This month, I’m honored to be sharing my tips for aging gracefully on the Yoga For Healthy Aging blog!
Whatever season your part of the world is experiencing now, spring will arrive sooner or later. Spring is the season of renewal, new life, new growth, and vitality both for the planet and for each of us. Vitality is one of the meanings of the word “juicy” and best expresses Maria Mendola’s recommendation for spring: “Get Juicy Now!” The idea being that being vital and getting juicy is about embodying health, radiance, contentment, and so much more. Juicy joints, juicy thoughts, juicy moves! Let’s age, juicy! Isn’t that a helpful image to keep in mind as we age?
I decided to interview Maria for a couple of reasons. I’ve known her for many years, and have been fascinated by her story and impressed by the way she “walks her talk.” I’m encouraging her to write a book and have offered to help. Recently we were teaching together in the foundational two-week training for the Integrative Yoga Therapy program, and I decided that interviewing her would make a good post for this blog and might be a way to move the book agenda forward.
Let me tell you a bit about her. Maria began her work in the health field as a holistic nurse. She has since studied with Dr. Vasant Lad, the late Mukunda Stiles, Tias Little, and Joseph LePage. For her, the idea of aging juicy began with a personal crisis. Twenty years ago as she was riding her bike in Mexico, she was hit from behind by a pickup truck. The accident resulted in massive brain injury and a broken back. She was told she would never walk again. She used time and yoga to begin the slow process of healing and self-discovery. Now at age 58, she is walking, running, dancing, teaching yoga classes, managing a yoga therapy practice, offering a Yoga Alliance Approved training program in Functional Yoga Therapy, and can dead lift 120 pounds with perfect form. She is a walking source of juicy advice for aging well and functioning optimally.
About aging, she says: “Most of our perspective on aging is in our minds. We do have a biological clock but I don’t believe that aging equates with the body failing. We need to adapt to the changing seasons in the same way we adapt to the seasons of aging.”
Her recipe for healthy aging consists of three words: Expand, Nourish, and Root. I asked Maria to recommend a yoga technique for each concept.
Maria says, “One major key is balance. It’s the first thing to leave after age 40 but we can get it back through yoga.” Her suggested technique is Dynamic Stork pose, performed slowly with full engagement of body, breath, and mind. (You can find many excellent posts on the importance of balance by Nina and Baxter on this blog, such as Yoga and Balance: An Overview and Techniques for Improving Balance.)
Stand in Mountain Pose, with your feet slightly wider than hips-width apart. Shift your weight and strengthen into your left leg.
Keep your spine straight, and your eyes open and focused on a point on the ground in front of you or straight ahead.
Inhale and expand as you float your arms out to the sides, bend your right knee and slowly raise your right leg in front of you until it is in line with your hip.
Pause at the top of your inhalation and hold for a beat or two.
On your exhalation, release your arms and legs and return to Mountain pose.
From Mountain pose, if your feet are not already slightly wider than hips-width apart, step them into that position. Shift your weight and strengthen into the right foot and leg, and repeat the pose on your left side.
Repeat at least six times on each side.
Maria recommends practicing in bare feet on a firm surface.
As part of a daily meditation practice, Maria suggests using Jala Mudra, the gesture of water. This mudra is said to:
Encourage fluidity and flexibility in both mind and body
Lubricate the joints
Support the health of the urinary, reproductive, digestive, and eliminatory systems
In your favorite seated position, touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your little fingers, and extend the other three fingers straight out.
Rest the backs of your hands on your thighs or your knees.
Soften your shoulders and sit with your spine comfortably straight.
Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, or as long as you’re comfortable
Maria says, “Love your feet! Our feet move these body temples of ours along the earth. Daily, feed your feet with loving massage and oils. Treat them to being barefoot, and wearing shoes that fit well. Love each toe. Roll your feet with a ball. Take time to both look and touch your toes to wake up your nervous system. Life is too precious to allow its chaos to sweep us away. Take time to feel your feet daily, to exhale fully, and then inhale energy up from the earth through your whole body. Imagine your energetic roots reaching deep into the earth, bringing in sustenance.”