), The American Exercise guru – age 95


Obviously, these people have made physicality a major part of their life, far more than the average person. But we all have the potential to maintain some level of youth-ness. And I would argue that we have a duty to do so for the betterment of society and to enjoy and help our families.

The challenge is how to add more activity into our daily lives.

Maintain the basics

I think, simple daily exercises can be a good starting point. As Richard Hittleman said – a supple and loose spine is a sign of youth and health. For example, something like the basic forward bend can help stretch and loosen the muscles around the spine. This is one of the basic exercises promoted by Richard Hittleman in his book – Be Young with Yoga.

Here is the exercise as taught in Richard Hittleman’s book:

Preliminary Leg Pull – Technique No. 1

preliminary leg pull picture

preliminary leg pull picture
Images from ‘Be Young With Yoga’ by Richard Hittleman

The Preliminary Leg Pull:

  • Encourages elasticity in the spine through a concave stretching movement. Also reduces stiffness.
  • Helps relieve tension in back.
  • Strengthens and stretches the legs.
  • Makes leg muscles and skin more firm and taut.

Instructions

  1. Sit on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you. Bring your feet together and make sure the back of the knees touch the floor.
  2. Extend your arms in front of you, kepp arms at eye level.
  3. Very slowly stretch forward, as far as you can aim to reach the furthest point of your legs.
  4. Grasp the furthest point of your legs, which you are able to hold without strain. For exmple, the knee, calves, ankles, feet or toes.
  5. Gently and slowly, bend your elbows and pull yourself further, beyond the point where you can longer stretch confortably. Stop when the movement becomes difficult.
  6. Do not strain. Never jerk or fight to go further. Hold the movement motionless for 10 seconds.
  7. When finished, slowly raise your trunk upright and and rest for a few moments. Then repeat the exercise again.
  8. Gradually increase the exercises by a few seconds each week until you can hold for 20 seconds. Practice 3 times a day either in the morning,  afternoon or evening

Advisory

Make sure legs are straight and knees not bent. When you pull forward, do so by bending the elbows.

Never jerk or force yourself to go further and never strain. Hold the pose in a relaxed way. Over time, your will find your spine will automatically and naturally gain in elasticity and flexibility.

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My note: This book was written in the 1960s. However these-days  it is more common practice to carry out the forward bend with a straight spine, head more upright and to ensure the bend comes from the hips. In these photos, it looks like that the model is bending her neck and head downwards. This may not be the best form.

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Richard Hittleman also advises:

Important things to know about the Preliminary Leg Pull

This technique will be an indication as to how stiff and tight you may have grown in ‘Key’ areas throughout your back and legs. The PRELIMINARY LEG PULL will begin to loosen these tense and cramped spots and provide you with elasticity of the spine. By following the directions exactly as given and holding your extreme position without movement for the number of seconds indicated, you will soon be able to place your forehead very close to, if not actually on your knees.

Next Post

BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE: Paschimottanasana – The Yogic Forward Fold


Genki Health Japanese Woman stretching


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References and Images

Be Young With Yoga, by Richard L. Hittleman. Thorsons Publishers Ltd. London 1962

Featured Image from http://www.123RF.com

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