I’m a sucker for quick fixes! I’m on that tightrope called the thirties and I know that my choices today will go a long way towards ruining or empowering the decades hopefully to come. Of course I want to drag and stretch what remains of my youth as far into my middle age as possible. My wife says my teens have so far bypassed my twenties and thirties as far as maturity and a sense of responsibility is concerned but what of the body?
Is there a way to stay fit and strong and youthful? I’m not happy with washboard abs and bulging biceps alone. I mean, sure I want them too, but I don’t want to end up like Don Youngblood, you know…
Don was an inspirational figure on the bodybuilding circuit in the early 2000s. having spent his youth setting up a successful trucking business, Don took up bodybuilding when he was 34. Don took to the gym like a fish takes to water and soon grew bigger than some of the trucks his company owned.
In 2002, Don won the Mr. Olympia in the masters category. He was huge, about 111 kgs at 5’9”. Though he looked the very picture of health, strength and youthful vigour on the surface, inside his body was crumbling. His muscles and bones were like those of an immortal titan but inside, his organs were ageing, burning out before their time. At 51, three years after winning the Mr. Olympia title, Youngblood died of a heart attack, leaving a shocked family and incredulous fans searching for answers to questions they had never imagined they would ask. Don after all was the super strong, super fit hero who was supposed to stick around long after everybody else had gone.
Evidently, building strong muscles alone wasn’t what it took to live a long and youthful life. And when I say youthful, I don’t mean a lithe gym-toned body topped off with a wrinkled face fighting a losing battle with gum disease, cataracts, male pattern baldness and goodness knows what else, either.
Health ought to flow from inside out. So, where are we to find the guide-map to the fountain of youth that keeps the organs healthy and the skin glowing?
A few weeks ago, I had mentioned the Five Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation that promise health and youthful vigour. Not only is this system of balancing our chakras effective and potent but is also extremely efficient. In fifteen minutes a day, the body, promise the rites, turns back the clock bit by bit, and restores balance within the body.
But what about people whose physical limitations wouldn’t allow them to perform the five rites? Or what about people who need a little more variety in their workout? Is there a system that is as powerful and as efficient that can rival the Tibetan system? Hatha Yoga and even Tai Chi Chuan are amongst the most complete systems of health and longevity but the practice is elaborate, complicated and needs the guidance of a qualified teacher.
But there is one set of rather accommodating exercises within the greater system of qigong that is pretty much the king of health quickfixes.
They (in this case, the Chinese) call it Ba Duan Jin. Ba means eight, for the number of exercises in the set. Duan denotes continuous practice (or that’s what I understood of it) and Jin stands for silk brocade for the system envelops the body like exquisite silk.
I chanced upon this qigong practice many years ago while doing some research about longevity practices.
Though not certified by Guinness officials, if one were to accept the records of the longest surviving civilization in the history of man, the oldest man to have ever lived would have to be Li-Chung Yun, a tall Chinese Taoist who was born in Kuei-chou, in the mountains of southwestern China, in 1678 and whose death was reported by an envoy sent to look for him by Chiang kai-shek in 1930. His legend is rather popular with venerable martial artistes and healers all across China.
Stuart Olson, a westerner who studied tai Chi with the great T. T. Liang, who himself lived to be 104, wrote a book about Li-chung Yun’s incredible longevity practices. And the cornerstone of Olson’s book and his recommendations was Ba Duan Jin.
Olson said that in all his interviews, Master Li had always maintained that he practiced Ba Duan jin every day. Eight exercises, practiced seated or standing for just about 20-25 minutes a day, promise to heal illnesses and ailments triggered by energy blockages and rejuvenate the whole body.
Need one ask for more…
I learnt these exercises from Sifu Kanishka Sharma, India’s very own (secular) Shaolin monk and have been practicing them ever since. If I could, I would just lay out all the eight exercises right here but there are enough detailed descriptions, videos and pictures all over the internet. Browse about and find one of these windows, practice a little and then integrate these exercises into your daily regimen. I have been practicing them for a while and I’m pretty sure if I wasn’t up at two in the morning writing these words just for you, dear reader, all my grays would have gone black by now.
Generations over a thousand years and more have vouched for the near miraculous powers of Ba duan Jin. And unlike most other forms of exercise, Ba Duan Jin is rather forgiving if one goes wrong with sequence, pace or breath. Learning it is easy and it really takes less time than it would take you to drive to a gym.
Enough said! Get started.... and if we meet in another two hundred years or so, let’s promise to exchange hugs and allow me to declare through my own teeth,’see, i told you so...’ Until then, keep the faith and keep training...