Rasayana, or the science of rejuvenation, is ancient; for around 5,000 years Ayurveda has been reputed to increase the body’s resistance to disease and slow down the ageing process. Scientific evaluation of plants and Ayurvedic treatments have borne out the fact that Rasayanas can protect the body against the ravages of age by enhancing its ability to fight pathogens by non-specifically activating immunity. Many Rasayana herbs contain antioxidants which prevent damage caused by free radicals. According to Ayurveda, Rasayanas bring about proper nourishment, growth and function of all seven tissues (Dhatus).
Rasayana therapy is one of the eight branches of Ayurveda. It is recommended for the elderly, pregnant women, post partum, for children, those who are debilitated, emaciated, convalescents, for anaemia, nervous exhaustion, and Vata conditions. It is contraindicated in conditions associated with ama (toxins), for obese people, during colds and flu, fevers, infectious diseases and allergies.
Ojas – the Subtle Essence of Life
A substance known as Ojas is central to the discussion of rejuvenation. It is said to be the eighth tissue, or the essence of all the body tissues, the ultimate product of nutrition and digestion, and the prime energy reserve for the entire body. It provides the energy, vitality, and joie de vivre that gets us through life. Our immunity, strength and resistance depend on the quality and quantity of Ojas; when depleted it predisposes us to lowered immunity, low spirits and ill-health. All rejuvenation therapies are, therefore, targeted at improving Ojas.
There are many Rasayana herbs and foods, but for these great healers to have their fullest rejuvenating effects we need to prepare ourselves first by optimizing digestion, cleansing toxins from the system and resolving imbalances of the doshas.
The Digestive Fire
Agni, or digestive fire, is central to health, enabling food to be transformed into nutrition that can be metabolized by the body to keep us well. Low agni can result from eating badly, stress, over-eating, and the resultant poorly digested food particles ferment and produce toxins, lowering vitality and predisposing to ill-health. It is always important to detoxify the system using, for example, massage techniques, diet and herbs for two to three weeks before using Rasayanas. Cleansing diets, such as a kitchari fast, are recommended, as well as herbs/formulae such as guggulu, ginger and Triphala.
Rejuvenating Foods and Herbs
Kitchari is one of the best tonic foods and is easily digested. Milk (including cow, sheep, grain and nut milk), oils, ghee, nuts and seeds restore vitality, nourish the nerves and increase Ojas. Grains (wheat, oats and brown rice are said to be the best) and sweet tasting fruits and vegetables, such as dates, raisins, figs, pomegranates, grapes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions, cooked in ghee, improve vigour and help re-build tissues. Spices like garlic, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, cloves, fennel, cumin, coriander and asafoetida are warming and strengthening, they stimulate the digestion, and can improve vigour especially when cooked with ghee. Raw sugar, particularly jaggery, is considered to give strength and help to build body tissues. Adequate salt intake is important, especially rock salt.
Ashwagandha: Withania somnifera, Winter cherry
The most highly acclaimed Rasayana, Ashwagandha is a famous tonic, particularly recommended for adults to increase physical and mental stamina and vitality. Taken daily, it is particularly good for balancing Vata, and strengthens both the muscle and reproductive tissues. It is helpful for insomnia, poor memory and concentration, depression, lethargy and anxiety. Research has demonstrated that Ashwagandha has immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It enhances leucotcytosis with predominant neutrophilia.
Shatavari: Asparagus racemosus, Wild Asparagus
Another excellent tonic and rejuvenator, Shatavari root has immuno-modulatory and antioxidant properties, and acts as an adaptogen, enhancing resilience to stress, whether physical, environmental, mental or emotional. It is used for general debility, hyperacidity, urinary problems, infertility, and more frequently to balance female hormones, for PMS and menopausal problems. Shatavari is one of the main Rasayanas for Pitta.
Pippali: Piper longum, Long pepper
With its pungent taste and heating effect, pippali increases agni and clears toxins. It is excellent for catarrhal congestion, and is the main Rasayana for Kapha. It increases circulation, particularly to the lungs, and has a beneficial effect on the immune system. It has been found to significantly increase macrophage migration inhibition and phagocytic activity.
A famous compound composed of three fruits, all rich in antioxidants: Haritaki, Amalaki and Bibhitaki. This helps to maintain overall health by harmonizing the digestive functions, and working on all three doshas as tonics and Rasayanas.
Gotu kola: Centella/hydrocotyle asiatica, Brahmi
A rejuvenative tonic for the nervous system, Gotu kola balances all three doshas and helps improve memory, mental clarity and concentration. It is widely used for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, learning and behavioural problems, fatigue, chronic skin conditions and non-healing ulcers. It improves blood flow, thus enhancing tissue repair.
Amalaki: Emblica officinalis, Indian gooseberry
Amalaki is the main constituent of the famous Ayurvedic jam, Chayawanprash, a superb rejuvenator for all three doshas, the lungs and the reproductive system. It is also one of the ingredients of Triphala. It has cardio-protective effects, and reduces serum cholesterol levels as well as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. With its high vitamin C content, it is an excellent antioxidant and is the Rasayana for Pitta.
NB. Tonic herbs are best taken as powders and cooked in milk. To enhance their tonic effect add one to two teaspoons of ghee/raw sugar, and a little spice, eg. ginger or cardamom.
There are many activities that promote health and happiness by engendering positive emotions and experiences, which in turn promote the production of Ojas. It is suggested to:
- Discourage negative emotions, such as anger, hostility, and cynicism, and promote positive thoughts and actions that increase happiness;
- Choose to be with wise people who uplift and inspire;
- Always speak the truth with kindness and compassion;
- Maintain personal integrity which helps to inspire confidence and self-esteem, as well as cleanliness, both mental and physical. Keeping a clean harmonious environment will uplift and inspire;
- Be charitable and generous;
- Cook for your family with love and respect;
- Follow your own spiritual beliefs, devoting time for spiritual practices;
- Do what you love to do and experience joy, for example singing, painting, being in nature;
- Avoid work and activity (physical and mental) in excess, and get plenty of rest and relaxation.