It’s no secret that our vitality declines as we age. But luckily, yoga and ayurveda offer a myriad of practices (from postures and meditation to breathing and herbs) that can put the brakes on that trend — and even, perhaps, reverse it. They teach us how to sustain our vitality into our 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond, so that we can live life to the fullest — and devote our energies to spiritual pursuits.
A pose called viparita karani, or inverted action pose, is a simple way to assimilate, store, and enhance prana (life force) in the body as the years go by. It is so rejuvenating that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika refers to the pose as the “reversing process” and says that “grey hairs and wrinkles become inconspicuous” after six months of daily practice.
Like other inversions, viparita karani yields several health benefits. With the pelvis and legs raised higher than the heart and head, the effects of gravity on the circulatory system are reversed and a rich supply of arterial blood is brought to the brain and the glands of the upper body. Inversions also drain venous blood pooled in the legs and abdomen, bringing it back to the heart. As you breathe deeply in the pose, the nervous system is quieted and the senses are rejuvenated. With regular practice you’ll be able to sense an increase of vitality at the navel center as the pose strengthens the diaphragm, massages the internal organs, and stokes the digestive fire.
A safe and restorative version of viparita karani can be practiced against a wall. To begin, sit sideways on a bolster or a stack of folded blankets, then turn your body and raise the legs onto the wall. You can press into the heels to lift the pelvis slightly and adjust the props underneath the hips and lower back so that they provide comfortable support (you may need to experiment with the number and positioning of the blankets until you can rest with ease in the pose). Keep the hips square and both buttocks touching the wall while sensing the tailbone release toward the floor. Lengthen the spine, rest the backs of the shoulders on the floor, and open the chest. Settle into the pose by allowing the arms to rest above the head with elbows comfortably bent and open to the side. Relax and breathe. Start by holding the pose for one minute, gradually increasing to three to five minutes. Both the body and mind will feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
Greg Capitolo teaches hatha yoga and serves as Director of Finance and Information at the Himalayan Institute.