Now age 60, I’ve done lots of different exercises over years, from running and weight lifting to isometrics to yoga. What I’ve settled on now (and I think it would have worked well for me most of my life) is a simple regimen of exercises that take about 20 minutes a day, keeping my muscles toned and my joints limber. I still do some walking and biking to round out the aerobics, but it’s these simple exercises that keep my body toned and my spirits up. They’re a combination of age-old yoga exercises, more modern isometrics, and some effective mantas recited silently in the mind during the workout, coordinated with controlled breathing.
I began doing isometrics during my high school years, simply by flexing the different body muscles. I moved on to other types of exercises in my adult years, but came back to isometrics a couple of years ago.
The yoga I adapted from an age-old Eastern practice known today as the Five Tibetans.
So, let’s jump right into the exercises to give you an idea. Afterwards we’ll add the mantras and breathing technique.
There are 12 exercises, and I do each of them five times before moving on to the next exercise. At first you might want to try each exercise just once… and then over the course of several weeks, work yourself up slowly to five times. They take about 20 minutes in all, and I do them almost daily (usually between 5 and 7 days a week).
I like to exercise first thing in the morning while lying on the floor, although the isometrics in particular (exercises 4-10) can easily be done almost anytime, anywhere—at the office, in an airport terminal, in the living room… —without being too conspicuous. Instead of lying down, you can do some while sitting, others while standing.
Caution: Follow your inner voice about how often, when, and how intensively to do them. What I offer are only suggestions. If you have any heart, lung, or blood pressure conditions, or any muscle irregularities, get your physician’s approval. And during isometrics, flex gently the first few weeks to avoid strain… and keep breathing. Don’t ever hold your breath during the exercises.
The exercises shown in italics are isometrics, and the figure is gray.
Yoga exercises are in regular (unslanted) text, and the figure is black.
Now, the exercises. (If this is your first time trying these exercises, just do them once, even though the ultimate goal is to do them five times daily.)
1 – Leg lift, side position: Lie on your right side, right hand supporting your head. Pointing the toes on your left foot toward your head, raise the left leg slowly, then bring it back down slowly. Don’t let your body roll back; keep your shoulders and hips straight up from the floor. (Goal: Do this exercise 25 times, then switch sides, lying on your left side, and repeat with the other leg 25 times.)
2 – Spinner: Stand up, arms outstretched, then spin five times to the right—five complete circles. Breathe one complete breath—out then in—for during each spin. If you feel dizzy, breathe more shallowly or spin more slowly. (Goal: Do this 5 times, or 25 full spins, before moving to the next routine.)
3 – Leg lifts, back position: Lie on your back, legs straight, hands beside you or under your tush, palms down, then raise your feet 5 times above your head, and raise your head at the same time. Breathe out as the legs go up, in as the legs come down. (Goal: Do this 5 times, or 25 leg-and-head lifts in all, before moving to the next routine.)
4 – Leg-bicep, shoulder flex: Stay on your back and raise the knees so that the feet are flat on the floor. Stretch your arms across the floor straight out from the body, then flex 1) the muscles in the shoulders and 2) the leg biceps. Hold it for five complete, comfortable breaths. (Goal: Remain flexed 5 times as long, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
5 – Lap, shoulder flex: Still on your back, extend your legs together on the floor, put your hands on top of your head, then flex 1) the shoulder and neck muscles, and 2) the lap muscles (front of the upper legs). Hold it for five breaths. (Goal: Remain flexed 5 times as long, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
6 – Bicep, calf flex: Still on your back, raise your knees again with your feet flat on the floor, bend your elbows, then flex 1) the biceps (the front of the upper arms), and 2) the calves. Hold it for five breaths. (Goal: Remain flexed 5 times as long, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
7 – Tricep, tush flex: Still on your back, extend your legs and relax your arms on the floor again, then flex 1) the triceps (back of the upper arms) and 2) the tush. Hold it for five breaths. (Goal: Remain flexed 5 times as long, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
8 – Forearm flex: Still on your back, 1) bend the wrists forward, fists clenched, then 2) bend the wrists backward, fists still clenched, then 3) bend the wrists forward, fists open, then 4) bend the wrists backward, fists open—all four wrist exercises taking five full breaths to complete. (Goal: Continue flexing the wrists this way 5 times, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
9 – Neck, shoulder, lower-calf flex: On your back, knees up and feet on the floor, clasp your hands above the groin, then flex 1) shoulders and neck, and 2) the small area between the ankles and calves. Raise your back off the floor so the weight is on your head, tush, and feet. Hold it for five full breaths. (Goal: Remain flexed 5 times as long, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
10 – Back-arch, belly, ankle flex: Lying on your back, put your hands palms down under your tush. Then arch your back and lift your feet six inches off the floor so that only your head, forearms, hands, and tush are touching the floor. Feel the pressure in the back and stomach while flexing your ankles. Hold it for five full breaths. (Goal: Remain flexed 5 times longer, or 25 complete breaths, before moving to the next routine.)
11 – Crab: Sit up with your legs together on the floor in front of you, put your palms down on the floor beside you, and look down at your navel. Then raise your torso toward the sky and bend your head back so you’re looking behind you. Then return to the sitting position looking down. Breathe out as you raise your torso, and out as you lower it. (Goal: Do this 25 times before moving to the next routine.)
12 – Straight-arm pushups: Roll over onto your stomach. With your hands palms-down next to your chest, straighten your arms, pushing your torso up off the ground, pushing your tush straight into the air so your body’s an inverted “V,” and look back under your body. Then, keeping your arms straight, lower your body to the “cobra” position with knees and toes touching the floor and your eyes looking up at the ceiling, then return to the inverted “V” position. Breathe out as you lower into the cobra, and in as you rise back up into the inverted “V.” (Goal: Do this 25 times before moving to the next routine.)
Adding the Mantras and Controlled Breathing
These exercises are good in their own right, but when you add the spiritual component (with mantras and controlled breathing), they can change your life in wonderful ways.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, each exercise is done in five even breaths. You breathe…
Out – In – Out – In – Out – In – Out – In – Out – In
Once you work your way up to the full program, you’ll be doing each exercise five times, which means 25 complete breaths with each exercise before moving on to the next.
These are the two mantras, which reflect the true nature of our highest spiritual self: 1) We’re all one, we all want love and happiness. 2) Cherish myself, cherish myself today; cherish others, cherish others today. Very simple, but also life-changing when the knowledge they contain becomes ingrained in our conscious thinking.
So, putting the two together—breathing and mantras…
Breathe out on the HIGHLIGHTED WORDS, and breathe in on the words or spaces between those highlighted words.
For the yoga routines:
“We’re ALL (breathe in) ONE, we ALL want LOVE and HAPPI-ness.”
For the isometrics:
“CHERISH myself, CHERISH myself TODAY. Cherish OTHERS, cherish OTHERS today.”
Try reciting those a few times (silently, in your head) while breathing at a steady rhythm, until it becomes natural and comfortable. Remember: Exhale on the highlighted words, and inhale in-between those words.
And finally, once you’ve become familiar with the exercises and comfortable with the coordinated breathing and mantra, pull them altogether into a most rewarding workout! Within months you’ll start looking great and feeling great!
Note: I adapted the mantras from teachings of the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who recommends several daily practices that quickly strengthen our noble side: 1) Start the day with a five-minute reflection on the fact that we’re all connected to each other and we all want the same thing—to be loved and to be happy. 2) Spend another five minutes cherishing our self while breathing in, and cherishing others while breathing out. 3) Throughout the day practice cherishing everyone we meet. 4) Continue to do this despite our moods and the way others treat us. Doing this daily can quickly polish up our noble side and etch a contagious smile on our face throughout the day.
Other posts on health and well-being:
Spiritual Growth: Embrace the divine; it’s where we shine – Go to the light – Healing and the human spirit – Love and good will… but what about trust? – The carnal line between noble and savage – An apology can lift the spirit