Anti-ageing exercises

written by Kerry Boyne

TAI-CHI-FORUM2

Some time after the birth of her youngest daughter, Marija Sutich developed long-term chronic neck and back pain and constantly aching shoulders. The pain and discomfort dogged her for years. In a fairly fruitless search for the cause and a cure, Marija says, “You name it, I saw them: doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, an osteopath. One doctor took an X-ray and told me I had the neck of a 60-year-old woman — and I was in my late twenties!”

Marija got on a treadmill of regular cortisone injections in her neck and shoulders — “week in week out” at some points — but, as usual, these only addressed the symptoms, not the problem. In fact, she was told by a doctor there was nothing else that could be done for her except maintenance by treating the pain.

During one of her frequent waits in a specialist clinic, Marija was flicking through a magazine and her eyes lit on an advertisement: “Fountain of Youth — Do You Want to Regain Full Mobility?” “My God. Of course I did,” she says. “So I sent away for this book, and I can’t tell you … honestly, it was a life saver. I couldn’t believe how quickly I regained all my mobility and lost all the pain.”

 

Ageless monks

The book Marija sent away for was Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth, written in 1939 by Peter Kelder as a sort of intriguing fable. In it, the narrator befriends a retired colonel who, when they first meet, looks to be in his late 60s at least; he’s stooped over and walks with a stick. One day, the colonel tells the narrator he has heard about some monks in the backblocks of Tibet who live to a great age without sickness or any of the usual problems that come with growing old.

Some years later, not having seen each other in that time, the narrator and the colonel renew their acquaintance — but the colonel is unrecognisable. He now looks and seems like a much younger man — more like 45 than his 73 years. He reveals how he found the monastery and learnt from the monks a system of exercise, or daily rites, that has brought about this miraculous turn-around. He passes on the knowledge to the narrator and a select group of others.

Like many people, Marija learnt the rites directly from Kelder’s book, which is an easy read — you can complete it in a day — and began to practise them daily, starting with just three repetitions of the five rites, gradually working up to the optimal 21 repetitions of each.

She does them once a day, first thing in the morning and never misses a day. It takes her about 15 minutes because she has added deep breathing to the practice. She makes it a rule that even if she’s off-colour or rushing to catch a plane or can’t do the full practice for whatever reason, she performs them a minimum of three times so she never loses the momentum or the habit.

Five years ago, Marija, who lives in Auckland, NZ, became an instructor in the Australian-based T5T system, which adds extra deep breathing practice to the rites, and she has found this an even more powerful regime than the rites on their own. At almost 60 she has the vivacious looks, bright eyes and energy of a much younger woman and she can’t imagine ever not doing the rites.

As Marija says, once you learn the rites, you have them for life. You can do them anywhere – you don’t need a gym. You can do them in your pyjamas beside your bed, you can do them in front of the telly or in the garden, you can do them in your hotel room when you’re travelling.

In fact, this may be a great solution for those stressed-out people who tell themselves they’re too busy to exercise (you know who you are). A time investment of 10–15 minutes a day to be more flexible, stronger and have more energy to face that busy day in a calmer frame of mind? It’s a no-brainer. And who knows what else it might lead to? Meditation, yoga, healthier eating …

Energy for daily life

Take Denis, a former PE teacher and soccer coach now in his 50s, as an example. He, too, came across Kelder’s book by chance, about five years ago, and after reading it started the practice, gradually working up to the full 21 repetitions of each rite over a month or so and practising them fully for more than six months. He is effusive about the benefits he felt immediately.

So why, then, did he stop? Denis says that by then he felt so good and so fit, he went off and joined a gym and has been a serious exerciser ever since. He, too, looks and feels much fitter than most men his age or younger. Although his practice of the rites tapered off as he became a committed gym goer, he recalls, “You always felt good after [doing the rites], because you oxygenated your whole body first thing, you see.

“Gradually, you get stronger and it becomes easier. You feel really fit and it gives you energy for the day. That made me feel like joining a gym and now I still exercise hard four days a week. I’ve been a regular at the gym ever since.

“I wanted to be fit for golf, too — that was the other benefit,” he adds. “I’m on a handicap of four [very good, apparently], and that’s down to core strength and fitness from the Pilates and the weights. But it all started with the Tibetan rites.”

While he would “absolutely recommend” the rites for anyone, especially people who’d find it very hard to exercise as intensively as he does (that would be most of us), he also plans to “get serious about doing it again” himself. Denis makes a good point: “When you do the rites, you are doing 105 exercises in 10–12 minutes, along with the incredibly beneficial deep breathing. That’s a very efficient way of exercising.”

 

Feel good, look good

For Marija, though, practising the rites is much more than mere exercise. She believes they have made her emotionally strong as well. “I don’t think a lot of exercise balances the chakras like the rites do,” she says. Here, she is referring to the colonel’s belief that the rites balance what he calls the seven energy centres or vortexes, which correspond exactly to the seven chakras.

According to the colonel, when these vortexes or chakras become unbalanced we age faster and more than we should, and we develop health problems, but the five rites rebalance all the vortexes so that the whole body is working optimally and the ageing process is slowed.

Marija agrees that she doesn’t look or feel anything like her age. “It’s given me that tautness. My stomach is firm. My posture is great. They’re weight bearing, too, which improves bone density. As a matter of fact, I had a bone density test just last week and the results were above average.

“My blood pressure is fantastic — 117 over 70. And, I’ll tell you another thing: when I went through menopause, not one hot flush, not one problem. But when my younger sister started menopause, she was having all sorts of problems. I taught her the rites and she couldn’t believe how her symptoms — the hot flushes — just went completely. She now swears by them, too.

Marija says the rites are all she needs to keep her weight stable, too. “I walk, but not every day. All I do, really, is the five rites and a couple of extra stretching exercises.

“You see, the more oxygen you have in your body, the better your metabolism, so you don’t have weight management issues. You just have so much more energy to do more. You’re more alert. It’s kept me supple and kept me youthful. My sister-in-law calls me a contortionist!

Asked whether other people notice the changes in her, she says, “Oh, yes, all the time. People I haven’t seen for years come up to me and they say, ‘You look great. What are you doing?’ and I just tell them I do the fountain of youth — the five rites. I literally swear by them. I call them my life saver.”

Rite 1

Stand straight, arms firmly outstretched parallel to the floor. Spin around clockwise while keeping in the same spot. Perform 21 rotations, breathing in deeply and out fully as you whirl.

 

Rite 2

Lie flat on your back on the floor, arms by your sides, palms flat on the floor. Raise your head, tucking your chin into your chest. Without bending your knees, lift your legs into a vertical position. Slowly lower your head and legs to the floor in the flat position. Perform 21 times, breathing in deeply as you lift and out fully as you lower your legs.

 

Rite 3

Kneel on the floor, arms by your sides, hands on the side of your thighs. Drop your head forward, tucking your chin into your chest. Then bring your head and neck backwards as far as you can, arching your spine and pressing against your thighs for support. Perform 21 times, breathing in deeply as you go into the arch and out fully as you return to the resting position.

 

Rite 4

Sit on the floor, legs straight in front of you, feet shoulder width apart and palms flat on the floor beside your buttocks. Let your head drop forward, tucking your chin into your chest. Let your head fall backward as far as it will go, at the same time raising your body so your arms and legs are at right angles to the floor and your trunk and upper legs are parallel with it, in a tabletop formation. Flex all your muscles, then relax and return to the sitting position. Perform 21 times, breathing in deeply as you go up and out fully as you return to the resting position.

 

Rite 5

Lie face down on the floor, feet shoulder width apart and resting on your toes, hands flat on the floor shoulder width apart. Raise your body into the cobra position arching your head and neck back as far as you can. With your hands and feet in the same place, bend your hips and go into the downward dog, or inverted V position with your head down and your chin tucked into your chest. Perform 21 times, breathing in deeply as you go up and out fully as you come down.

When you begin, you should not try to do each rite the full 21 times. Work up to it gradually, starting with, say, three or five of each, though it will depend on your age and physical condition how many you can start with and how quickly you can work up to the full 21. Some people take a month or more, some just a few weeks.

There is no rule about what time of day is best, though it is particularly good to start the day oxygenated and energised by doing them as soon as you get out of bed. It’s advisable not to do them close to bedtime as the energy boost could interfere with sleep patterns.

Though the idea is to do them once a day every day, some people like to perform them twice a day, sometimes doing a shorter version in the afternoon rather than the full 21 of each rite. And, as always, if you have any particular health condition, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare practitioner before starting any system of exercise.

Rite 6

… the one you mightn’t want to know about

In Kelder’s book, the Colonel eventually tells him about rite 6, the one that can take a person from merely a healthy, vital individual to “a superman or woman” who “youths” instead of ages. But at a price. This rite, the Colonel emphasised, is to be practised only if you are celibate and only when you feel the urge of sexual energy. The rite is meant to redirect that energy upwards.

Put bluntly, you do the rite rather than engage in any sexual activity. Great if you want to commit to celibacy; otherwise, no super powers for you. And there’s a catch even to the celibacy thing: you have to really want it, not just resign yourself to it because you lack a partner or struggle with the urge. In short, you must already feel sexually complete and be ready to move on to another level.

We’re yet to find anyone who does the sixth rite.

 

Claims and testimonials

Claims from individuals about the benefits of practising the rites range from improved memory, weight loss, dramatically increased flexibility and strength to miraculous improvement in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, sinus problems, eczema and insomnia, as well as looking and feeling much younger — even to the point of grey hair going back to brown, according to some people. Among the plethora of testimonials are ringing endorsements from the likes of actor Martin Sheen and author of Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus John Gray, who is quoted as saying, “It can make a tremendous difference in your health, your energy, and the way you live your life.”

 


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Kerry Boyne

Kerry Boyne loves good food and is the managing editor of WellBeing.