Yoga is for everyone!
Reading ancient Yogic texts time and again I come across statements that Yoga adepts can cheat and escape Death itself. One has to take these kinds of statements as metaphors, of course, but I do believe there is truth in this, as I have begun to feel the rejuvenating effects of my own Yoga practice - I am not afraid of getting old, as a matter of fact I look forward to it with great joy and anticipation. Being older has many benefits, such as experience, wisdom, and free time to meditate, to take things slow and be in the world, while maybe not entirely of it anymore.
How is it possible, then, that our Yoga practice can give us longer, healthier life? Why do those who have practiced Yoga for most of their lives have that ageless look about them? One cannot tell exactly how old these long-time Yogis are.
For me, one can cheat Death with Yoga, but only if one practices all the limbs of it, all at once, for a very, very long time - a lifetime. For starters, Yoga gives us a way to manage stress, which is the main cause of all disease. But living a dull life, without stress but also without any stimulation does not necessarily promotes long life. Yoga also stimulates the mind, so our lives are infused with rich experience.
The Yamas and Niyamas (the ten commandments of Yoga, so to speak) instruct us what attitudes are healthy towards ourselves and others. These are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-greed and moderation, as well as cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender to higher power. They help us to have positive relationships with ourselves and others, which has been documented to promote longer life. Lonely people get sick and die earlier than people surrounded by love and friendship.
Asana keeps the body healthy by entering places of stagnation with movement and breath, dispelling the toxins and keeping us limber and strong. That, in and of itself is not enough though. What makes Yoga special is that it helps to create a balance between strength and flexibility, and Svadyaya (Self-Study), one of the Niyamas, is how you find out what you need day in and day out, adjusting as you go. More advanced Yoga practices that involve Bandhas promote hormonal balance in the body. The ancient Yogis talk about Amrita, the heavenly nectar. They tell us that this nectar drips from the place behind the back palate (in the head), nourishing the body only if our posture is correct (otherwise it burns and is wasted in the gastric fire). I have begun to view Bandha practice as a way to maintain blood flow to the pineal, hypothalamus, and the pituitary glands, which control so many vital functions in our body. Youth is, to a large degree, in the chemical balance that becomes more and more fragile as we age!
Pranayama, or breathing techniques, can also have a profound effect on our health, not only physical, but also mental and emotional. There has been enough documented about the deep connection between the body and the mind via the breath. Proper breath abiding in a well-aligned body is a healing force - it quiets us down or stimulates us when we need it, it removes toxins, it focuses the mind and keeps it sharp and hones the connection of the mind to the body, awakening intuition and self-understanding.
Pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses, is the first step in meditation, a special practice when we go inward, allowing the distractions to fade away. This is where we begin to create a state of witnessing the life that we are, and develop more equanimity, because judgmental attitude is like poison. Acceptance is key to being happy!
From Pratyahara comes Dharana, or concentration, as our meditation deepens over months and years of practice. Now that we can distance ourselves at will from the distractions of the world outside, we can become aware of the world within and focus our attention on a subject, a sensation, a thought, a vision, etc. This is when deep understanding is within grasp.
As concentration becomes single-pointed and sharpens, Dhyana, or a state of meditation is achieved - the ability to be keenly aware without focus. The mind is so quiet, so at peace, that there are no questions one wants to ask, because all the answers are known...
Samadhi, or bliss and pure ecstasy is to follow, and in that moment one realizes the eternity and immortality of oneself - and therefore escapes Death. Because there is no Self to die, the Self is transcended and a profound peace is found.
I like this quote from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J.K. Rowling, when Dumbledore says so beautifully: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"