What a shock it is to discover, sometime between the age of 35 and 45, that our body is no longer responding in the familiar way it has for the first 30 plus years of our life We may find our stamina decreasing, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. We may need glasses for reading. We may not sleep as well as we used to. Our sex drive may change. It is something we’d rather not experience, but this change is inevitable.
According to Ayurveda, there are three stages in life. From birth to puberty, Kapha dosha is strongly active in all individuals, no matter what their nature. Kapha builds mus¬cles, bones, fat, increasing weight, height, strength, and mucuous.
From puberty to menopause, from around age 12 to 35-45, Pitta has a strong influence in all individu¬als. The hormones, estrogen, prog¬esterone, and testosterone, increase and continue to be active in both men and women. This is the time of procreation, family, and ambition. Pitta provides passion and “fiery” hor¬mones like adrenaline, proges¬terone, and testosterone. Which are bal¬anced by Estrogen, which “contains” their fiery qualities. This is the time of life most violent crimes are commit¬ted! Ones passion for success, for raising a family, for accomplishment is at a height during these years.
At around age 35 – 45, Vita begins to increase as the hormones shift (in both men and women); estrogen decreases and the balance of estrogen/ progesterone changes. Vata continues to increase and pre¬dominate until the end of life, its effects varying due to one’s body/mind nature as well as lifestyle.
As Vata increases post 40, there are natural signs of aging. It is natu¬ral that the sharpness of the senses decreases and bones decrease in density to some extent. Dryness increases — dry skin, less lubrica¬tion, dry eyes may be experienced. The body becomes colder (with less heat production from Pitta) and may go from hot to cold and back again as the insulated layer of lipids pro¬duced by estrogen melt away. Just like in an un-insulated house, the fur¬nace may be going off and on fre¬quently in an attempt to keep the house a uniform temperature, whereas in a well-insulated house the furnace doesn’t have to go on and off so frequently. Without the analytical sharpness of Pitta, the mind may become less focused; some forgetfulness is natural. Orga¬nization is more difficult.
As Vata increases, the vita emo¬tional tendencies of worry, fear, anx¬iety may increase. Older people who drive slowly may be losing that con¬fidence which comes from Pitta. Our reactions are slower as we age. This is a normal process.
The key is to experience the nor¬mal Vata of aging and to be sure to avoid the abnormal imbalances of Vata — resulting in symptoms like pain or stiffness in the joints, ten¬dons, muscles; arthritis, excessive memory loss, Alzheimer’s, kidney stones, excessive anxiety or fear, sleeplessness, confusion, mood and energy swings or depression and low energy.
Creating a Diet Routine:
Do you know a vital old person, in their 80′s or 90′s? You probably observe that they have a life of rou¬tine! They don’t push themselves, they don’t over exert when they are tired. They don’t skip meals. The best way to prevent Vata imbalances is to have a life of routine: eat what the body can easily digest at the regular times when you are hungry; drink just as much as will satisfy you when you are thirsty; sleep soundly and enough when you are tired. Although a person may have eaten whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to for 35 plus years without any notice¬able problem, all of a sudden his energy may starts to decrease or vary his moods begin to swing; he gets indigestion and various aches and pains. The irregularity of lifestyle that didn’t seem to be a problem before, starts bringing about imbal¬ances as our tolerance decreases.
Digestion: When to eat.
First and most important aspect of diet is when to eat. Each of us has his/her own natural rhythm of digestion, according to our body/mind nature. According to Ayurveda, it takes between three and six hours to completely digest a meal. That means the digestive fire is “hot” every three hours, or every four hours or six hours, at regular intervals.
The sign that the last meal has been digested is the sensation of hunger, proper hunger, felt physically in the belly. This hunger is not a crav¬ing or wishes to avoid boredom or low blood sugar or due to addiction to candy or coffee, etc. Most of us know what real hunger feels like. Or we can remember. When we eat from this real hunger the food generally tastes good and we feel satisfied, happy after the meal. If we eat when we are not hungry, the food may not taste delicious to us, and we may feel tired after eating. If food has lost its attrac¬tion to us, or if we lose our appetite before the meal is completed, these are signs that we do not have good digestion. (Other signs: no hunger, belching, gas, feeling of sluggishness or fullness in the belly)
If we eat too often, we can re¬start the digestive process before the last one was completed. The food will therefore not be properly digested, and proper hunger may not arise. There are even more seri¬ous results from not eating often enough. Here is an example. If your natural rhythm is every three hours, then you feel hunger every three hours. Let’s say it is II am and you are hungry (you ate breakfast at 8 am). The phone rings, or you have a deadline and you’re so involved in your project you don’t pay attention to your body’s signals, or you’re in a class, or with a client. So you don’t eat. Then, perhaps half an hour later (or three or 4 hours later) you find time to eat. Since you missed your body’s natural digestive rhythm, sig¬nified by the feeling of hunger, gen gen¬erally you will find that that hunger has now disappeared. Sure, you can eat … but that strong hunger is gone. This means all of those digestive enzymes, that hot “fire” of the digestive soup, is not there. So the foods you then eat —even though they may be healthy, and Ayurvedic — will not be properly digested. As a result of not properly digesting your food, you may feel tired after eating, or experience gas, bloating or belching.
And what happened to all of those hot, acidic properties that were in your small intestines and stomach when you were hungry? If you eat when hunger is present, Pitta is used to break down food, becoming neutralized in the process. If you don’t eat when there is hunger, that Pitta, unable to be used for digestion or to be excreted, becomes toxic Pitta, circulating in the bloodstream. If there is a weak area in the body, it may accumulate and then become enlodged there. Becoming stuck in areas such as in the joints it may lead to arthritis; in the stomach it may contribute to ulcers, in the capillaries it may cause skin disorders; it may create inflam¬mation in the arteries or muscles or anywhere in the body.
If we wait past the time of hunger to eat and eat later, usually our appetite will not come back for sev¬eral meals. Therefore the first step in is to discover our best times to eat and eat at regular intervals. Finding and following that digestive rhythm is like priming the pump; once it gets started, the digestive fire improves and continues to come up at regular intervals.
Signs of Digestion Imbalance:
If we don’t pay proper attention to our diet, digestive imbalances like acidity, gas, constipation, heartburn and even adult onset diabetes may appear. Toxins created by improper digestion may circulate and settle in the joints or other inherited weak areas (the weakness may also be caused by accident or illness), even¬tually resulting in disease.
As we get older, not listening to our body often creates imbalances of the digestive fire. We may let external events and people deter¬mine what and when we eat or we may feel that we are in charge of our body and will eat when and what we decide, ignoring our body’s signals about what and when it needs nour¬ishment. If we used to eat every five hours, our body may now need to eat every three to four hours. If we could get away with sweets and cof¬fee before without noticing any prob¬lems, we may now feel we need sweets or coffee or alcohol to keep our energy up and now find our moods swinging or we may be depressed when we eat this way. Our digestion may be weaker due to the natural increase in Vata or and/or irregular eating habits.
We may find we have excessive hunger and thirst. If you feel “too hungry” or weak, you may have a low digestive fire. Carbohydrates in general digest faster than fats and proteins. lf we eat carbohydrates excessively at the same time that we are not eating often enough, such as using sugar to control energy and moods — in the form of candy or smoothies or breads or pasta or diet soda or fruit or fruit juices — and/or if we wait until we are overly hungry before we eat, we may suffer from low blood sugar. Eventually poor diet combined with not eating often enough may lead to with adult onset diabetes. Untreated, this leads to many other very serious disorders. Diabetes is generally a Kapha disor¬der of the metabolism (there are also Vata and Pitta type diabetes) where the digestive fire is too low, leading to high blood sugar.
The Ayurvedic approach to building the digestive fire is to eat at the right times for your body while decreasing sweets and carbohy¬drates (as well as stimulants like cof¬fee and alcohol). With this approach, you will eat more (and more often) and weigh less. More protein, whole fibers, root vegetables and legumes and less simple sugars will satisfy that “excessive” hunger and energy and moods will stabilize. Fats and sugars and carbohydrates increase Kapha and combined with a low digestive fire increase weight.
How To Stay Vital As We Age
Regularity reduces Vata. Develop regu¬lar mealtimes, regular evacuation, regu¬lar sleep, regular exercise, regular self-expression, regular work, less stress, regular leisure time, regular meditation.
The best diet post 40 is one which suite your body/mind nature (see previous OnFitness Article) as well as your digestive power. If your digestive power is low or you have signs of Vata imbalance — if you feel weak, unfocussed, less vital, more stiff — try an anti-Vata diet. With this diet you avoid stimulants like coffee, alcohol, sugar, hot spices (chilies), salt; avoid cold, raw and light foods like raw vegetables, excessive sal¬ads, iced or carbonated drinks, pop¬corn; avoid beans, tofu, fermented and yeasted foods. Eat more hot, cooked, soupy foods like stir fried vegetables, stews, soups; make sure there is mono-saturated oil in your diet (sesame oil, olive oil or ghee); eat enough protein in the form of chicken, turkey, fish, legumes (moong dal, orange lentils, adzuki beans) and plenty of cooked vegeta¬bles. The spice ginger is a great anti-Vata addition to the diet, especially if your hunger is low or you feel cold or depressed. Drink hot water with your meal; this helps a weak digestion making a “soup” of your food. Almond milk adds easy to digest protein and fat and builds strength and ojas (immune system enhancer). The anti-Vata diet helps a sagging sex life and helps elimina¬tion as well!
Other anti-aging remedies from Ayurveda: Chavana Prash, amla fruit compote, higher in natural vita¬min C than rose hips, reduces Vata, nervousness, stress, helps mental focus and builds immunity. Triphala, a powder of three fruits which keep elimination regular. Drachsha, an organic grape juice digestive tonic with Ayurvedic herbs which helps digestion, elimination, moods, skin. Bitter melon, a bitter vegetable used for diabetes. Fenugreek, ginger, hingwastock and other digestive herbs.
Massage and Self Massage
Oil is highly anti-aging and anti-Vata according to Ayurveda, espe¬cially sesame oil which adds calcium to the bones and moisture to dry skin as well as warmth and lubrica¬tion to the nervous system. One lux¬urious anti-aging (anti-Vata) treat¬ment is a hot sesame oil massage followed by steam-bath (Swedana) which is offered at Lotus Holistic Health Institute in Santa Cruz. It can be modified as a home self-treat¬ment. Buy organic cold processed sesame oil. Put it in a plastic bottle in hot water to heat it (or use it room temperature) and massage the entire body before taking a warm bath or shower. Begin with the feet and move up the legs, massaging up and down on the o’er and upper once a weak followed by dry brush¬ing and Pitta nature (or in hot weather) twice a week.
The Ayurvedic approach to living a long and vital life requires aware¬ness and regularity. Try it for a week and see if your energy and moods increase. Ayurveda says we should live one hundred vital years.