In the early 1980s, when I was beginning my studies in Ayurveda, I read a book called Maharaj: A Biography of Shriman Tapasviji Maharaj, a Mahatma Who Lived for 185 Years.1
This book strongly influenced my desire to study Ayurveda in India with a special desire to learn about Kaya Kalpa, the south Indian Siddha Medicine technique for longevity.
The story of Tapasviji Maharaj’s 185-year lifespan sounded more like a myth than reality, but the more I looked into Kaya Kalpa (kaya=body, kalpa=transformation), the more incredible longevity stories I heard—all similar to the story of Tapasviji Maharaj.
Tapasviji: The Man who Lived for 185 Years
Tapasviji was a military man who lost his family in a tragic accident and sought the counsel of a renowned yogi to dedicate his life to spirituality. He lived in a cave for six years, enduring many austerities and extreme yogic practices, such as food restriction, extended exposure to extreme cold, and holding yoga postures for 24 hours.
While such practices were common for yogis in the Himalayas, Tapasviji went further: at age 100, with a very broken elderly body, he found a yogi who offered him the ancient technique of body transformation: Kaya Kalpa.
Please note: none of what you are about to hear has ever been verified, but there is new science that may explain the ancient mystery of Kaya Kalpa and the secret to longevity. Read on!
Tapasviji entered into Kaya Kalpa retreat for 90 days in a dimly lit room of total seclusion. He had minimal food and some herbs such as amalaki. He would anoint himself daily with oil (a practice called abhyanga which I highly recommend), and perform special yoga postures, breathing techniques, and meditations.
We RecommendAyurvedic Daily Oil Self Massage (Abhyanga)
After 3 months, Tapasviji emerged looking like a young man of thirty, with new black hair growth, youthful skin, new teeth, and a strong sturdy body. The ancient practice of Kaya Kalpa promised cellular regrowth and rejuvenation!
In Search of Kaya Kalpa
In 1986, I moved to India to study Ayurveda and find out what I could regarding such stories of longevity. Whether I was studying outside New Delhi and Varanasi in the north or Kochin in the south, whenever I would ask about Kaya Kalpa and extreme longevity, I was told that the herbs and practices for Kaya Kalpa did once exist, but that the herbs were rare or extinct and that the type of extreme practices were not available anymore.
Of course, that made me only more interested in endangered Ayurvedic herbs. After all these years, I am happy to report that our RARE Program (Reviving Ayurveda’s Rare Ecology) is dedicated to restoring ancient endangered herbs. Learn more about the RARE program here.
The best explanation I received during my studies of Kaya Kalpa was that Ayurveda’s panchakarma rejuvenation program was a form of slow and steady Kaya Kalpa. I administered this treatment to my patients for 26 years with great results. During that time, however, no one’s hair fell, nor did their skin peel, nor did they regrow new teeth or a brand new body.
Kaya Kalpa was something quite different!!!
The Modern Science of Ancient Kaya Kalpa: Growing New Cells
In 1991, UCLA longevity scientist Roy Walford and seven other scientists went into seclusion for two years in Arizona in a facility called Biosphere 2. Here they grew their own food and consumed very few calories per day, according to USC longevity scientist Valter Longo who worked with Walford.
After two years, the scientists lost a significant amount of weight, but what struck Dr. Longo was that their organs (like the heart and liver) also shrunk significantly during this very long period of calorie restriction. Once they came out of seclusion and off of a restricted calorie diet, their organs grew back with new cells.
In the scientific world, the only way organs can regrow (like the claims made from Kaya Kalpa) is with a surge of stem cell production, which typically declines as we age!
Dr. Longo started doing research on the stem cell activation and longevity effects of calorie-restricted and fasting diets on yeast, mice, and eventually humans. He found that extended calorie restriction (eating less) and fasting extended life, triggered the release of stem cells, and prevented disease significantly.3 This research was shared in his book The Longevity Diet.
We RecommendAyurvedic Intermittent Fasting
Dr. Longo explains in his TEDx Talk that the seven calorie-restricted scientists from the Biosphere 2 test could only have regrown their organs with a surge of stem cells, which are well-documented to restore and regrow damaged tissues.2, 3
Fasting, Autophagy, Stem Cells & Longevity
Nobel Prize-winning science found that fasting triggers a process called autophagy: a health-promoting self-eating of the body. When the body faces a threat, such as calorie restriction or fasting, it quickly starts cleaning house. Any cells that are fully damaged are discarded (self-eaten) and ones that can be restored and reused are used to rebuild and repair the body. It is theorized that autophagy is the trigger for the release of stem cells: both promote longevity.3, 4
We RecommendIntermittent Fasting, Autophagy + Ayurveda
The hallmarks of Kaya Kalpa are much like the parameters of the Biosphere experiment: severe calorie restriction and seclusion. Kaya Kalpa predicted the restoration of the body and the regrowth of new cells. The Biosphere 2 experiment and follow-up experiments by Dr. Longo confirm that eating less food and fasting will activate autophagy and stem cell production.3, 4
Stay tuned For Dr. John’s new Kaya Kalpa Stem Cell & Autophagy Cleanse coming soon!
Calorie Restriction and Fasting Suggestions
- Don’t eat for 13 hours between supper and breakfast (for example 6pm–7am).
- Once a week, enjoy 24 hours without food. Start with a 24-hour water fast by eating supper (or breakfast) and then nothing until supper (or breakfast) the next day.
- Save longer fasts for the spring, which, for our ancestors, was a natural period of famine/fasting. It is the time when most extended religious fasts take place.
NOTE: Stop any fast if you are feeling uncomfortable.