How to Live Longer

There are many stories of long-lived gurus in the yogic lore, but one example is that of Paramahamsa Madhavdasaji. He was the guru of Yogendra, the famous yogi who founded the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, the oldest organized center of Yoga teachings in existence in the world today.

Paramahamsa Madhavdasaji lived to be 122 years old. There’s a photo of him at this age at the Institute with its caption proudly declaring the fact. In it, he looks slim and virile as he sits cross-legged on a tiger skin rug. On his face is a look of quiet consideration denoting patience and wisdom.


Was he really 122 years old in that photo? We’ll never know for certain. Birth records in India weren’t kept so rigorously back then. But it’s definitely possible with healthy habits and grace. The oldest unambiguously documented human lifespan is 122 years and 164 days. That was a French woman whose birth records undeniably exist.

Like Paramahamsa Madhavdasaji, Yogendra also lived a long and prosperous life in the service of others. He died at the age of 92 in 1989 – in a world long since filled with toxic influences from automobile exhaust and acid rain to PCBs and BPA. Now his son, Dr. Jayadeva Yogendra, continues to run the Institute at the young age of 83, still in good health and actively working to promote the well-being of others.

The World Health Organization says the average life expectancy across the globe is only 68 years. These yogis have done pretty well, then. Maybe it’s because they’ve followed the Yoga diet, a pattern of eating that resonates well with that of the world’s longest living populations.

When contemporary scientists have looked around the globe to see who is living a long time and why, they’ve come up with five groups of people who routinely live longer than most. In his book, Blue Zones, Dan Buettner expands upon the work of Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who dubbed the five regions in our modern world where health and longevity go hand in hand as “blue zones.” The inhabitants of these areas – Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy, the Nicoya Peninsular in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda in California – all have a few things in common.

One of them is dietary habits. Another is that they tend to live active vibrant lives well into their late 80s or 90s (and even longer) without reliance on medications and with few disabilities. They don’t typically take nutritional supplements or daily vitamin pills, and they don’t have special genes. It’s not about that. It’s about what they eat and how they live. And what they do is, on the whole, in line with what the gurus of Yoga said so many centuries ago.

Pay attention to your mental balance and keep stress at bay. Be kind to others. Move around a little. Eat brown rice, whole wheat, and barley. Enjoy lentils and beans. Milk, yogurt, and butter are okay in moderation. Stay away from meat and cheese, and most importantly, eat all the fresh fruit and vegetables that you can.



    4 Comments to “How to Live Longer”

    1. Khaled Fallahian on November 20th, 2012 2:50 pm

      Dear Kathleen ,
      I love your site and read always your writings joyfully . I have even translated some of them , which were about about vegetarianism into my facebook site . But I think , to put only the aspect in the way of healthy diet alone , could’nt cope the yogi diet well enough . How about , if you could thematise the spirituall aspect into the yogi dietry . I wish I could discuss the aspect of Ahimsa into the vegetarian diet through a scientific output . Just to say about the healthyness of vegetarian diet is simply debatable in the sense of pro and contra . I hope my english is understandable .

      Namaste ,

    2. Robert Hoyle on November 20th, 2012 9:26 pm

      “Be kind to others.” Something we all too often forget.

    3. Dr. Summers on November 21st, 2012 12:25 am

      Thank you for the kind words, Khaled. I hesitate to discuss ahimsa and get preachy rather than informative – reluctant to stray from my knowledge base, I guess. I’m confident in what I know about the body and health, but ethics and morals are gray areas that are opinions more than facts.

      There’s a popular Yoga teacher in New York who pushes complete veganism as the superior moral behavior for yogis. I’m curious what you think about that – and anyone else who would like to share.

      There are ever deeper layers of ahimsa, and it seems to me that we can take it straight to spiritual narcissism if we’re not careful.


    4. Perzy on December 3rd, 2012 2:58 am

      Funny thing that says a lot (about europeeans maybe :-) ) is the fact that the French woman sold her house when she was 89 and the arrangment was that she should stay as long in it as she could and the buyer would pay an annual fee until she moved out….

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