Adults planning for their next 50 years typically think in terms of financial investments. Author and yoga instructor Max Strom preaches a different kind of investment — in one's health and longevity. His plan calls for learning to breathe mindfully, following up with balance and then integrating the two for at least 10 minutes a day.
Strom's upcoming workshop, "Your Next 50 Years," acknowledges that both breath and balance are faculties that humans of all ages take for granted.
"It's involuntary until you make it voluntary," he says. "You can choose to take control of your breath."
Because respiration naturally constricts when the body is under stress, the effects of better breathing can be felt almost immediately, says Strom. Effective breathing improves all aspects of health, from the heart to the immune system, even alleviating pain and promoting a good night's sleep, says Strom, adding that Americans' most common health complaint is poor sleep, with 80 million taking prescription sleep aids.
"(Breathing) can really help lift people out of depression and anxiety," he says, explaining that upward of 40 million Americans are medicated for mood disorders.
Even longtime practitioners of yoga, which harnesses the power of breath, are surprised by their progress after working with Strom. The alternative-health field focuses far more on teaching meditation, he says, than on breathing.
"Breath is not being taught nearly enough and well enough in the yoga community," he says. "It's really our weak link."
More adults believe their weakness is balance, with statistics supporting the notion. The leading cause of death for people over age 65 is injuries or complications from falling, usually in their own homes, says Strom.
"We often give up on our balance as we grow older and stiffer."
However, difficulty balancing is the product not of aging, says Strom, but of inactivity. He says his techniques can improve balance in just six weeks. It's a short time to invest in potentially a half-century of life. People who commit to a 45-minute yoga practice for five to six days per week are on the path to true life extension, he says.
"You should plan for another 50 years — being healthy for another 50 years."
Despite the widespread assumption that health declines around age 50, it's practically a given that humans will exceed current life expectancies by a decade or more, says Strom. Biotechnology not only can eradicate disease but produce replacement organs from a body's own cells, he adds.
So Strom, 55, was moved to create a workshop specifically for participants between ages 40 and 100. The Ashland resident plans to teach "Your Next 50 Years" around the world this year but chose Medford's Rasa Center for Yoga & Wellness for its February debut.
"His teachings resonate to a really broad community," says Rasa owner Mariane Corallo. "It's not so esoteric."
Author of "A Life Worth Breathing," Strom specializes in training yoga instructors but has taught tens of thousands of Americans, Europeans and Asians of all backgrounds and physical abilities. No yoga experience is required for "Your Next 50 Years," but Strom plans two other workshops the same weekend that include gentle and vigorous, two-hour yoga practices. The cost is $45 per workshop, $75 for two or $110 for the whole weekend.
Rasa hosts Strom a half-dozen times per year, and his workshops usually fill up. He'll be one of the headliners at a yoga festival Corallo plans this summer in Ashland. Not just an "influential yoga teacher," Strom furnished Corallo's inspiration for Rasa when she met him at an Ashland gathering about five years ago.
"It was Max who put the seed in my mind about opening up a yoga studio."
The topic of breath has special significance for Corallo, who moved to Ashland to escape the pressures of her corporate career in San Francisco. She sought yoga amid a personal tragedy.
"If you're able to control breath, then you're able to control your emotions and your thoughts," she says. "It was truly (in) the yoga class that I felt like I could breathe again."