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Ayurveda and the Science of Aging: A Workshop with Neuroscientist Dr. Ram Rao

Most of us have heard of the term “lifespan”; this refers to the total number of years one has lived. Geroscientists also refer to “morbidity,” which is the number of years during your life that you were in ill health. “Healthspan” refers to the years during your life in which you had good quality of life, with no illness. So when we speak of longevity, what are we referring to? Increasing lifespan, or healthspan? 

Research by the geroscientists has been focused on ways to bypass nature in order to delay aging. Their research has resulted in pills that are said to slow aging. They have tested restricted food consumption and it’s effects on slowing aging. They are experimenting with cloning body parts in order to stay young; hands, hearts, even entire heads are being studied (literally, if your head is too old, just switch it for a younger one!). There is even considerable research into robotic parts to replace body parts, including organs. Geroscientists estimate that by 2050 we will be able to marry a robot (can you imagine? Just program your robot to be whomever you wish!).

Wow. How far removed from nature is all of this!? Dr. Rao’s own aging work is more in tune with natural law than this. But just what does Ayurveda and Yoga say about aging? 

First of all, all the above ignores our highest Truth. We are spiritual beings, here on Earth having human experiences. Human experience includes aging. 

Ayurveda refers to aging as “jara,” defined as that which has become old by wearing out. According to Ayurveda, jara is a natural phenomenon like hunger, thirst and sleep. So aging and death is a natural occurrence. There is no “reason” for death. When you live in unhealthy ways, aging speeds up. Ayurveda views our lifespan as having many stages. During the early phase of life, there is considerable growth. This is the kapha time of life. Once growth is established, it is time to sustain the growth, and this when we are most productive. This is the pitta time of life. As we age and decay, we enter the vata time of life. This is the natural course of things.

The goal, according to Ayurveda, is to age naturally. To create optimal health throughout one’s life and to lengthen one’s healthspan by living in harmony with nature. Begin this early in life; don’t wait until symptoms appear. Create a life of balance beginning with childhood. Eat healthy foods in healthy ways. Maintain healthy agni (digestive fire). Engage in seasonal and daily healthful practices, which Ayurveda has many guidelines to follow. Minimize stress in your life. Do yoga regularly. Karma yoga is the #1 way to reverse biological aging and increase lifespan. But only true karma yoga, which means being of service to others with no expectation of reward or merit. Be of service to anyone - including animals. Ram feeds the crows that live near his house before he eats his own meals. 

To learn more: http://yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com

The above is a summary of a workshop at the 4th Annual Sivananda Ayurveda Conference in which Dr. Ram Rao gave a fascinating talk about the work by “geroscientists” who study aging and how to prevent or reverse it.  Dr. Rao is a neuroscientist on faculty at the California College of Ayurveda. He’s also a senior research scientist at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Marin County, California. 

By Marisa Laursen, C.A.S., P.K.S., A.Y.T., Faculty at the California College of Ayurveda