Column: It's My Health!
Towards Eternal Youth
by Gerald Lopez, LLB; Dip.Ayurvedic Medicine
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:
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.
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 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 a minor part of a healthy diet. Spices are used to improve digestibility.
A range of good quality fats are needed for health, especially to reduce excessive inflammation. It has long been known that vegetable oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation.
Not only do we need omega-3 oils to balance the omega-6, but we also 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. These include 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. Top of the list of antioxidant fruits is the acai berry (Euterpe oleraceae) from Brazil, which is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dates, raisins, almonds, milk, ghee and honey have long been considered rejuvenative superfoods by ayuveda. Use these, as well as modern superjuices such as acai.
To reduce production of free radicals, avoid excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays and other radiation. Wash yourself with, and apply on your body only products that are known to be non-toxic.
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 Alternate Nostril Breath (see "Breathing for Health" article).
Breathing and relaxation help the body to attain states in which it can repair and balance itself. They also increase the prana, or intelligent life force (see "The Stream of Life" article) – 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. Control your thoughts and emotions if you want to stay young.
Physical activity without stress
Moderate physical activity 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.
The many wonderful benefits of massage.
Read other articles in this column:
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