ACCORDING BOTH TO SCIENCE and general life experience, getting intentional about emotional wellness is key to living longer, looking younger and feeling our absolute best.
There’s a benefit to aging well emotionally. I know because I used to suck at it. You can actually measure emotional wellness in your telomeres, the molecular timekeepers at the end of your chromosomes that act like a knot at the end of a thread. Your telomeres signal to the enzymes duplicating your DNA that they’re nearly at the end of the strand, and it’s times to stop, just as a knot tells you to stop pulling a piece of thread with a needle. I wrote the book Younger because I was not aging well emotionally and it prematurely shortened my telomeres, which put me at greater risk not just for wrinkles but also for heart disease, cancer and early death. From a simple blood test, I learned that I had the telomeres of a woman 20 years older, and that catapulted me into action to learn how to slow down aging.
Overall, people with short telomeres have an up to 300 percent higher risk of cancer of the pancreas, bone, bladder, prostate, lung, kidney and neck. Thankfully, you can improve the upkeep of your telomeres. When you do, you will look and feel younger than you have in years.
In the following tips, you will learn the secrets of my patients who have the telomeres of women ten to twenty years younger, despite stressful lives…
Seek Six Good Women
Socializing and connecting positively with others can reset your mood, mind and telomeres. It helps reduce the way you respond to stress, and it’s an important way to create meaning and reduce isolation. In particular, women thrive with girlfriends. Men benefit from marriage; women benefit from spending time with their women friends.
Stronger social ties are proven to lower blood pressure and boost longevity. Having no social ties is an independent risk factor for cognitive decline and has an effect on your health similar to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes per day. Talking to another person for just ten minutes per day improves memory and test scores. The higher the level of social interaction, the greater the cognitive functioning. Harvard researchers found that people with multiple social ties — such as church or social groups, regular visits or phone calls with family and friends — were less likely to experience cognitive decline than those with no social ties. Most studies agree: Be in touch with six people per week (yes, texting counts).
Meditate With The Muse
Meditation is well documented to help regulate cortisol, anxiety, chronic pain and many illnesses. Meditation improves positive mood, and the benefits begin immediately after training, even in beginners. The problem is that we all know this. Why is it so hard to do it?
There’s no single best way to meditate, but my favorite is to use the Muse brain-sensing headband because it gamifies meditation. It’s a EEG machine in the shape of a headband that guides you to focus your attention on a nature sound – such as beach waves or a rain forest – that you play on your smartphone. As you focus better and calm down, the waves get quieter, and if you sustain the calm state, you start to hear bird sounds. Competitive brains like mine become calmer and calmer with each session. Then you get a score at the end of your session, which reviews what percent of time your brain was calm, neutral or “active.” Brilliant! It’s the best way I’ve found to dial down my sympathetic nervous system and dial up my parasympathetic nervous system.
Unlock Tension In The Diaphragm
One of the fastest ways to age your body is to engage in time compression, the feeling you get when you don’t think you have the time to accomplish all of your goals in a day. It can ramp up your fight-or-flight response well beyond what’s appropriate for the situation. But five to ten minutes of a restorative pose can counterbalance a high-pressured day.
I like to do restorative poses over balls that are placed along the spine to release tight spots. Rolling on two balls placed under the upper and mid back may free up your diaphragm and increase the capacity of your breath volume, which will oxygenate the blood and connective tissues and activate the vagus nerve, creating a sense of calm and release. The vagus nerve is the portal to the parasympathetic nervous system that governs restorative bodily functions and where most healing and release occurs. I learned this technique from Jill Miller – it’s thought to be one of the best ways to unlock a harried nervous system.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Place two balls (tennis or lacrosse or YogaTuneup balls) under the lower back, about halfway up your spine, one ball on each side of the spine.
- Inhale and tuck pelvis up. Exhale, and drop tailbone over balls.
- Inhale pelvis up; exhale pelvis down.
- Move your balls up about one or two inches toward the mid back. Shift hips toward the right, and drop the right buttock toward the floor. Then shift hips to the left over the balls, and drop the left buttock.
- Move the balls up higher, to the mid to upper back. Straighten out your legs and extend your arms, palms facing up. Breathe slowly and deeply for five breaths.
Book A Craniosacral Sesh
I’m a huge proponent of self-care and I’m keen on encouraging trying out all sorts of therapies and alternative methods to give the mind and body healing through many means. I’m trained to be a skeptic, but the most effective treatment I’ve found for the problem of being stuck in your tissues is craniosacral therapy (CST). CST is an alternative treatment that releases restrictions in the fascia and fluid around the spinal cord, cranium and throughout the body, and subsequently restores body function.
Two years ago, I fainted and hit the back of my head and neck. For months afterward, I was foggy with a stiff neck and weird twitch of my head to the right. A massage therapist recommended that I receive CST.
In my first session, as the therapist palpated the side of my neck, I felt a very clear sensation of fluid releasing in my left neck, like a water balloon had burst. She saw my eyes fly open as I asked, “What the heck was that?” She explained that I released an energy cyst, a localized area of compressed energy. In the world of CST, when energy enters the body in overwhelming quantities (or with an overwhelming quality), the body adapts to the presence of this energy by trying to contain it. It compresses the foreign, disorganized energy into a small space, thereby creating a cyst of energy. It’s the body’s way of minimizing disruption. Your body works around an energy cyst until it has the resources to deal with and release the effects of that injury. While I cannot explain it scientifically, I became a believer in this form of treatment for overwhelming emotions, physical injuries and even the emotions surrounding injuries. They tend to linger, stored in the body like I experienced, until addressed.
Get To A Yoga Class
Yoga is my favorite way to release my fascia and muscular tissues, and it yields so much for flexibility and balance, as well as the heart, bones, muscles and mind. Yoga has been shown to regulate cortisol and serotonin. Yet it’s another one of those good ideas that I never got around to implementing regularly, until I failed my telomere test! Then yoga became urgent and a higher priority, not an afterthought once my “real” exercise (running, spin or barre class) was completed.
If you have trouble making it to yoga, try uddiyana bandha, a form of energetic lock of the body. The idea is that mastering the locking and unlocking of the bandhas can slow down aging. Practicing bandhas is one of the best ways to release chronic holding, myofascial tension and even psychological trauma. My favorite is the abdominal lock called uddiyana bandha.
Uddiyana means “to fly up or soar.” The practice is to pull the abdominal muscles upward toward spine after exhalation, and to hold the exhale as long as possible. Avoid during pregnancy or if you have any of the following: high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, glaucoma or gastrointestinal ulcers.
Here’s a primer on uddiyana bandha, performed first in a seated posture, then in bridge pose.
Get a feel for uddiyana. Sit comfortably with knees bent. Inhale and exhale deeply. Round your torso forward. Pause at the end of exhale, lips closed; tuck chin toward chest, and contract abdominal muscles upwards toward thoracic spine. Hold as long as comfortable, from ten seconds to one minute. Then release abdominal muscles and chin lock, and gently inhale. Repeat a few more times.
Now you’re ready to try uddiyana in bridge pose. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet at on the floor. Inhale and lift tailbone, low back, mid back, and upper back into bridge pose. Spread the ribs and take a full inhale and exhale. Pause and hold the exhale, lips closed and chin tucked toward chest. Lift your belly wall and organs toward your mid back. It should feel like you’re creating a vacuum in your belly. Hold the exhale for as long as you can, from ten seconds to one minute. Gently release abdominal muscles and chin lock, and inhale.
Soften belly, and repeat uddiyana two to four more times.
By performing uddiyana, you will wake up dormant tissues that are underused, such as the innermost intercostal muscles and the deep abdominal muscle layers. Once you know how to practice uddiyana, you can perform it seated in cross-legged position, in dolphin pose, or in almost any other asana of your choice where freedom of the diaphragm would be helpful.