Eternal youth is a subject that has intrigued mankind through the ages.
Nowadays scientists seek ways of achieving eternal youth by studying ageing. The processes that accompany, or cause, ageing are called the “markers of ageing”.
Here are some important markers:
- Oxidative Stress – Toxins, radiation, stress and even the body’s metabolism create free radicals, which break down other molecules. Normally, the body mops up the free radicals and balance is kept. But when the body is unable to cope, oxidative stress spreads like wildfire, causing rapid ageing – like a cut apple turning brown and wrinkled.
- Inflammation – Normally involves pain, redness, swelling and heat as the body attempts to repair damage and eliminate invaders. As we age, there is increased tendency for the body to overreact, going into inflammatory overdrive, and causing diseases like atherosclerosis, arthritis, allergies and auto-inflammation – when the body turns on itself.
- Cell proliferation – Cells are programmed to live under certain rules, and then die when their time is up. When cells break the rules, refuse to die, and instead start dividing into more rogue cells this can be dangerous. Normally the body recognises rogue cells and destroys them. However, as we age, our immune system becomes compromised, and these rogue cells can become cancer.
- Reduced stress adaptation – Age is characterised by reduced ability to deal with stress and its consequences – high blood pressure and blood sugar, weakened digestion, compromised immunity, reduced sexual performance.
Finding the solution
Mankind has studied the problem of ageing for thousands of years. Ayurvedic medicine from India was devoted to keeping people healthy so they could live a full term of 100 years or more. And a whole branch of Ayurveda dealt with Rasayana – the science of longevity.
The writers of the first Ayurvedic textbooks extolled the youth-preserving virtues of a number of herbs with interesting names such as haritaki, amalaki, guduchi, ashvagandha, shatavari, pippali, shilajit. Recipes were given to make jams, wines, tablets and other life-promoting preparations which are still in use today.
Modern research on rasayana herbs has brought fascinating results – all these herbs have a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-stress properties! They reverse the markers of ageing!
Ayurveda recommends rasayana herbs for couples planning conception, for pregnant mothers, for newborn babies, children and adults – and for those in their mature years. Ayurvedic practitioners can tailor a lifetime rasayana programme to suit your age, body type, genetic weaknesses, and health history.
However, for these herbs to work optimally, it was considered that the body must be cleansed of toxins. Just as it is hopeless to replace a car’s oil without ensuring a clean oil filter, the body’s cells cannot effectively absorb rejuvenative herbs without first eliminating clogging wastes and toxins.
Panchakarma is ayurveda’s powerful method of detoxifying the body – even (research has found) environmental toxins lodged in the fatty tissues for dozens of years. A panchakarma treatment is traditionally recommended twice a year, at the change of seasons. This is followed by a rasayana programme of rejuvenative herbs and nourishing diet.
Ayurveda recommends a diet that is easily digestible yet nourishing. Most foods are cooked to increase digestibility, so raw foods form only a minor part of a healthy diet. Spices are used to improve digestibility.
How you eat is even more important than what you eat! According to Ayurveda, relaxation during meals is essential for proper digestion, and for proper tissue formation.
A range of good quality fats is needed for health, especially to reduce excessive inflammation. Not only do we need omega-3 oils to balance the omega-6, but we need saturated fats as well. Every traditional society has used saturated fats, even in India – ghee (clarified butter) in the North, and coconut oil in the South.
Eat foods that are high in antioxidants, such as colourful vegetables and fruits. Use spices like ginger, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon and tamarind. Clove oil is one of the most powerful antioxidants known. Prunes, raisins, pomegranates and the berries are rich in antioxidant agents.
Ayurvedic diet advice does not make rules or contradict modern nutritional advice; a qualified practitioner will help you integrate the knowledge to suit your personal constitution and needs.
Manage your stress to avoid the damage it can cause through free radical formation, poor digestion and a weakened immune system. Learn and use relaxation tools daily, such as yogic breathing.
Breathing and relaxation help the body to attain states in which it can repair and balance itself. They also increase the prana, or organising life force – and this increases energy and the body’s ability to handle stress.
Harnessing the mind
Avoid anger, anxiety, jealousy, envy and other negative emotions and thoughts. Every negative thought triggers a cascade of stress chemicals in the body, resulting in physical damage. Cultivate self-awareness, and shift to more positive thoughts and emotions if you want to stay young.
Ayurveda says that illness is often caused by “faulty intellect” – muddled thinking in which we make unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices. Controlling stressful thoughts brings clarity of mind, in which we make intuitive choices that are appropriate for health.
Traditional Yoga can provide you with a systematic way to manage stress and achieve greater mental clarity and self-awareness.
Physical activity without stress
Moderate physical activity such as Yoga keeps the body functioning well, strengthening the immune system and the body’s adaptability to stress. However, excessive exercise increases free radical formation and degenerative disorders. Ayurveda recommends exercising to slightly increased breathing and a slight sweat.
Act young to stay young
Maintain a youthful attitude. What do children and youths do most of the time? They play!
Find ways to become playful and childlike, and this will entrain the body to remain youthful too. Studies have found that people who feel young have a lower biological age than people who feel old – even though they are of the same chronological age.
Realigning with natural rhythms
Finally, take time to realign yourself with nature. Being in nature has a way of reminding us of the flow of life, of the perpetual cycle of growth. When we feel once again part of the natural cycles of growth, we relax and allow our body to function at its best, and to mature gracefully in its own natural time.
So is longevity for real?
The real meaning of “longevity” is the optimum functioning of the tissues and the processes of life – throughout our lifetime. The sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga offer possibly the most comprehensive system of optimising health and slowing aging. I believe this offers tremendous potential for human quality of life, and deserves further investigation and research.
There is no single “one-size-fits-all” solution. Ayurveda recognises that everyone has unique needs; and therefore building a relationship with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner is the suggested way if you are serious about excellent health and longevity.