Healthy Aging: Ayurveda
Aging is a complex and common process in the human body, a sum total of changes that occur regularly in a living organism with the passage of time and lead to decreasing ability to survive stress, increasing functional impairment and growing probability of death. Ayurveda, the Indian traditional medicine, describes aging with great details.
Aging in Ayurveda is known as “Jarā” defined as that which has become old by the act of wearing out “jīryati iti jarā”. It is synonymed as “vārdhakya” meaning increasing age. According Ayurvedic medicine human life is divided into—“Balya” childhood (up to the age 16 years); youth and middle age [from 16 to 60 years (charaka) or 70 years (sushruta) and exhibits progressively the traits of growth (vivardhamana, 16–20 years of age), youth (youvana, 20–30 years), maturity (sampoornata, 30–40 years), deterioration (parihani, 40 years onwards) which gradually sets in up to 60 years]; old age, wherein after 60–70 years the body elements, sense organs, strength, and so forth, begin to decay.
While describing aging, Ayurveda takes in consideration Prana (life energy that performs respiration, oxygenation and circulation). It governs two other subtle essence ojas and tejas. Ojas (the essence of the seven dhatus or bodily tissues) is responsible for the auto-immune system and mental intelligence, it is necessary for longevity. Displaced ojas creates the kapha-related disorders and decreased ojas creates vata-related reactions. Tejas (the essence of a very subtle fire or energy) governs metabolism through the endocrine system.
Agni (central fire or energy source in the body) promotes digestion, absorption and assimilation of food. Tejas is necessary for the nourishing and transformation of each dhatu. Aggravated tejas, burns away ojas reducing immunity and overstimulating pranic activity. Aggravated prana produces degenerative disorders in the dhatus. Lack of tejas results in over production of unhealthy tissue and obstructs the flow of pranic energy. Just as it is essential to maintain balance amongst the tridosha—vata, pitta, kapha principles of motion, metabolism, structure, respectively, the dhatus and the three malas (bodily wastes); it is also important for longevity that prana, ojas and tejas remain in balance. The tridosha play a very important role in the maintenance of cellular health and longevity. Kapha maintains longevity on the cellular level. Pitta governs digestion and nutrition. Vata, which is closely related to pranic life energy, governs all life functions. Proper diet, exercise and lifestyle can create a balance among these three subtle essences, ensuring long life.
Panchakarma: Detoxification and Rejuvenation process
Ayurveda describes several processes to address control and prevention of aging. Pancha Karma is one of the popular rejuvenation and detoxification process that consists of three stages including Purva Karma (pretreatment), Pradhana Karma (primary treatment) and Paschat Karma (posttreatment). Snehana (oleation) and Swedana (sudation) are the two Purva Karma procedures. The four Pradhan Karma include Vamana (medical emesis), Virechana (purgation), Nasya (nasal administration), Basti (enema). A school of thought from Sushruta also considers Raktamokshana (bloodletting) as one of the Pancha Karma. Paschat Karma (posttreatment) mainly deals with Ahar (diet) regimens, Vihar (exercise) and use of health-promoting Rasayana and other medicines.
There have been few studies indicating physiological benefits to Panchakarma. Ayurveda describes various rejuvenative therapies with help of special class of medicinal preparations called Rasayana that are believed to rebuild the body, mind, prevent degeneration and postpone aging or rather reverse the aging process. Charaka has described two methods of rejuvenation, the first method—intramural (kutipravesika) required the subject to remain inside a chamber in isolation and second method which was less rigorous and was carried out in open air—extramural (vatatapika). The intramural method is suitable for healthy, self-controlled, wise, strong and affluent persons whereas extramural method is advisable for others. In intramural method, a special cottage is constructed on an auspicious land facing east or north, it is safe and supplied with all the necessary articles for treatment and the procedure is started on an auspicious day. In extramural therapy, it’s basically the use of various medicinal plant formulations. According to Ayurveda, the practice of yoga, which is a disciplined science of life, is a very important, natural, preventive measure to ensure good health.
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