You peer into the mirror. There are new lines around your eyes. You see a few new white hairs popping out from your scalp. The universe is giving you a choice here: you can either resist the aging process with chemicals, surgery and fear, or you can simply accept the changes as a reflection that you, too, are a part of nature.
Everything in nature ages, including us. But aging doesn’t have to be scary (no matter what the advertisements may say). In fact, it can be a lovely, natural experience. And, by finding balance in your body and mind and embracing changes as they come, you may find that you can actually feel better with age.
Ayurveda and Yoga can serve as guides to help you feel stronger, more confident and secure as you progress in the natural process of life.
A new relationship to aging
Wrinkled skin and white hair used to be a sign of wisdom. This was someone who had experience, one who could teach children and younger adults about the lessons that come with time. These truths still apply, but as companies began to make money off anti-aging products, and people’s bodies and minds began to dissolve because of poor diet and lifestyle, resistance to the natural process of aging became the norm for many throughout the 20th century.
But change happens no matter how much we dig our heels in. If you choose to resist change, you will block the natural flow of prana within. This causes even more disturbance and poor health. But by embracing the flow of life, you can enjoy even energy, vitality and enjoyment as you age.
Doshas and the times of life
The three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) exist as representations of the five elements (ethers, air, fire, water, earth) in all aspects of life. This includes three distinct times of life that are ruled by the doshas. Starting at about age 50, we move into the vata period of life. Vata’s light and dry qualities contribute to the changes in an older adult’s hair, skin and bones – just as pitta's sharp, hard, flowing and clear qualities are represented in physical strength and procreation in the middle of life, and kapha’s soft, smooth and dense qualities contribute to the makeup of a child’s body.
As you enter your vata period, remember that the same principles apply when you seek to balance vata after age 50 that you would use to balance vata at any point in life: eat warm, cooked foods that contain notable amounts of ghee and other healthy oils, maintain a consistent dinacharya (daily routine) and focus on activities that are calming and sattvic in nature.
Agni: the key to aging with grace
Many people experience illness and poor health as they age, but it’s not the aging itself that is to blame – it’s that years of poor diet and lifestyle choices are catching up. Many of the negative consequences of aging, such as weakened immunity, fatigue and poor digestion, can be prevented by caring for your body and mind throughout your life.
The biggest key to health as you age (or to feel your best at any point throughout your life) is to maintain strong agni, digestive fire. As you age, vata and agni have an increasingly interdependent relationship. If you head into the vata time of life and your agni is already weak, vata’s light and mobile qualities will make agni even weaker. When agni is weak, it will cause even more vata imbalance. To feel better as you age, implement practices to maintain agni and keep vata calm, such as practicing certain pranayama daily, chewing food to liquid, paying attention to food combining or eating a ginger appetizer (¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger topped with a pinch of mineral salt and a squeeze of lime) before meals.
If you do experience illness, see it as an opportunity to clear karma, and don’t allow fear to take root, as that will feed vata imbalance. Heal by rebuilding agni, releasing attachment to the way things “should” be and finding joy in current aspects of your life.
Embracing your wisdom
Just like all of life, aging can have its share of bumps. By working in harmony with nature, not against it, you can enjoy many years of vitality and strength, while making a positive contribution.
Here are some ideas to work with the natural flow of the older years:
As you age, remember that you are not your body. You are a reflection of the divine and have lived many lifetimes before, and will likely have many more to come. Enjoy your life for what it is – an opportunity to grow as a spirit – and you will see what it means to truly age with grace.