The history of human quest for youth and longevity is as long as the history of the human civilization. The ancients of Egypt, India, China, Arab states, Greece, medieval alchemists of Europe, scientists and herbalists of the modern time have pursued the secrets of long and healthy live. In many myths and legends life extension was associated with absorbing some magic essences, specific fruits, or live water. Paracelsus (1493-1541), a pioneer of the modern western pharmacology, devoted his life to learn a secret from nature – “a tincture of force to flush old age with youth, or breed gold, or imprison moonbeams till they change to opal shafts!” His triumphal tour of practice through Germany began after he had returned from a trip to European countries, India, and China.
Oriental sages were profoundly involved in the search of the fountain of youth. In their opinion health and vitality depended on maintaining and cultivating the energy of life. Modern studies prove that many of the ancient teachings are true and correlate directly with recent discoveries in physics and medicine (The Modern Quest for Youth). Medical traditions of the East become popular around the world as more and more people use time proven methods and experience beneficial effects on their health. In this article you will find a brief description of how Ayurveda and Taoism explain the foundations of longevity.
Ayurveda is one of the most comprehensive arts of healthy living, which is based on a deep understanding of the unity of human body, mind and spirit. Originated in India, Ayurveda is more than 6,000 years old and derives from “Ayus” and “Vid” meaning Life and Knowledge. The Vedas are ancient Hindu books that describe the structure of the universe and the secrets of a healthy long life.
According to Indian philosophy the purpose of life is to achieve virtue, wealth, enjoyment, and salvation. One of the main principles of Ayurveda is that you are capable of taking charge of your own life and healing if you learn the qualities of your nature and constitution. Your health and youth begins with knowing yourself.
Ayurveda recognizes three main energies that are seen in the processes of growth, maintenance, and decay (known in the western sciences as anabolism, metabolism and catabolism). These energies combine in infinite ways to create unique qualities of each of us. That is why everyone has special needs and healing should recognize peculiarities of an individual. Another aspect of Ayurveda explains that everything exists in relation to something else. Your thoughts affect physical body, and disorders of the body change emotions and mind. Healing should not concentrate on one particular organ, but on the whole organism. When the harmony between the mind, body and spirit is re-established, you attain real health and happiness.
The teaching about three doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – explains how constitutions of individuals differ. When all three doshas (simply put, bio-energies) are in balance, your health is perfect. Most of us are a combination of two or three doshas, with one predominant.
Vata is the energy of movement and is associated with such functions of the body as circulation, nervous system, respiration, and elimination. People dominated by Vata are slim, tall, and have dry skin; they are restless, creative, and physically active.
Pitta is the energy of digestion and metabolism. Pitta type people have larger appetites, warmer bodies and more stable temperaments than Vata types do. They may suffer from skin and liver disorders, ulcers or gallbladder disease.
Kapha is the energy of growth, protection, and lubrication. People dominated by Kapha generally have oily skin. They easily gain weight and tend to be less physically active. In addition, Kapha types are usually lethargic, calm, patient, and forgiving.
Imbalance occurs when one of the energies goes to extremes. For example, when Kapha dominates, Ayurveda healer may recommend to exercise regularly, avoid naps and stay away from fat foods. Their diet should include more apples, apricots, peaches, cabbage, garlic, spinach, tomatoes and other vegetables. For those with dominant Vata, recommendations will be quite different. Vata aggravates when people are involved in too much mental/physical activities, are exposed to draughts, and eat cold and dry food. It is better for them to calm the mind with meditation, stay in warmth, and eat more dairy and oily products.
Ayurvedic healers also develop a diet for each type in accordance with tastes. Six major categories of tastes are recognized: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. If you want to lower your Vata, use more sweet, sour and salty foods. Sweet, bitter and astringent foods decrease Pitta, while sour, salty and pungent foods increase this energy. Once you understand the concept, you can enhance your health by bringing the balance to your body through diet, exercise, relaxation, massage, and color, aroma, taste, and sound therapies.
Ayurveda emphasizes the following preventive methods: cleansing, detoxifying, palliation, rejuvenation, and mental hygiene. Toxins along with energy imbalances are considered the roots of all diseases. Herbs, fasting, yoga stretches, breathing techniques and meditation are used to purify the body and the spirit.
Those who want to learn more about Ayurveda are advised to choose from the following books:
Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
Heaven’s Banquet by Miriam Kasin Hospodar
Yoga of Herbs, Ayurvedic Guide by Dr. David Frawley
Absolute Beauty by Pratima Raichur, Mariam Cohn
Secrets of Ayurvedic Massage by Atreya, Atreya Craig Smith
Ayurveda and Aromatherapy, Earth Guide by Dr. Light Miller
The Tao of Longevity
Taoism is a complex philosophy originated in China, with influences from Hinduism and Buddhism. Taoists were also called “adepts of the Way” and followers of the philosophy of Lao Tzu.
During 5,000 years of its existence Taoism has accumulated the wisdom of numerous generations. Life extension practices have become a central feature of Taoism and have been kept in strict secret.
Taoists explained the laws of life by observing the macrocosm of the universe and microcosm of humans. Like Vedanta philosophers, Taoists believe that body, mind, and spirit cannot be separated but have to be regarded as a single whole. Energy, the main source of life in the universe and on Earth, can be of different quality and manifests itself through spirit, chi, and essence. Essence is a coarse type of energy and builds up in humans through food consumption. Spirit is the highest type, which combines with essence to produce chi (the Tao), or the life force. When the spirit and essence are strong, the chi is strong. Everyone has a limited potential of the life force. The faster you consume it, the sooner you become depleted of it. We accelerate aging when we leak our spirit energy through emotions and essence through enzymes, body fluids, and the metabolism process.
Early puberty, processed and contaminated food, negative emotions, unfavorable environmental conditions drain your energies and lead to premature aging. And vice versa, when you preserve energies, you increase their potential and enhance the quality of life. Learning how to cultivate life may become your way to youth and your maximum life limit. Taoism describes many techniques of life cultivation, such as breathing, meditation, massage, and exercises. Dietary methods, for instance, have much in common with contemporary caloric restriction recommendations.
Eva Wong, the translator of ancient Taoist texts, described the nine diets of purification. This excellent example of ascent to longevity through purification of the body, mind and spirit starts with a diet of grain and vegetarianism, then goes through fasting, drinking of energized water, taking the energies of the nature, and ends with the absorption of the original, pristine energy. The Lao Tzu philosophy of eternal life can be exemplified by the following passage:
Fame or flesh: which is more immediate?
Health or wealth: which is more important?
Gain or loss: which is more burdensome?
Deep attachment brings great expense;
Vast hoarding brings certain loss.
To know sufficiency is to avoid shame;
To know limitations is to avoid danger.
This is the way to obtain eternal life.
Do you want to read more about Taoism? Look for the following books:
- Teaching of the Tao by Eva Wong
- Working Out, Working Within (The Tao of Inner Fitness Through Sports and Exercise) by Jerry Lynch and Chungliang Al Huang
- Thinking Body, Dancing Mind (TaoSports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business, and Life) by Jerry Lynch and Chungliang Al Huang
- Tao and Longevity by Chu, Wen Ruan
- The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity by Daniel P. Reid
- The Tao of Health, Longevity and Immortality by Eva Wong
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Ayurveda by Gopi Warrier and Deepika Gunawant, Element Books, USA 1997 Dr. Rosenfeld’s Guide to Alternative Medicine by Isadore Rosenfeld, M.D., Random House, New York, U.S.A., 1996 Asian Longevity Secrets by Ping Wu, M.D. and Taichi Tzu, Ph.D., U.S.A., 2003 Teachings of the Tao selected and translated by Eva Wong, Shambala Publications, U.S.A. 1997 The Taoist Road to Health by Masao Hayashima, Kodansha International, Tokyo, New York, London, 1997