Aging: Slowly. Smartly

Words: Dr B C JANA & Dr Ajay Kumar SRIVASTAVA

The universal law of life states that anything that takes birth [utpatti] gets developed [vikas] and, in the end, ceases [laya]. Human beings are no exception to this law.

Ayurveda is basically a health manual of mankind. It deals exclusively with protection of life, health, and its maintenance, as also disease and cure, through natural ways.

The concepts of long life, quality of life, mental health and graceful aging is well-documented in all the major Ayurvedic texts under Jara Chikitsa or Rasayana Tantra. This relates not only to Ayurveda, but also Yayurveda — 36/24 — in which a prayer is uttered to win over the jara [vardhya], or senility, and remain healthy for a hundred years.

A long life does not necessarily mean a healthy life. Graceful aging is a multidimensional phenomenon involving physical, psychological, social, financial, or economical, and spiritual dimensions. Normal aging is marked by high risk of illness; graceful aging, on the other hand, is marked by low risk of disability and high cognitive and physical functioning. For a deeper understanding and insight of the subject, certain ‘question’ words, or keywords, i.e., who, why, where, when, how, would be needed.

Aims & Objective Of Graceful Aging  

  • Low probability of disease, or disability
  • High cognitive and physical function capacity
  • Active engagement of life.

Who Is Aged

Chronological/functional age [60+; 65+] processes convert healthy adults into frail ones with diminished physiological reserve and susceptibility to develop diseases. Older people, however, play an important role in transferring experiences and knowledge to the young generation. They can contribute several meaningful ways, if they are given appropriate opportunities.

Chronological age is divided into young-old [60-74 years], the old [75-84 years] and very old [85 years+]. Biological aging is closely associated with the interaction of genetic and environmental elements, restricted calories and lifestyle. Vimana sthana [Charaka Samhita; Chapter 8] explains in detail that the characteristic features after the age of sixty, i.e., dhatus, indryas, bala, veerya, paurusha, parakrama, grahana, dharana,smarana, vachana, and vignana, begin to change, or decay, followed by amplified vata dosha

Why Aging

People, aged between 65 and 85 are expanding throughout the globe due to decreased mortality and fertility rate, improvement of environmental conditions, such as clean, potable water, improvement of sanitation, potential drug therapy, healthier lifestyle and prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

The elderly population in India has risen from 12 million in 1901 to 70 million in 1995, i.e., 7 per cent of the total population.

Gerontology [derived from the Greek word, geron, ‘old man,’ and logy, ‘study of’] is the study of biological, psychological and social aspects of aging. Geriatric medicine is a subspecialty of medicine devoted to medical and social care of the elderly.

Ayurveda has a full classical clinical branch to enhance healthspan, or delay aging — jara chikitsa, or rasayana chikitsa, i.e., correction and establishment of pathway of nutrition [rasa = first tissue of the body and essence of food; ayana = pathway]. Jara is of two types, i.e., akala jara, or premature aging, and kala jara, or timely aging. It offers different principles for a long, active and healthy life, also living.

How The Elderly Differ From Young

This encompasses of anatomical, physiological and pharmacology changes, decreased physiological reserve and a haven of many diseases, viz., arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, urinary disorders, cancer, dementia, depression, delirium, in the elderly. Such elders also present with multiple problems [social, financial, familial and abuse] and side-effects of drugs [patient-related, prescriber-related and drug-related]. Common hidden illnesses are also present, like incontinence, poor nutrition, sexual dysfunction, and constipation. In vrddhavastha, there is the predominance of vata dosha, including rukshalaghushitaksharashukshachala guna, which get increased, giving rise to various clinical signs and symptoms.

What Is Identifiable ‘Abnormality’ In Aging

In old age, there is deterioration of functional capacity in all organ systems of the body: cardiovascular, health, brain and mental functions, musculoskeletal, endocrine functions, immune function and homeostasis, particularly glucose — this is the inevitable physiological process of aging, according to medical science.

How

‘How’ refers to Ayurvedic strategies to age gracefully. ‘Where there is life, there is Ayurveda.’ Ways and means should be adopted in every phase of life from beginning to end of life in the following ways — 

Physical Care

  • Stri, grabhadhana samskara, garbhini paricharya, prasuti paricharya, sutikaparicharya, and sishu palaniya bidhi[Pre-reproductive, reproductive, antenatal, natal and postnatal care and care of infant and child] to obtain a good progeny.
  • Svasthavritta[lifestyle]. Dinacharya [total conduct right from the time you get up in the early morning to [night ] sleep, ritucharya [specific diet and regimen in different seasons], adharaniya vega [timely attendance to nature’s call — hunger, thirst, defaecation, urination, sleep, etc.]. The purpose of swasthavritta palan is not to accumulate ama in the system [niramayata]. A ama free body is just like nectar and body with ama is like poison.
  • Hita, mita and kala bhojan[qualitative, quantitative and timely balanced diet]. Nutrition and dietetics play a vital role in maintaining health and prevention of disease. Diet concepts in Ayurveda are vast and scientific. The red variety of rice, wheat, green gram, rock salt, fruit of amalaki, milk, ghee, honey, potable water, are considered as balanced diet. Use of incompatible diet [viruddha ahara] should be avoided.
  • Timely dosha shodhana. To avoid seasonal diseases, and lead a long, active healthy productive life, one ought to get optimum results through rasayanaand vajikarana Ayurveda acharyas also advice timely evacuation of vitiated doshas [malas], i.e., vata in varsha by vasti, pitta in sharada by virechana, and kapha in vasanta by vamana karma — for our internal balance.
  • Use of rasayana[rejuvenation]. Rasayana is the therapy containing drug, non-drug, or diet that supports rasa and stimulates the production of ojas. Rejuvenation therapy not only delays aging, but also one’s quality of life; it gives long healthspan, good memory, high intelligence, youthfulness, good complexion, and increased immunity. There are single, or compound, formulations, such as haritaki  [tonic action on GI tract], pippali [on lungs], bakuchi [on skin], brahmi [acts on brain and improves intellectual faculty], guduchi [on the liver], amalaki [best general tonic], shatavari [female reproductive organs], ashwagandha [on male reproductive organs], chyavanaprasha [anti-aging medicine and lung tonic]. Apart from medicines, activities like chanting of mantra, good conduct, regular study and discussion, and good company also rejuvenate the body and mind. 

Mental/Emotional Care

  • Dharniya vega. The management, of mental emotions, like kama, krodha, lobha, mada, moha, matsaryas— because they may be the ‘root cause’ of psychosomatic disorders.
  • Achara rasayana. Good conduct, respectful attitude, avoidance of alcohol, doing prayer and avoidance of violence, etc.
  • Spirituality. This gives us the way to discover the answers to fundamental life questions; it also includes auspicious reading, pilgrimage, worship, pranayamaand meditation.
  • Medhya rasayana. Rejuvenation of brain by drugs [delayed aging], because mental tension augments aging. For sound mental health, 4D’s must be practiced regularly, i.e., discrimination, detachment, devotion and discipline.

Sexual Health Care & Healthy Progeny

After food and drink, sex is the second biological instinct. In Ayurveda, there is a special branch which deals exclusively with the promotion of sexual health, healthy offspring and treatment of male sexual dysfunction, and nourishment of reproductive organs — vajikarana. There are two faces of vajikarana, i.e., procreation and recreation. The woman, who is young, attractive, educated and dedicated is supreme vajikara. Touch stimuli, music, perfumes, etc., may be called vajikaran adjuvants.

Social Health

Special behaviour, or code of conduct, related to body, mind and speech to improve individual health and social life is known as sadavritta. These moral ethics are clearly described in Charaka Samhita.

Four Keys For Graceful Aging In Western Thought

  1. Appropriate nutrition and balanced diet
  2. Appropriate physical activities
  3. Avoidance of bad habits, such as smoking, alcohol and drugs
  4. Tension-free life with mental relaxation, social involvement, socialisation, yoga, pranayama and dhyan, along with the involvement with the family, are the four keys for graceful aging.

Conclusion

There are four particular problems which all of us are familiar with, viz., janma, mrityu, jara and vyadhi [birth, death, old age and disease].

Geriatrics is emerging as a challenge in the 21st century, not only in India, but also across the globe.

Aging is a natural process characterised by a progressive deterioration of our biological features. Jara means old age — swabhabik vyadhi. This phase of life exerts its influence on body, mind, family, society, and economy.

There is adequate scope in Ayurveda, viz., swasthavrittasadavritta, geriatric panchakarma, rasayanapranayama, meditation, diet, etc., by which the healthspan of the individual can be increased and graceful aging can be achieved.

There is a common saying, that, if anyone has spent their childhood in Russia, middle age, in the UK, or USA, and old age in India, then their life will be complete, primarily because the Indian soil is a religious soil, thanks to its spiritually-endowed ‘superpowers.’

Dr B C JANA is with the Institute of Post-Graduate, Ayurvedic Education and Research at SVSP Hospital, Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Dr AJAY KUMAR SRIVASTAVA, MSc, PhD, is Assistant Professor & HoD, Department of Botany, St Xavier’s College, Ranchi, India. This article was first published [Ageing Gracefully with Ayurveda] in Journal of Ageing and Restorative Medicine, 2[3]: 101-103; 2019, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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