June 18, 2013

How Long Will You Live? (& Can Yin Yoga Help You Live Longer?) ~ Bernie Clark

Photo by Fountain_Head on Flickr

Sit down! Stand up! Sit!

Okay – which do you want me do: sit or stand? Well, neither actually – this is a test of how well you get from the floor to standing and from standing back down to the floor. Why? Are you interested in how long you (or your students) are going to live? This simple test, called the Sit-Rise Test (SRT for short), might give you some sobering news.

First let’s do the test and then explain what it means:

Sit down on the floor, no pillows or cushions—just sit on the floor. Now—stand up. No hurry. Now that you are up, notice how you got up: if you simply stood up without losing balance and without using any limbs of support, give yourself a score of five. If you had to use a hand or a knee to get up, take off one point. If you had to use both a hand and a knee, take off two points. Did you use two hands: subtract two points. Two hands and two knees: that will cost you four points. Did you lose balance on the way up? Subtract half of a point. If you failed to get up at all: your “rising” score is zero. Try it again, but this time, allow your self the option of crossing your ankles: try it a couple of times. What is your highest score?

In these three images, inspired by the video explaining the Sit-Rise Test, you can see a variety of scores: the guy at the top lost one point for using one hand, so his rising score was four. In the middle image, he lost three points for coming onto one knee, one hand on the knee and one hand on the floor: score = two. In the bottom picture, he scored only one because he used both knees and hands to get up.

Now, do the reverse—from standing sit down. If this was flawlessly executed (no hands, no loss of balance, etc.) give yourself a score of five. For each hand or knee you used, take off one point. Again, if you lost balance on the way down, subtract half of a point. Add this “sitting” score to your rising score to get your total Sit-Rise Test score. The maximum score is 10, the minimum, of course, is zero. (If this is confusing, watch the video below.)

There are many studies that show a linkage between cardiorespiratory fitness and longevity, but these require specialized equipment and not everyone can access or do these tests. Physiotherapists and researchers have long looked for ways to assess physical fitness, quality of life and life expectancy in a simpler way. In the late 1990’s Claudio Gil Soares de Araújo, a professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro developed the SRT to help evaluate physical fitness in a simple and direct way. In 2012 a study was released by Professor Araújo et al that showed a clear correlation between the SRT score and how long people will live. The results may be surprising.

People who scored in the lowest range (scores from zero to three) had a five or six times higher chance of dying in the period of the study than those in the highest range (scores of eight to 10). The results are shown to the right.

As shown, about 40 percent of those in the zero to three range (the bottom, red line) had died within 11 years of the study, while only 6 percent of those in the 8 – 10 range (the top, black line) had left us. These mortalities were from all causes. This was a test of people between 51 and 80 years old.

What was not offered in the study were ways to improve the SRT score. What was offered was a description of why the scores were related to mortality. In their discussion of these findings the authors noted:

”The ability to achieve a high SRT score could reflect the capacity to successfully perform a wide range of activities of daily living, such as bending over to pick up a newspaper or a pair of glasses lying under the bed or table. Moreover, a high SRT score likely indicates a reduced risk of falls. It is also noteworthy that during the application of SRT in our centre over a 14-year period, there have been no adverse events, reflecting a high level of safety associated with this simple assessment tool.

The SRT can be considered a simple screening procedure in which a low score largely reflects the degree of impairment in the components of musculoskeletal fitness – mainly those indicating a reduction in muscle strength and/or joint flexibility. [Italics added for emphasis.]”

This is where Yoga comes in!

Yoga helps to improve muscular strength (think yang forms of yoga like normal Hatha classes) and joint flexibility (think Yin Yoga.) There is a maxim in yoga: the best way to excel in a challenging yoga posture is to do that posture. The best way to improve your SRT score is to sit on the floor more often! (Which will naturally involve getting down and getting up more often.)

Consider the standard alternative to sitting on the floor in the West: sitting in chairs. When we sit, we generally slouch. We use the back of the chair to support us, which robs the back muscles of a chance to do the work, to stay strong. Slouching also reverses the natural curve in the lower back: the lumbar spine straightens. For people who tend to be hypolordotic (which means they have too little curve in their lumbar) decades of slouching in their couches could result in a permanently straightened lower back, which leads to many low back pathologies, pain and problems. Also, when we sit in chairs, we tend to keep our legs together. Our hips sockets start to shrink-wrap to this reduced range of motion and we lose our natural flexibility in the hips as well as the spine. It is not surprising that modern living has resulted in large number of people suffering lower back problems and reduced hip mobility as they age.

However, sitting on the floor can reverse the negative effects of sitting in chairs.

Start slowly, but over the months to come spend more and more time on the floor. Read while in Sphinx pose (simply lying on your belly while propped up on your elbows), eat at your coffee table instead of your dining table, talk on the phone while on the floor. Find more and more excuses to get down, and to get healthier. Living on the floor is simply extending your Yin Yoga practice and soon you may find your SRT scores soaring (or being maintained if you already have a high score.) In time, give your chairs away to people you don’t like and let them screw up their hips and spine. You’ll be alright, and you will out live them.

Or, in true yogic compassion, decide to spread the news and share this article with everyone you love and even with those you don’t like so well. If you are a yoga teacher, start your next class with the Sit-Rise Test and let those who score poorly know that they have some work to do. Then, show them how to open their hips and strengthen their spines.

Photo by Justin Ornellas on Flickr



Bernie Clark has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1998. He has a bachelor degree in Science from the University of Waterloo and combines his intense interest in yoga with an understanding of the scientific approach to investigating the nature of things. His ongoing studies have taken him deeply inside mythology, comparative religions and psychology. All of these avenues of exploration have clarified his understanding of the ancient Eastern practices of yoga and meditation. His teaching, workshops and books have helped many students broaden their own understanding of health, life and the source of true joy.

Bernie’s yoga practice encompasses the hard, yang-styles, such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga, and the softer, yin-styles, as exemplified in Yin Yoga. His meditation experience goes back to the early 80s when he first began to explore the practice of Zen meditation. He manages the Yin Yoga website and he’s the author of Yinsights, The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga, and of the forthcoming From the Gita to the Grail: Exploring Yoga Stories & Western Myths.


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


Photo by Eero Y on Flickr 


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