We are a society that worships youth. We spend more than $50 billion globally on anti-aging products in the vain hope that they can help us beat the clock. As people continue to live longer and more active lives, we can expect an increase in the number of people searching for the secrets of maintaining their youth.
In a world that wants to sell us Botox, facelifts and miracle creams and considers us irrelevant once the bloom is off the rose, how can we take back our wisdom years and celebrate our aging?
What Is Vata?
The classical Ayurveda texts delineate three stages of life, broadly described as youth, middle age, and old age. These can be translated as the kapha stage of life (youth), the pitta stage of life (middle age), and the vata stage of life (old age).
Vata is one of the three doshas, or biological-elemental compounds, which works in conjunction with pitta and kapha to maintain the functions of the body-mind complex. Vata is a comprised of space and wind (also called air and ether), and governs all the movements of the body. Its qualities are dry, light, cold, subtle, and mobile; seasonally, vata rules the fall, winter, and cold climates.
The classical Ayurvedic text known as the Charaka Samhita describes the vata phase of life as our final act, starting around age 50 or 60. As the vata in our constitution increases, we experience a range of physical and mental changes, ranging from drier skin to declining cognitive abilities. Yet the vata stage can also bring softening and wisdom.
10 Ayurvedic Tips for Aging
Here are some ways to incorporate Ayurveda into your life as you journey through Vata .
1. Put oil on everything. Ayurveda loves oil. We put it on everything—on our food and our bodies. Daily self-abhyanga is an ultimate expression of love and helps maintain the body in optimal health.
2. Eat more cooked foods. Because we get colder and drier as we age, it’s important to favor cooked foods that generate internal warmth—soups, stews, steamed veggies, and roasted veggies. Add ghee or olive oil as part of your cooking and recipes.
3. Hydrate. The classical texts suggest more water for Vata because of the dryness that is present. Drink six to eight glasses per day, and if you want to get more out of your water, try cooking it!
4. Stay mobile. We want to keep the fluid in our joints warm and lubricated. This can mean regular walks, yoga or stretches daily, or a series of joint rotations called dasha chalana. Maintaining our strength and balance is essential, in part to avoid falls. When exercising, make sure you have supports nearby, like the wall, a chair, and blocks. My favorite exercise is a long walk with a good friend; it nourishes my heart and body—true at any age, I think.
5. Meditate. The vata stage of life is a time to lean more into meditation. For many, the demands of work and family are diminishing, creating more space and time to explore the rich inner world. In traditional Indian culture, the ages between 50 and 100 are described as the “forest-dwelling” and “renunciate” stages of life. In the forest-dwelling stage, from ages 50 to 75, we are still active in the world, working or taking care of grandkids, but can bring more meditation practice into our routine. Between 75 and 100, we move toward renouncing the material world, living simply, and spending most of our time in meditation.
Even 15 minutes of meditation a day can help us slow down, breathe more deeply, and generate gratitude for this gift of living.
6. Stay connected to community. Because we spend most of our lives working and developing work relationships, retirement can bring a sense of losing our community, which can create loneliness and lead to depression. Find ways to get involved with a like-minded community—go to yoga classes in your neighborhood; connect with book groups or other established groups; volunteer in schools, community centers, or nursing homes.
7. Learn something new. Take a class. Do puzzles. Read about something you don’t know about. You are never too old to be a student. Current science and Ayurveda recognize that there is a normal decline in cognitive function as we age. .
8. Make lunch your largest meal. According to Ayurveda, lunch should be the biggest meal of your day—which is easier if you don’t have a nine-to-five work schedule. This way, you have more time in the day to digest a heavy meal than you do at night. Also, a hearty lunch provides energy for your afternoon. After eating, lie on your left side for 10 minutes, and then take a 15-minute walk to further enhance digestion.
9. Get to bed early. Ayurveda and some sleep researchers maintain that we get the most restorative sleep before 2:00 am. Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight, because we get the most restorative non-REM sleep during those earlier hours. Another good reason to get to bed early; preferably before 10pm. Morning is the ideal time for meditation.
10. Cultivate gratitude. Grateful people are happier people—this seems like wisdom you might find on a bumper sticker because of its obvious truth and positive feel, but research on gratitude also backs up this statement. When you have a moment when someone does something for you that fills your heart with grateful feelings of warmth, it can feel wonderful.
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