Important Notice: As of July 3, 2014 Panchakarma is taking a hiatus.
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Ayurvedic Rejuvenation and Longevity Therapy
It makes sense that if Ayurveda means the “science of life” then it would describe not only how to live your life but also how to make it last as long as possible. When we speak of longevity in the west we are usually talking about adding a few good years to one’s life. In ancient India, they were talking about extending life spans by fifty to a hundred years or more!
During my training in India I was always fascinated when the topic of longevity and life extension came up. My Ayurvedic teachers spoke of ancient rejuvenative techniques, known as Panchakarma, that could totally transform the body of a withered ninety year old to that of a vibrant thirty year old. To them, these outrageous claims seemed strangely matter of fact.
Neighboring countries also reported such life extension miracles. From a remote region in Tibet, a set of exercises called the five rites (yoga exercises) of rejuvenation have staked a recent claim to the fountain of youth. Stories about a British naval officer taking thirty or forty years of age off his body with these Tibetan techniques have made headlines here in the west.
Magic or Myth
I have heard stories of life extension ranging from one hundred to five hundred years using ancient Ayurvedic techniques. In India, this notion of immortality, although somewhat hard to swallow by the skeptical west, is alive and well. My favorite story is that of a Mahatma who reportedly lived to be 185 years old. Tapasviji Maharaj went through specific Ayurvedic rejuvenative therapies three times in order to extend his youth to the ripe old age of 185.
These life extension treatments are called kya kalpa, where the body is kept in isolation for three months. Aspirants would eat only herbs and medicated milk and receive a series of Panchakarma longevity treatments each day.
Panchakarma means “five actions,” specifying the five methods of cleansing and renewing the body. These treatments are hands-on rejuvenative techniques that purge the physiological stress and age out of the body’s deep tissues.
During the kya kalpa process which, is a form of cellular transformation, it is said that one’s teeth and hair would fall out and grow back new. The old skin would peel off like a snake’s, unveiling a new layer of supple and youthful skin. Eye sight, clarity of mind and the strength and vigor of a thirty year old would be the result on the 91st day of treatment.
Of course, none of these reports have ever been documented to the satisfaction of western science. However, the theories behind these practices make sense, and could in fact provide us with a practical understanding of this very long sought after fountain of youth.
Lost But Not Forgotten
In India there are still many Ayurvedic hospitals that give these Panchakarma therapies for the treatment of disease. Over the years these Panchakarma treatments have become known for physiological cleansing rather then for achieving longevity. No doubt they serve this purpose well, but when you are after the results of kya kalpa (life extension), cleansing alone will not serve your purpose.
I have had these Panchakarma treatments in India on many occasions and have administered them for fifteen years. But only during my more recent trips to India have the missing pieces to this puzzle begun to fall into place. In all the reports of these extreme kya kalpa experiences, there were always similar prerequisites for the aspirant.
A few essential requirements stood out:
- One had to have the ability to maintain a state of transcendental consciousness and meditation for extremely long periods of time.
- One had to be in control of the senses, all of them.
- One had to be strong enough of body, mind and spirit to endure the process.
Although extreme, this didn’t seem so much to ask considering a life extension benefit of fifty or sixty years. Even so, it was for this reason that the secrets of kya kalpa had been privy to only sages and monks who were capable of living these requirements as a way of life.
Slow and Steady
If these prerequisites seem just beyond your personal reach or you are just not interested in having your hair and teeth fall out and skin peel off, there is a slow and steady approach that is said to accomplish the elusive goal of life extension. In ancient times the kings and queens were given seasonal Panchakarma treatments as a means to extend life and safeguard fair and just thinking.
A one week series of Panchakarma would actually instill the kya kalpa prerequisites for a time, and with successive treatments the benefits would be made permanent. They transform the mind and awaken the spirit by Ayurvedically manipulating the body.
The Eye of the Hurricane
The actual experience of these three prerequisites was, in a sense, the source, course and the goal of an effective life extension treatment. In other words, the kya kalpa itself would establish the experience of these prerequisites during the treatment, and maintain that experience long after the process ended.
The actual transformation of each aged cell, which resulted in the life extension itself, depended on these experiences as the source of its success. For this to happen, a certain internal environment had to be established to empower this transformation. This environment had to support the co-existence of two extremely opposite forces:
First an incredible state of calm had to be established in the midst of this complete physiological overhaul. The best analogies for this are readily available when we analyze the awesome power and longevity of nature itself. A hurricane, for example, is a combination of gale force winds swirling around a silent center. The bigger this silent eye of the hurricane the more powerful the winds. This is a law of nature that we see as tiny electrons spin around silent nuclei and planets around a silent sun. For us to harness this power of nature and longevity we must be able to reproduce its environment inside of us.
This is the goal of the kya kalpa and Panchakarma treatments. When a state of the deepest transcendental calm was established and maintained it acts as a hub of silence around which the dynamic forcefulness of the medicines and cleansings transform old toxic cells into vital productive ones. This state of deep and heightened internal awareness triggers a cascade of spontaneous healings on a deep cellular level where we bury our stress, fears and emotions.
Life Extension Through Deep Calm
The first prerequisite of maintaining a transcendental awareness is established by a spontaneous lowering of the basal metabolic rate as a result of each successive treatment. If the body were a lake, it would become totally calm and crystal clear. In this state the body could experience itself more deeply as a unified field of consciousness rather than thousands of physical parts.
Ayurveda identifies the cause of all disease as the “mistake of the intellect.” The intellect chooses to think of itself and bodily parts as separate from an underlying field of consciousness. Once the memory of consciousness is restored on a cellular level the body will spontaneously heal itself with its own awareness.
Each treatment provides a deep relaxation as well as an experience of total luxury. This luxury provides the calm that deeply relaxes the body and gives access to the well-protected storage sites of deep and toxic tissues of the body.
The cumulative effect of two and a half hours of such treatments daily for a week or more establishes a kind of internal calm that remains as a hub of silence for all activity. By removing stores of cellular toxins the body settles down deeper and deeper each day. This deep immersion of inner silence allows the experience of consciousness to pervade every cell and become a way of life.
Remember – the bigger the eye of the hurricane, the more forceful the winds. This was the goal of the Panchakarma and message of the Vedas: this experience was to be lived as a means to full human potential.
Life Extension Through Refining the Senses
The second prerequisite required complete control, or the refinement of all the senses. It seems throughout the course of evolution our senses have been sold a slightly bogus bill of goods. We have traded a world of unlimited human potential for a glitzier and sexier world full of sensual pleasure.
Originally, as infants, we did not have access to our senses as we know them. They developed over time, and as they did we all became intoxicated with news sounds, tastes, colors and shapes. In Ayurveda the senses are considered avenues of consciousness that as infants would bring all the experiences of the outside world through the filter of the mind and directly to the heart as feelings. This is how mothers communicate with their baby’s without words for the first two years of life. It is a heart to heart level of communication based on feelings and it doesn’t get more direct.
Even as adults the senses still make us feel. When you hear a favorite song, you feel good. When you smell a flower you feel good. These feelings are heart felt and are accessed via the five senses.
Typically our senses are so overloaded with external stimuli that it keeps us from having a real experience of ourselves. The heart – which is the source of our feelings and in Ayurveda it is the source of all our thoughts, actions and desires – is the ultimate eye of the hurricane. The calm center that supports all our mental, emotional, and physical activity.
The Panchakarma treatments turn the senses inside out and help us feel deeper parts of ourselves. As it is human nature to protect oneself from getting hurt feelings, we wall off those deep and delicate feelings of the heart – making a mind-over-matter approach to life the norm.
Specific Ayurvedic treatments which utilize all the five senses transport awareness in the form of consciousness to the heart and then to every cell in the body. The heart, which is the source of both feelings and consciousness, is bombarded with this awareness infusing both feelings, consciousness and healing into every cell.
With this heightened state of self-awareness there is nothing that the body cannot fix. Instead of seeking happiness in the unreliable world of the relative, the senses provide access to the source of life and longevity itself. This is our own consciousness which we hold so very dear to our heart.
Life Extension Through Strength
The third prerequisite is to have the strength and endurance to handle the kya kalpa treatments. The traditional ninety-day kya kalpa treatments were very depleting, but when the Panchakarma aspect of kya kalpa is performed correctly it promises an experience of total rejuvenation.
As I previously described, the senses make us aware of the ultimate eye of the hurricane located in the heart, while the lowering of the metabolic rate acts as a kind of calm lake where the body can see deeply and clearly into itself. The result is that the human eye of the hurricane becomes quite big. Once again, the bigger the eye of the hurricane, the more powerful its surrounding wind. Thus, the more energy available to heal and rejuvenate the body from the inside out.
Panchakarma establishes a rejuvenative calm on the level of each and every cell.
There are many treatments and therapies in a series of Ayurvedic Panchakarma. Read descriptions about the treatments used in the ancient art of life extension. Many of them are performed by two Ayurvedic therapists working in perfect synchrony. When you have four hands working on you, the mind surrenders because it cannot track exactly what is happening – thus a deeper level of calm for the mind and the nervous system.Two, three and sometimes four of these therapies are linked together during the course of one day’s treatment.