When Lord Siddhartha, the prince who became the Buddha, was a child, his father did whatever he could to shield his son from the reality of sickness, aging, and death. If Siddhartha could be spared the negative realities of life, the king thought, then he would remain a devoted warrior rather than following the path of self-reflection. In this legendary story, Siddhartha eventually discovered what his father had tried to keep hidden, and thus entered his quest to transcend the limited physical body in favor of something much deeper. Among many other gems, the prince realized that aging is part of the cycle of life. For many of us, this truth remains troubling, but with the help of introspection, along with India’s versatile adaptogen plants, we can age in health and embrace the benefits that come with who we are in this stage of life.
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of Hinduism Today, wrote that there are universal laws that strengthen the force of life as aging proceeds along its natural course. He advises to take care of your physical body and remember that it innately knows what it needs. Listen to its messages, respond accordingly and positively, and find the right practitioner who understands how to navigate the many changes the body will naturally go through. This body is impermanent, wrote Subramuniyaswami, but it is the only one you have, so make the best use of it. An aging person’s wisdom and knowledge, born of experience, may be passed along to the coming generation, especially if he or she can do so in good health.
Lowering Stress to Slow the Aging Process
No doubt, one of the biggest causes of premature aging, and many of the negative side effects of aging, is stress. If chronic, a cyclical process develops wherein the anxiety of aging causes stress, and stress causes faster aging and all that comes with it. Stress creates an imbalance of important hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn create inflammation, an increase in free radicals (oxygen-robbing substances), and even health issues common in the elderly.
Lissa Rankin, MD, who teaches mental-relaxation techniques for better health, said that the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms require relaxation to operate. Therefore, despite your age, any time your body is in a state of stress response, these mechanisms are disabled. Ways to relax the body include affirmations, meditation, happy thoughts, healthy social interaction, exercise, hobbies, certain kinds of entertainment, and, of course, filling yourself with love. In addition, the specific foods you eat are an important aspect of slowing down the aging process.
Eating Adaptogenic Plants to Manage Stress
Adaptogenic plants help the body resist the effects of stressors — whether mental, physical, chemical, or biological. While these special stress-reducing plants have been the mainstay of Ayurvedic healing, they are now enjoying a renaissance because they’re being recognized by scientists for their essential constituents that restore homeostasis.
Bertrand Babinet, creator of the Bio-Functional Energetics approach to healing, explained that homeostasis is the body’s ability to balance internal and external stress. But when the body is out of balance, then negative homeostasis exists. This leads to a number of typical symptoms, including fatigue, depression, and lack of libido, to name a few. Adaptogens are helpful in restoring and maintaining positive homeostasis because they allow us to adapt to change, and in particular, to the challenges of aging.
Although there are different types of adaptogens, some of the most popular used in Ayurveda help because they regulate cellular and immune system functions, prevent degenerative diseases, and target specific health issues that bring the body back into balance.
Adaptogenic Plants That Help You Dance
There are a great many symptoms of aging, but some of the more natural ones include a loss of balance, diminished hearing and vision, less energy, loss of skin elasticity, greater susceptibility to illness, and waning mental capacity. Because adaptogens support the entire body, as well as mental functioning, they are especially helpful as we grow older. The branch of Ayurveda known as rasayana (rejuvenation) focuses on maintaining good health in advancing years, so that you may continue on with grace. This is because Ayurveda considers prevention better than attempting a cure in the future.
Among the top Ayurvedic adaptogenic plants is Guduchi, or Giloy, is known to revive our skin tissues and resolve inflamed skin conditions by its anti-inflammatory properties, Guggulu, Brahmi (Bacopa), Amalaki (Amla), Turmeric, and Ashwagandha.
Triphala is one of the most common rasayana herbs used in Ayurvedic healing, and is a combination of three berries hailing from the Indian subcontinent: Haritaki, Bibhitaki, and Amla. In traditional Indian medicine, triphala has a long history of use in preventing disease and treating a number of symptoms, including constipation, excessive dryness, and inflammation — all of which are common to today’s aging population and are due to increased Vata.
Because there is a reduced amount of HCl (hydrochloric acid) as we age, there are also fewer food particles that can be broken down in the stomach to deliver nutrition to the body’s cells. In effect, then, the body may be lacking nutrition even though you are eating well. This is why Triphala’s other benefits are so helpful — cleansing and supporting the entire GI tract, improving digestion and elimination, and enabling the assimilation of nutrients.
Aging Is Natural, Balance Is Essential
The process of growing older is natural, although modern cultures tend to focus on youthfulness. The Vedic teachings relate the mature stage of life to wisdom, veneration, honoring one’s inner life, and seeing the world through new eyes. With its philosophy rooted in balance, the adaptogenic herbs of Ayurveda allow us to reap the fruits of aging with greater ease and fewer health issues.