Ayurveda has a holistic approach toward all the miseries of man and aging is one of these. It is classified as one of the natural and Yapya (palliative) diseases. It is the process of becoming old and decaying. As age advances, several changes take place in the body, in the external appearance, in the condition of Dosha, Dhatu, Mala, Agni, Oja, and so on, as well as in the mental and cognitive functions. Elderly people are susceptible to several chronic diseases also. The problems of the elderly are becoming a matter of great concern as increased life expectancy due to better medical services and improved technology is resulting in an increasing population of the aged. By the year 2020, the World will have more than one billion people aged 60 and over, and more than two-thirds of them will be living in the developing countries. A major concern related to the rapid increase in the population of the aged is that there will be an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases and disabilities, both being conditions that tend to accompany the aging process. This burden is increasing day by day. In the Ayurvedic texts, a comprehensive description has been given of aging. The aim of this conceptual article is to compile and re-evaluate the various principles related to different aspects of aging.
Ayurveda was introduced to the earth so that man could enjoy a long and healthy lifespan
Several types of principles have been described in Ayurveda. A person interacts with various factors, for example, other Panchabhautik (manifested) creations, living or non-living. It is known that at the base of all creation, there are nine Dravya. (causative factors).
that is, Panchamahabhuta
Kala (time); and
Panchamahabhuta provide the basic structure for all the manifestations and this manifested creation, is known as the universe. The universe resides within the limitations of Kala and Disha in a clockwise manner. Among all the Dravya, Kala is the most important and potent, as it includes all creation in itself as well as it affects all creation in a clockwise manner, and human beings are no exception.
Kala interacts with a human from conception till death and this time period is called Ayu (lifespan). On account of the interaction of Kala, various changes occur in the body during the period of Ayu; these are natural and cannot be changed. According to the type of changes that occur, the lifespan has been divided into three parts, also known as Vaya (various stages of life); these are
- Bala(early stage of life),
- Madhya(middle stage of life), and
- Jirnaor Vriddhavastha (later stage of life).
The major changes carried out in the body during these stages are, growth, achievement, maintenance and decay. Thus, aging is the process of decaying and this manifests in the form of various degenerative changes. Although these changes are natural, they are not pleasant. Everyone is aware that a person who has taken birth must grow and finally die, but nobody wants to grow old and certainly no one wishes to die. It is the nature of a human being. Ayurveda considers all these states, which are not pleasant in nature, to be disease: they cause suffering to mankind and any suffering is termed as a disease.
Ayurveda takes a holistic approach toward the maintenance of Dhatusamya (homeostasis), for which various principles have been described. Aging is considered as a disease that may be manifested timely or untimely. Therefore, a detailed description regarding the prevention, maintenance, and treatment of aging has been given. Some of the measures that have been advised can be followed and some cannot. However, we can follow some practical principles and make aging comfortable and disease-free.
Concept of Vriddhavastha (later stage of life)
Vriddhavastha is the last part of the lifespan and is mainly characterized by degenerative changes. Aging refers to a multidimensional process of physical, psychological, and social change. The changes are always degenerative in nature. According to Ayurveda the lifespan of an individual is divided into three parts known as Vaya. These are .
Balavastha (childhood), which lasts up to the age of 16 years;
Madhyavastha (young and middle age), which lasts from the age of 16 years to 60–70 years; and
Vriddhavastha or Jirnavastha (old age), which refers to the period after 60 or 70 years
Thus, every person will pass through a period when various decaying changes will take place, and this time period is known as Vriddhavastha. This stage is characterized by decay in the body, Dhatu (various anatomical tissues), sensory and motor organs, potency, strength, speech, various mental and cognitive functions (e.g., memory, intellect, reception, retention, analytic ability, etc.). During this phase there is predominance of Vaayu Dosha (one of the three physiological body factors). The major physical changes seen at this time are wrinkling of skin, graying of hair, baldness, and a diminishing ability to do physical work] The diseases that complicate this stage are Kasa (cough), Shwas (asthma), and so on.]
Vriddhavastha may be of two types: timely (if it manifests after the age of 60 – 70 years) or untimely. Untimely aging may result due to aggravation of vata and pitta dosha. Therefore, excessive utilization of all the causes of vata–pitta aggravation may lead to untimely aging. Some instances are causes of Rajayakshma (a syndrome with deficient immunity), carelessness regarding prescribed regimen of tryopsthambha (diet, sleep, and coitus), causes of ojo-kshya (deficient immunity), excessive and single use of Amla, Lavana, Katu, Tikta, and Kashaya rasa in diet.
Prevention of aging
Due to limitations of space, only the principles are described here. As previously stated, the process of aging is totally dependent on diet and lifestyle. Aging can be prevented by:
- Including some important principles of Dincharya(daily regimen) in the daily routine, for example, Anjana (a type of eye treatment); Abhayanga (body massage), especially Shiro-Abhayanga (head massage); nasya (oily nasal drops); Sneha-Gandusha (retaining of oil in the mouth): cleansing of feet and external orifices, exercise and so on.
- By following the other principles of Swasthavrittasuch as utilization of Three opastambha (diet, sleep, and coitus) according to the rules to bear suppressible urges (i.e., mental fluctuations) and to expel unsuppressible urges (i.e., natural urges) regular removal of aggravated Dosha according to Ritu (season) by Panchakarma, regular utilization of Rasayana (rejuvenating treatment) and Vaajikarana (aphrodisiacs), following the principles of Sadvritta (social and personal ethics) and Achara Rasayana (ethics having effects of Rasayana), and so on.
- Taking a diet strictly in accordance with the prescribed rules.
Management of aging
It is a natural and Yapya (palliative) disease; it occupies the prime place among the Yapya diseases in the context of Agrya dravya (foremost) described in charak sutrasthana . It is essential to manage this period of aging properly, as it is a time of increased susceptibility to various chronic and degenerative diseases. The following principles can be considered in this context:
- Keep the lifestyle as close as possible to the ideal prescribed by Ayurveda.
- Avoid the provocative causes of Kshaya(degeneration) and Vata, for example, excessive physical and mental work, vigorous exercise, tolerance of unsuppressible urges, intolerance of suppressible urges, and so on.
- Follow, as far as possible, all the rules regarding diet; take a Laghu(light) and Santarpaka (nutritive) diet.
- Utilization of Rasayana, Vaajikarana, and Yapana Vasti (a type of enema having palliative property) regularly.
- Follow the principles of Sadvrittaand Achara Rasayana Involve oneself in the Supreme Power (God) or the eternal truth by any means as it increases the level of satva in mind. Thus all these things improve mental immunity.
- If any disease persists or manifests, take treatment promptly.
Treatment of aging
Aging is considered a kind of disease and its treatment has been clearly described in various Ayurvedic texts. Even in Sushruta Samhita, there is a chapter titled Swabhavavyadhipratishedhiya, in which Rasayana Chikitsa (rejuvenating treatment) is described. In this chapter, various treatment principles for natural diseases have been mentioned. Treatment principles related to aging are completely dependent on Rasayana as exemplified in the famous story of Maharishi Chayawana. However, some Vaajikaran formulations are also useful, especially in the context of coitus. If Rasayana therapy is used according to the classical methods, and if the correct drugs are available, it will be quite possible to treat aging successfully. However, the methods described are impractical and cannot be followed in this era, due to various reasons: for example, drugs are either unavailable or are less effective, the lifestyle of the people is fast and busy, there is a low level of Satva or defective mental constitution, and so on.
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