As a culture, we are obsessed with looking young. We dye our hair, whiten our teeth, use botox, have surgeries! – all attempts to hide the signs of our encroaching age. However, what we are truly seeking is not to look younger, but to feel younger. We want to be vibrant and healthy, strong and confident, vigorous and purposeful. These states, yoga and Ayurveda say, are our birthright. Our bodies and minds are capable of youthful resilience at every age.
Ayurveda, the sister-science to yoga and the traditional medical system of India, insists we can retain our vigor if we are willing to pay attention to the way we live. As we age, we can get stuck in old, unhealthy habits, that cause us to accumulate toxins, and sap our energy. In this state, it is easy to surrender to the societal belief that “withering with age” is inevitable. But Ayurveda doesn’t accept this verdict. Instead, it recommends that we rejuvenate ourselves by dropping the habits that siphon off our energy in favor of habits that support the body’s natural intelligence and healing capacity. Perhaps we stop overstimulating ourselves with caffeine and electronic media (constantly!). Perhaps we take more seriously our nutrition and exercise requirements.
Modern medicine is beginning to see the value in Ayurveda’s approach. There is mounting evidence that diet, lifestyle, sleep and stress reduction are our fountains of youth! These basics help keep our nervous and endocrine (hormone) systems in balance, which then support the rest of our systems in staying healthy. Science is also studying the importance of our microbiome and digestive capacity – and its far-reaching effects on every other system, including our minds. Dementia is an epidemic – but studies are showing that mild cognitive impairment can be reversed with a lifestyle approach that includes daily relaxation/yoga practices, whole foods diet, and regular aerobic exercise – and in some cases, some basic supplements as needed (Vitamin D, turmeric, CoQ10, anti-oxidants, probiotics). [http://www.alzheimersweekly.com/2014/10/25-ways-to-mend-memory.html]
Modern medicine agrees with Yoga and Ayurveda about another approach to well-being: meditation. Multiple scientific studies show that meditation is good for our brains and our peace of mind (yay!) – but science tends to sidestep the why of that. Ayurveda and Yoga are more able to address the spiritual effects of meditation, and how it helps us connect to a deeper dimension of our selves. They tell us that awareness of this part – our true nature – taps us into an immense, inexhaustible well of energy, vibrancy, intuitive wisdom, and joy. The catch is that it takes determination – and regular practice! – to establish and maintain that connection. But over time, with consistency, the fruits of our practice become more and more evident. We become clear, purposeful, compassionate, vibrant and joyful. Even post-retirement!
The external world makes demands on our energy and time. And it is easy to keep our vision focused outward – and spend all our energy there. But ultimately, the internal world gives us more return on our investment. It is there, at the core of our being that we abide—ageless, limitless, and eternally vital. If this is to be an experience rather than an act of faith, we must turn our attention inward and meet ourselves there at the center of all that is. That is the purpose of life and the gift of meditation.