I am in my 50s. There, I said it. To be precise, 51 as I’m writing this. Soon 52… and so on, because if we are lucky, we grow old. But we seem to forget that, and especially in the west, we try to resist the passage of time instead of embrace it. We arm ourselves with creams, with surgery even, with all potions and lotions imaginable.
For me turning 40 was traumatic, I really tried to put my foot on the breaks. I dated a much younger man, a partied like it was the end of the world, I drank, smoked, and took drugs, I did things I thought I had left behind in my 20s. And don’t get me wrong, I had fun (sometimes), but it wasn’t helping me. I was still unhappy and trying to resist time. Of course, that’s impossible. Time happens. And we should be grateful when it does!
Yoga had been a part of my life since the late 90s. I wasn’t a super dedicated practitioner, and due to my very hectic and not very conventional life in theatre, I wasn’t able to go to classes as often as I wished. I would through periods of going regularly to a studio, and other periods of nothing. But… and here is the important part, I always practiced at home.
I got into the habit of making it part of my morning routine, like washing my face or brushing my teeth. Even if just for 10 or 5 min. Mostly just sun salutations and variations on it. Sometimes a few basic asanas. Sometimes just sit down and contemplate, or just breath. And slowly yoga worked its magic.
Little did I know that at nearly 50 I would change my life. Radically. And strangely, now I feel less old. Actually, MUCH younger. I am not resisting change, or time, I’m embracing it with both arms. I am happy with who I am, and I wake up every morning excited and joyful. Especially if I get to teach yoga that day. Yeah, I became a yoga teacher too!
I am stronger, more flexible and have much more energy than when I was younger or even than some other people my own age. The secret? Could it be yoga? I believe it is. And science is backing me up.
Enter the TELOMERE. And the telomerase. The… wait…, the what… and what?
The telomere is a cap at the end of our DNA that protects our chromosomes, like the plastic cap on the end of a shoelace that prevents the shoelace from fraying, and hence becoming unusable.
The telomere is related to our biological age, and as it frays, or gets shortened, our longevity decreases. Telomeres naturally shorten with age as our cells replicate themselves; however, stress, smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise have been shown to lead to a quicker shortening of the telomeres.
In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn was one of three individuals who received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the function of telomeres and for determining the enzyme that maintains these structures, the telomerase.
Dr. Blackburn research shows that the length and health of one’s telomeres are the biological underpinning of the long-hypothesized mind-body connection.
They and other scientists have found that changes we can make to our daily habits can protect our telomeres and increase our health spans (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free).
What’s more, research by (did I say she was a Nobel Prize–winning scientist?) Elizabeth Blackburn has shown that after four to six months of regular mindfulness practices, the activity of the telomerase goes up 30 percent, and reduces their rate of decay.
Soooo…. What do we do with this information? Do we start looking for a telomerase pill? Definitely not! But we can start doing things to regulate our stress levels, which is one of the things that contribute to quickly shorten our telomeres.
We can do practices like breathing, yoga, and meditation with regularity. Even if, like me, you only have 10 min in the morning. And perhaps a class a week. Or 10 min before bed.
We can’t remove stress completely from our lives, but we can change our response to it, which will lead to great physiological and emotional health.
So, is yoga the fountain of youth? And how does it affect those telomeres?
If you want to know more about Telomeres, you can read Elizabeth Blackburn’s book, The Telomere Effect
or/and watch her TED talk here https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_blackburn_the_science_of_cells_that_never_get_old?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare