Barbara Prema Brown has been practicing Yoga for the past 30 years. After being diagnosed with a fibroid tumor, she sought Yoga as an alternative therapy to help her recover. An accountant by trade, she pursued Yoga teacher training at Yogaville in 2009 and has been teaching Yoga ever since. We met together in Sivananda Hall for this interview, and she was absolutely radiant—proof that a regular Yoga practice is the proverbial fountain of youth.
An Interview with Barbara Prema Brown
Yogaville: What benefits have you recognized in your own body and mind from practicing Yoga? What specifically do you feel has helped you to maintain your health and youthfulness?
Prema: When I initially started doing Yoga, which was 30 years ago or more, of course I was much younger. I wasn’t at the place that I’m at now! However, Yoga saved me while I was working on Wall Street. I worked for JP Morgan—which is JP Morgan-Chase now—and Yoga helped me to de-stress. I also started, about 30 years ago, following a vegetarian diet, which is also recommended by the Yoga teachings. From there, I became a vegan. When I first became a vegan, it was for health reasons, but now I feel compelled to follow a vegan diet for moral reasons as well. So in order to have a really healthy life as you age, I believe you must have a practice in your life that helps you. I personally feel that Yoga is the ultimate practice. I also strongly feel that people should be plant-eaters, either vegetarian or vegan. I know there are some people who feel that they require meat, so I don’t say anything about that. But in order to be very healthy—and I feel that I’m very healthy—I recommend a plant-based diet.
Stress can really age the body, too. We live in a challenging world. Life is complex; I feel that mine always has been. Life is like that for everyone! However, Yoga really has the potential to help with emotional health and well-being as well. When you’re stressed out, you can practice alternate nostril breathing to take control of your stress response. You can meditate. Therefore, when stressful, emotional things happen, it’s not that you don’t feel it, but you can maintain equilibrium. That’s Yoga. It’s so wonderful. I cannot say enough about it.
I think that people could benefit from attending the Aging Agelessly workshop even if they’re younger. The workshop would be a great source of inspiration, because you really need to start these anti-aging practices when you’re young! You can start at any time, but if you start when you’re young, then when you get up into your 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, you will still be vibrant and have energy. Currently, I only go to the doctor for my annual exam. I don’t take any medications. I take a few vitamins, and that’s it! I work very hard to maintain my health. I also think that having a spiritual path has helped me, too. I found that having a Guru has enlightened my life. I feel that I’m aging agelessly for several reasons, but my Yoga practice is the foundation for my health, energy, and youthfulness.
Yogaville: What would you say is your favorite Yoga technique for promoting overall health and well-being? If you just had to recommend just one practice for our readers, what would it be?
Prema: Pranayama! Absolutely. Just start with the 3-part deep breath, deergha swaasam. Exhale fully and inhale, first filling the belly with air, then the chest, and then the upper throat. Let that 3-part breath become one smooth movement. Notice how much more breath can be taken into the lungs. Notice how, after a few minutes of practice, the body feels relaxed and the mind has quieted.
Just breathe better. It’s so simple. You don’t have to progress into kapalabhati (rapid diaphragmatic breathing) or alternate nostril breathing until you’re ready. Start with the breath. The breath will take you into meditation. If you don’t have a lot of time, but you would like to start a Yoga practice, I really recommend pranayama and meditation. My daily practice, without fail, includes pranayama, meditation, and headstand. If I don’t have much time, I never miss those practices.
Yogaville: Why headstand?
Prema: In headstand, the body is upside down. Everything relaxes. Inversions give the circulatory system a rest, help you stay young, and reduce stress.
Yogaville: Did you know that in Integral Yoga Hatha, Swami Satchidananda’s Hatha Yoga book, he said that if you want to skip all the other asanas (postures), you can practice headstand for 25 minutes?
Prema: That’s a long time! I practice it for five minutes. But I can understand that. I also heard Gurudev say, if you don’t have time, do pranayama and meditation. So that’s why I never miss pranayama, meditation, and headstand! In my daily practice, I take about one thousand breaths. I practice deep breathing, kapalabhati, and alternate nostril breathing.
If you do your breathing—good breathing—you’ll have so much energy. Aging people would be so much better off if they could learn proper breathing techniques. So, that’s my greatest advice. When we give the Aging Agelessly workshop, we’ll of course be practicing pranayama, but we’ll also be practicing some asanas (poses). We’ll practice a warrior sequence and everyone will have the opportunity to try headstand with a lift—a stand that you can put your head in and which helps support your shoulders during a headstand.
Yogaville: What are some practices you would recommend for maintaining external youthfulness and healthy skin?
Prema: Well, all Yoga practices work from the inside out! That’s very important to remember. Maintaining health of the body and mind through Yoga can definitely effect one’s external appearance. Diet is a big factor that influences one’s external beauty and youthfulness. If you have a great diet, it’s going to show in your body. A healthy diet is very important, and I recommend a vegetarian or vegan diet. That’s just my own preference.
There are also some practices that I incorporate into my beauty routine that are based in Ayurveda. Almond oil and raw honey make for a great combination on the skin. Apply almond oil to the face and then apply raw honey. You can leave it on for twenty minutes and then wash it off. That rejuvenates your face, makes it beautiful, and helps reduce lines and wrinkles. I also use clay as part of my skin routine. It’s a Mayan clay that you can apply to the face and leave on for a while. It also helps rejuvenate the face and reduces sagging. After washing off the clay, I apply rose water and then coconut oil on my face.
The application of honey, almond, clay, rose water, and coconut oil is all part of my morning routine. At night, I cleanse my face with the clay, and then I use the rose water and coconut oil, which I leave on all night.
Yogaville: Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
Prema: Yes! In addition to the workshop at Yogaville this spring, I will also be leading an Aging Agelessly workshop in Costa Rica, December 5-10, 2018. It will be my sixth year leading this retreat in Costa Rica, and it’s just amazing. If you attend the workshop at Yogaville, the Costa Rica workshop will still be beneficial. It’ll be a longer retreat, you’ll get plenty of delicious vegetarian food, and we’ll get to go on various holistic tours. Until then, I hope you’ll join me for Aging Agelessly at Yogaville, which I will be co-teaching with the wonderful Satya Greenstone.