In this volume, you will be introduced to ideas, techniques, and wisdom that can empower you, enhance your health, increase your joy of living, and cause you to live longer. However, you won't notice that you're living longer. You'll be too busy enjoying life and living it fully.
I often see people start to live their lives to the fullest only after they develop a life-threatening illness and must come to grips with their own mortality. When this happens, they experience a spiritual and physical rebirth so powerful it can improve or even cure the illness completely. Once this renewal process takes over, aging ends and youthing begins. Please, don't wait until you're facing death to set the youthing process in motion in your life. Begin it now.
This book is intended to help you do just that. In it, you'll discover a wonderful series of simple exercises called the Five Rites. You will also find a wealth of related information on diet, breathing, voice energetics, and many other topics. You will read about the uplifting experiences of people who practice the Five Rites. And you'll find advice and insights from physicians who will share their knowledge with you.
But as you read the pages that follow, keep in mind that this book is not really about ritual, or exercise, or techniques. At its heart, it is about you--your uniqueness, your attitudes and beliefs, your desires and hopes, your potential, your ability to joyfully embrace life and live it fully.
Science has demonstrated that your body and brain are physically altered by both your activities and your thoughts. By the same token, you can purposefully alter your activities and thoughts to achieve your goals for change. The exercises and techniques in this book are aimed at this very thing. I have done the Five Rites, and they make a lot of sense to me. I am convinced that if you do them regularly, and if you engage in life joyfully, you will improve your physical health and your mental outlook, and you will begin the youthing process.
Also, you will access and put to use the life force energy which is the essence of all things. Science now has the ability to measure this energy and is beginning to explore it. I have experimented with this book's advice on mantras and mantrums, and I can feel the energy difference they make. Allow me to share this story:
The other night I was meditating and performing my mantras while lying in bed. My cats were in bed with me, curling up to go to sleep. My wife, who was in the other room, could feel an unusual energy, and she came in to see what was happening. When she entered, I opened my eyes and discovered that the cats had also sensed something unusual. They were sitting upright, as alert and wide awake as I have ever seen them at 11 p.m. To me, the incident demonstrated how real and palpable this energy is and how it can make things happen in your life, things that are sensed and perceived by those around us.
My advice to you is this: Take the valuable information you are about to read. Bring to it your own insights and inspiration. Then, create your own personal transformation. Remember, you will not find the fountain of youth by looking outside yourself. The source of all things is found by going within. So start right now!
Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.
The five Tibetan rites presented in Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth can be described as a modified version of Hatha yoga postures. It's clear to me that the two spring from the same source. Both the Five Rites and Hatha yoga are based on a similar understanding of the human body and how it works.
Yoga is an ancient science, not a religion, that enables one to unite the body, mind, and spirit; the word itself means union. Westerners might use the word wholeness to describe the concept. Yogic postures are designed to heal and revitalize the body, calm the emotions, and clear the mind, and they can be done solely for this purpose. However, meditation is considered the real end product of practice.
To meditate is to make an intentional effort to be quiet, calm, and aware. It can expand and enhance perceptions of another level of reality, no matter what belief system you may ascribe to. Whether you think of it as prayer, contemplation, or the quest for consciousness, meditation is a kind of deep and silent process of observation that makes it possible to experience a sense of being present. I describe presence as an intense feeling of being in touch with what's going on in and around myself. For me, the daily practice of yoga and meditation has meant that I am more connected to whatever I'm doing in the moment. I feel alive, positive, and able to experience meaning in my life.
Yoga practices are specifically designed to create the physical relaxation and mental tranquillity necessary to achieve this higher quality of life. The exercises are a method for "yoking" together the physical with the mental and spiritual parts of a human being so they can serve one another and function in harmony. The postures actually lead those who do them into a meditative state.
They also help build up the physical strength and stamina necessary for the practice of a meditative spiritual discipline. Prana, a Hindu term used by those who practice yoga, means both energy and spirit. The two are inextricably intertwined. The Greeks, too, made the same connection: pneuma meant breath and also spirit. Consider the single, simple fact that to meditate, it's essential to sit very still and upright for a long period of time. Most people in today's world are too nervous, too stiff, and too tired to be able to do this for more than a few minutes. Yogic postures train and prepare the body to sit still and cross-legged with the spine straight and unsupported. In tantric literature (religious writings), it is written that the Buddha himself once said, "Without a perfectly healthy body, one cannot know bliss."
In recent years modern science has begun to document and verify the beneficial psychological and physiological effects of yoga, meditation, and yoga-like practices such as the Five Rites.
A study published in Journal of Research in Indian Medicine found that the daily practice of yoga asanas (postures) for six months led to a decreased heart rate, a drop in blood pressure, weight loss, a lower breathing rate accompanied by an increase in lung capacity and chest expansion, and a decline in incidence of anxiety. A subsequent study found that regular yoga practice led to a decrease in physiological stress, lower cholesterol levels, balanced blood sugar levels, an increase in alpha brain waves (associated with relaxation), and a general reduction of physical problems.
Numerous other studies have produced similar results. T.J. Thorpe, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee, found that yoga practitioners consistently reported decreases in feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Many of his subjects experienced relief from symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, headaches, body aches, spinal curvature, dizziness, joint stiffness, and skin problems. Yoga was helpful for those dealing with obesity, and some noticed a decrease in the use of alcohol and cigarettes. Benefits included an increase in feelings of composure, relaxation, and joy, improvements in interpersonal relationships, and an increased capacity for concentration.
In another experiment, Dr. V. H. Dhanaraj of the University of Alberta, in Canada, compared a group of people who engaged in six weeks of yoga practice with a group that did conventional exercises for the same period. He found that those who practiced yoga showed significantly greater improvements in cell metabolism, oxygen consumption and lung capacity, cardiac efficiency, thyroid function, hemoglobin and red blood cell count, and overall flexibility.
From India to Tibet: The Historical Link Between Yoga and the Five Rites
Scholars believe that a Buddhist master named Milarepa brought yoga to Tibet from India sometime in the 11th or 12th century A.D. It's my understanding that, in those ancient times, as well as today, Tibetan people did not see their spiritual lives as separate from their day-to-day existence. They believed that the presence of God could be felt in their own vitality. They experimented with practices that helped them connect their physical bodies with their spiritual selves, their souls. My feeling is that the Tibetan monks discovered over time what was, for them, an effective combination of yoga exercises which became what we call the Five Rites. The rugged, mountainous conditions they lived in may well account for their particular emphasis on vigor.
The Five Rites are quite special in that I think they represent a very old teaching that has come to us intact. By contrast, most of the yoga sequences that are being taught in the West today have been created within the past 50 years. The meditation techniques and postures are ancient, but the ways of practicing them are often modern adaptations. Traditionally these postures and exercises were passed on orally, from teacher to student, and they were constantly being modified and recreated. But I believe the form and sequence of the Five Rites are centuries old. Therefore, I think it's very important to do the rites as they're presented, without altering the form and sequence. The order makes sense to me from the perspective of my medical training and my personal experiences practicing both yoga and the rites. And the fact that people continue to find this sequence effective and get beneficial results makes the best case of all for not changing the manner in which they're done.
A Body Blueprint: The Master Plan for Energy Flow
According to the systems of thought in which both yoga and the rites are rooted, human beings have a number of energy centers. In yoga they're called chakras and the Tibetan monks described them as vortexes. Specific movements can stimulate and "open" these energy centers (see Chapter Four).
According to the principles of yoga, the chakras are not actually located in the physical body. They comprise what's called the energy body, an energy field that surrounds your physical self. But they correspond to precise points within the body where our life energy flows into the nervous system.
Those who practice and understand yoga believe that not only do we produce energy in our bodies, but we also receive energy from outside ourselves. Other cultures and healing philosophies include similar references: the Chinese call this essential and subtle energy Qi (pronounced chee). And in Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth, Colonel Bradford uses the Hindu term prana (vital life energy). (For a detailed discussion of the chakras, see Chapter Four.)
To Western minds, the idea of invisible chakras and subtle energy may seem strange at first. But is it any stranger than the way a television works? A satellite dish set up outdoors picks up invisible electromagnetic waves. We can't see those waves rippling through the air but we know they're there. When the whole system's working properly, they're translated into vivid pictures and sounds on TV screens.
Similarly, chakras are like the satellite dishes that "catch" needed energy. In fact, according to Peter Kelder's account, the Tibetan monks taught the Colonel that the vortexes represent powerful electrical fields. When they're in balance, or spinning at a normal rate of speed, vital life energy flows through our system as it should.
Indeed, science has confirmed that this ancient system of physiology is rooted in biological fact. We now know that bundles of nerves, called plexi, are actually located at the site of each chakra. These plexi are part of the sympathetic nervous system, which helps energize and stimulate our organs and glands. This is the "activating" system that, for example, tells the heart to beat and the lungs to expand and contract.
Two Paths to a Healthy Lifestyle
While there are many similarities between the practice of yoga and the Five Rites, there are also contrasts. It seems to me that the Five Rites offer a simpler, more practical way to reap the rewards of yoga and enjoy its benefits every day. The rites are less daunting than yoga, and when described clearly, they can be self-taught, making them easier to learn and follow than the unfamiliar and often difficult postures of traditional yoga. The rites are appealing because they involve repetitive movements, much like the kind of exercise routines most of us are familiar with. They require only a small commitment of time, and people find that attractive, too.
But it's important to understand that the rites and the practice of yoga are not in competition with one another. I don't want to say that one is better than the other. They are related, they are different, and they can effectively complement one another.
Some people may actually find the Five Rites more difficult to do than yoga, especially at first. They can be challenging. You need muscle strength and a certain level of flexibility and balance to do them properly. A good way to begin is to do basic yoga postures, which, for the most part, are held for only twenty seconds, as a warm-up for the more strenuous rites.
The Inside Story: What Yoga and the Five Rites Do for Your Body
Both yoga and the Five Rites, practiced independently or m combination, have a definite rejuvenating effect on those who do them regularly. From a medical point of view, it's easy to understand why.
CIRCULATION:THE KEY TO GOOD HEALTH
The exercises directly and positively affect circulation. Improved circulation speeds the healing process and gives the immune system a boost. More blood is pumped with fewer heartbeats, so there is less stress on the heart. When the flow of blood is improved, every cell in the body receives more oxygen and nutrients, and waste products are washed away more efficiently.
REJUVENATION, CELL BY CELL
Oxygen, sugar, and nutrients provide the fuel cells need to make energy. This fuel is carried to the cells by the blood. As cells make energy, they give off carbon dioxide, the waste they've got to get rid of. This is actually respiration and digestion on a cellular level. When we breathe, we take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. When we eat, we take in nutrients and eliminate what we don't need.
Visualize each cell in your body as a tiny factory. Better circulation, or blood flow, means more fuel and "spare parts" arriving all the time, so energy production stays high. The blood also acts as a conveyor belt, carrying away waste and debris more efficiently as circulation improves.
It's my view that this cellular rejuvenation could account for some of the "miraculous" changes people say the rites have generated, like the darkening of gray hair or the return of hair growth, profoundly new feelings of well-being and vitality, and smoother, younger-looking skin.
RELAXATION:THE REAL ROAD TO RENEWAL
It's important to understand the critical importance of relaxation in conjunction with any form of physical exertion, be it aerobic or isometric exercise, yoga, or the Five Rites. Exercise and vigorous yogic practices such as the Five Rites tend to increase muscle tension because of the great mental effort and physical exertion involved in these activities. While increased muscle tension brings extra blood to your muscles, it also decreases the flow of blood to vital organs. This increases the risk of injury, high blood pressure, anxiety, and stress on your heart. Therefore, it is essential to warm up prior to exertion, and to relax afterward to minimize muscle tension.
Relaxation before and after exertion, including the Five Rites, allows the muscles to relax, increasing blood flow to vital organs. Make sure you give yourself time to relax before and after practicing the Five Rites so that the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits aren't negated by excess tension. Through relaxation, the benefits of doing the Five Rites will be greatly enhanced!
If you enjoy aerobic and/or isometric exercise, I recommend that you practice the Five Rites or yoga in addition to your usual exercise routine. If you have no formal exercise program, you can view the Five Rites and yoga as a beneficial and complete approach to exercise.
A WHOLE BODY WORKOUT
Most Western-style exercise routines affect only certain parts of the body. A series of yoga postures or the Five Rites are designed to affect every part of the body, every energy center, organ, and system. For example, the rites cause the body to go against gravity. This stimulates the development of osteoblasts (cells that promote bone growth). In studies done with women in their 70s, it was found that if they simply walked four times a week for 20 minutes, a mildly antigravity activity, osteoporosis (bone deterioration) slowed down to almost premenopausal levels. Imagine how much gain could be achieved with the practice of yoga and/or the Five Rites, which involve the entire body in repetitive movements against gravity.
Another way in which both yoga and the rites impact the body systemically is by massaging the internal organs. Pressing, squeezing, and then letting go, as you do in Rites Two, Four, and Five, stimulates the release of toxins and old blood from the organs of the digestive system, as it brings in fresh blood which literally washes away these impurities. This in turn encourages healthy digestion and elimination. Rites Three and Five have a similar effect on the lungs, cleansing the muscles related to breathing in the chest and the diaphragm and giving them a good workout. Breathing will be deeper and freer, even when you are no longer exercising, which I think explains, in part, why those who do the rites notice they feel generally better throughout the day.
From the Hardcover edition.