Q & A with Dr. Suhas G. Kshirsagar: Ayurveda for Healthy Aging
In this interview, Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Yoga U Online, speaks with Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar.
Dr. Kshirsagar is an accomplished clinician, medical astrologer and Vedic counselor, and one of the most academically accomplished, classically trained Ayurvedic physicians in the United States. He serves as lead faculty to more than 200 students at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, Scripps University in Maryland, and many other Ayurvedic institutions. Dr. Kshirsagar presented a course om YogaUOnline entitled “Ayurveda for Healthy Aging.” He has shared the stage with Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer and many other self-development visionaries.
Here he shares his insights on the 5,000-year-old system of Ayurvedic natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India. He reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.
Q. In Ayurveda, planning for healthy aging is something you need to do when you’re in your twenties or thirties, preferably. Is that correct?
Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar: That is correct, but it’s never too late to extend your life and improve its quality. You do not need to be in good health already. You don’t have to fret and worry about the past. The moment you open your eyes and take control of your health and routine – how you make choices (good or bad) – is when you can reverse the aging process.
Instead of the negative connotations of “aging,” I prefer to call it “saging”. You become a good, wise sage making positive health and longevity choices.
A health “saging” process is not about the wrinkles on the skin, it’s all about keeping your brain and body active and slowly negating some of the unwanted emotional debris that we carry in our cells and tissues.
The real causes of aging-related illnesses range from genetically pre-programmed cell death to the damage caused by environmental toxins. These toxins accumulate in fibers that clog up the highways, or “shrotas” (physical channels within our bodies).
The real factor that determines longevity is whether you’re expressing your good or bad genetic predispositions during your lifetime. We can turn on our good genes to behave in certain ways, and can we turn off certain genes which are acting, unfortunately, to create diseases, sickness, and suffering.
Q. It’s interesting that one of the newest trends in modern medicine is lifestyle medicine, which focuses on empowering your health and lifestyle choices that Ayurveda has done 6,000 years ago.
Dr. Kshirsagar: There are different social connotations to the way we view aging. In Eastern and Native American traditions, getting old is something that people look forward to because the elderly people are respected, unlike in the West where it’s kind of frowned upon that you are aging or are getting old.
In the East, getting old means you have the wisdom of life. Having experienced what to do and not to do, you become a coach or guide for others.
In the West, our youth-driven culture and neglect of the elderly sometimes promotes a denial of the realities of aging. The marketplace is full of products and devices promising to make us look and feel younger. The focus is on treatment and replacement therapy – you replace a knee, remove a failed organ and transplant a new one or replenish depleted hormones.
In Ayurveda, instead of trying to fix something, we want to adopt practices that seek to enhance and optimize our health through proper diet, lifestyle and emotional well-being. Ayurveda is founded on an age-old belief that the way you nourish yourself is through food and water. You have to eat clean, healthy food, which is made by Mother Nature. You have to drink enough water. You are to breathe healthy, fresh air. You keep the channels open and unblocked by doing rigorous physical activity and keeping the circulation working. And you adopt some good way of resting, unwinding, and relaxation whether it is meditation or mindful awareness.
Q. What is interesting about the Ayurvedic approach to that kind of empowerment, particularly when it comes to aging, is it can all be summed up in two words, “Vata Dosha.”
Dr. Kshirsagar: Vata influences the other doshas, and is governed by the elemental dosha of air and space. So the air is moving and changing all the time, and you need to balance this. (See related story).
When we are born, we are in the Kapha phase of life, which is the elemental dosha that is a combination of water and earth. When we are in an active, dynamic phase of life, we are in the phase of Pitta, or fire, which has to do with the heat energy, dynamism, and activity. In the 50’s and 60’s we enter into the phase of Vata.
Vata governs movement in the body, the activities of the nervous system and the process of elimination. It is all about space and air, which creates some degree of dryness in the system and lightness.
When you keep your Vata in check by adopting the right kind of changes for these phases, you are able to have enough energy to function through your daily activities and keep memory and cognitive brain performance intact. You don’t get sick that often, and you are more relaxed, experience more restful sleep, better sexual function, and fewer ailments.
Regularity is the key to balance Vata.
Q. Tell us more about the epidemic of premature aging you are seeing. Are there certain things that you see as an Ayurvedic physician that caused you to pick up on those kinds of symptoms that might fall under the radar of Western medicine?
Dr. Kshirsagar: In my clinical practice, I actually see people in their thirties who have bodies like a 50 or 60-year-old. They need rhythm correction. They need glasses to read, because their eyesight and their senses are giving up. They have low energy and low vitality. We see so many people in their thirties and forties having no sexual energy left or no sexual desire, and we also see so many people who are having an onslaught of chronic diseases.
We used to see these diseases in the sixties or seventies, but as our lifestyle changes, people have those diseases very, very early. I see so many young people having heart attacks in their forties.
These are signs of premature aging. Not only do we have to combat the premature aging epidemic, but we have to slow down the aging process by doing the right kinds of things.
The keyword is mindfulness. It’s only through mindfulness that you can reverse aging. It’s high time that we think that our health is our own domain.
You need to develop a proper routine to have Vata. Whether it’s oil massage, eating warm, freshly-cooked and prepared meals or having enough physical movement, no one else is going to do that for you. You have to make those choices and you have to make those decisions yourself.
Q. What is causing this epidemic of premature aging?
Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar: Indulgence. In the past, people understood the principles of nature and balance and how not to go overboard with anything. The formula we practice, like Ayurvedic medicine, is a way to live your life.
People used to effortlessly embrace meditation to maintain inner harmony with the universe. They ate balanced diets, and selected the right kinds of foods. People arose and retired at regular hours of the day. They avoided over burdening their bodies and minds and refrained from over indulging of all kinds.
When you practice Ayurvedic medicine, you maintain well-being in body and mind. So is not at all surprising that they live this far and well without any supplements or drug-related help.
But these days, we have this epidemic of overindulgence. People have sedentary lives. They drink wine like water, indulge in excessive eating and other destructive behavior (whether you talk about alcohol, drugs, drinking, whether you talk about excessive sugar or salt in their diet), draining the essence of the Ojas (vigor) and their vitality.
This overindulgence depletes energy. To have this excessive seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasure, people suddenly have this artificial entertainment idea which is too loud and drains the senses too quickly. It is a complete disregard to the natural rhythms in the body and the order of the universe.
People eat, sleep or have sex whenever they want. When you fail to regulate your lifestyle and diet and have a lot of variations in sleep and restful activities, then you are not conserving your vital essence and energy. So people deplete their Ojas, and they look old at fifty and die soon after.
I don’t want to paint a really negative picture here, but I see these kinds of people every day in my practice. They spend their health to get some wealth. Afterwards, they would like to share their wealth with you to regain their health. Sometimes it’s possible, and sometimes it is not. So realizing what you can do for yourself and how you can really start living a life that is more centered on the natural rhythms of the universe, is the key.
Q. Tell us about your book and the role food plays in Ayurveda.
Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar: The Hot Belly Diet: A 30-Day Ayurvedic Plan to Reset Your Metabolism, Lose Weight, and Restore Your Body’s Natural Balance to Heal Itself, summarizes how to rekindle your digestive “fire,” and shows you how to optimize your digestive powers to foster rapid weight loss and vibrant health.
Once you have rekindled your digestive fire, you will rekindle your life because the process of digestion plays a pivotal role in maintaining the overall homeostasis and healing power of the body. It is through the digestion that the intelligence in the form of nutrients from body’s surrounding environment is extracted, broken down, combined again in so many different ways to recreate energy for very cell, organ, and tissue in the body.
If you don’t engage in this process, you create a toxic sludge. And the toxic sludge is something that is going to slow down, making the body sluggish and obstruct the channels of circulation. And that’s when you start feeling a little bit more yucky and toxic.