In all the known history of (wo)mankind we have never grown so old en masse. Our age expectancy is now 80.1 years, whereas before finding someone at the age of 50 was seen as ancient. As I was reconnecting to my Yoga philosophy studies and specifically the Yoga Sutras I realised that Patanjali's Yoga sutra 2.16 is very relevant in this time. In this verse, Pantanjali writes: Heyam dukham anagatam which translates to "The suffering that is to come can be avoided". And as the 'to come" has extended so significantly let us see what we can do to avoid this suffering.
(Spoiler alert! This article is mainly about women's (hormonal) health, which is one of my big passions. This does not mean that if you are reading this and identify as being a man, there is not very useful information for you in it too and if not for you then for all those women that are close to you)
So how do we go about avoiding this 'suffering'. How can we make this philosophy and specifically this sutra an embodied practice? First of all this Sutra speaks to the idea that suffering in all senses - physical, emotional & psychological - can be actively prevented through self-care by the choices we make today. This sutra centres around the idea of karma and in essence, Patanjali is saying that even the smallest actions play a role in determining the future. It is asking us to become more and more aware of the choices we are making in every moment. So the suffering we experience now is to some extent made up of the choices we've made in the past. Self-care is preventative medicine and living a long and healthy life is a proactive process.
In essence even the smallest actions play a role in determining the future.
Coming back to the fact that we are growing older than ever before. As a woman, this means that over 1 billion women are expected to go into perimenopause in 2025 with the average woman starting in her 40s, but symptoms can start as young as 35. We also menstruate earlier and longer than our predecessors. Knowing all this means that taking care of our hormonal health should be on our top self-care list.
"The outer world is nothing more than an inner condition" ~ from the book 'A course in miracles"
So what are the 4 ways to practice for longevity?
Sleep & stress
I start with this one first as scientific evidence is now showing that these are literally the most important part. Not just for women's hormonal health but overall health for all human beings. If stress levels are high and if you are not sleeping well, cortisol levels skyrocket. Then no matter how hard you exercise, eat well and try to have a good mindset. (The latter which we all know is anyway nearly impossible with high stress and sleep deprivation.) It won't make a difference. You need to set sleep & lowering stress at the top of your priority list. Saying that exercise, nutrition and mindset can contribute to this, and can controversely also harm both.
So this is maybe going to come as a shock to some of you, but I am going to say it anyway. Yoga and then specifically the asana or exercise practice on its own is just not going to do it. After practicing yoga for over 18 years of which 12 years teaching and of which for a while (7 years to be precise) practicing yoga exclusively (taking surfing aside). I can honestly say without even having to read the scientific proof that it is just not rounded enough. At one point especially if we are over 35 years old, we are going to have to add in stronger weight-bearing impact exercises, high-velocity power training and progressive resistance training. This means adding weights progressively, adding cardio with explosive movements & weights if needed and high-velocity power training. Whereas traditional yoga focuses on mostly isometric, low impact, low aerobic postures. This is great, but even if you want to keep practising yoga solely into a very late age, at one point you are going to have to add progressive resistance training to practice for longevity.
Yoga and then specifically the asana or exercise practice on its own is just not going to do it
This feels like kind of a no-brainer, but so many of us are still so lost in what a good diet encompasses. This makes sense as one person's nutrition can be another's poison. For me, it was a long journey to find out what works and what doesn't. Many of you know some of my journey . How I was vegetarian and even vegan for many years, suffering from multiple issues. As I was not listening to what my body needed, but instead following the dogma of what I taught a yoga practicioner/ teacher should be eating. Very stupid in hindsight, but I guess that is what it means to be human. I was very lucky to have come across functional medicine, so that I could get to the root cause of my issues. After which I now know that adding animal protein and skipping certain plant-based foods has made a world of difference. Here are some good practices for nutrition:
If you want to explore how a food affects you. Fast for a couple of hours and then eat for instance an apple wait 15-30 minutes and see the effects on your body. Now do the same with heavy pasta, cream & cheese and see how you feel
Drop gluten, dairy & refined sugar for a while and see if this makes any difference. It is known that these 3 are highly inflammatory for the body. So even if you are not allergic it is good to see the effects of taking them out of your diet for a while.
Add a good protein to each meal & snack. It does not have to be animal protein as long as you add it to each meal. Think of a handful of almonds with a piece of fruit as a snack.
Do the same with a high-quality fat, try adding it to each meal. Think good sourced olive oil, avocado, salmon, nuts & their butter.
if you are suffering a lot from your food and you do not know what is causing it, even after an elimination diet. I would highly recommend working with a functional doctor. You can find more info & practitioners all over the world here: ifm.org
Add a good protein to each meal & snack. It does not have to be animal protein as long as you add it to each meal.
Women today are doing too much. Women's bodies are not designed for long-term stress levels, and the result is imbalanced hormones. During times of stress, the adrenals produce more cortisol, and since the body is now essentially in fight-or-flight mode, it starts to reduce sex hormone production. This is a natural survival response. In hard times, the body inhibits sex hormones to reduce the fertility rates; and then in good times, hormones balance and fertility levels increase. Research has shown conclusively that meditation & mindfulness help to reduce stress hormones and increase a beneficial hormone called DHEA, which is the building block for hormone production and a natural anti-ageing hormone. Even just taking a few moments throughout your day to meditate, to reconnect, to pause. Can already make a significant change and has been proven to make you more efficient. So instead of doing an 8-hour workday in one go. Split it up. Work 2 hours and then take a 10-15 minute rest where you let your mind wonder off. Work again for 2 hours and then do a 10-15 minute meditation on gratitude. Work again 2 hours and then go for a 10-15minute mindful walk where you sense, feel and become aware of your surroundings. When you finish your workday don't just rush off, but take a 5-minute breath awareness practice before you go on your way.
Remember that with self-care, it is not the 'doing' that is hard. It is the remembering. Going for a walk, exercising, taking some time for yourself, breathing awareness - these things are not hard in and of themselves. What can be difficult is the shift in our state of consciousness away from the high-strung distractions of our daily lives.
This year we are hosting two very special retreats at Yogaion.
The pause retreat from 6-12 July in Aljezur, Portugal, Which as the name says it is all about taking a moment to reconnect, to bring your mind to your body. To pause amidst the chaos of life. The retreat is led by and organised by a very special group of woman all contributing their knowledge and care to bring an amazing week of true connection.
From 14-20 September in Cantabria, Spain. I will be hosting a retreat that is very close to my heart. The women's wisdom sculpt retreat. Through nutrition, mindfulness, our innate connection to water & sculpt Yoga. We will come back to ourselves and find new ways of self-care so that we can practice for longevity. Sculpt Yoga is a combination of body awareness, conscious practice, yoga, pilates, strength & cardio, functional movement & core combined with the fluidity that I find when connecting to the ocean. You can check out my Instagram account: shainiverdon to see more on this.
Side note on perimenopausal symptoms
As a side note if you are suffering from perimenopausal symptoms I would highly recommend talking to your gynaecologist and delving deeper into the science of bioidentical HRT (hormone replacement therapy) as new studies show great relief not just for now but also for later in life to prevent disease like osteoporosis. It might feel like very far from your bed show especially if you are in your twenties or thirties. But as (Western) women we are so lucky living in this day & age. All the information is out there so that we can inform ourselves and make the choice that is best for us. But we do need to take a proactive stance and not just hand the responsibility for our health of to someone else. This way no matter how young you are, and probably even better the younger you are. As you start incorporating the idea of karma into your life, you realise that even the smallest action now can have a profound effect on your overall health later in life.
As always with much love,
Ps you can always send me a private message if you have any further questions, on the topic 🙏