Pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga as explained by Patanjali, teaches us the importance of limiting the overstimulation of our senses and nervous system. Excessive work, intense stress, overindulging habits, and sensory overload cause a gradual depletion of our rasa, which is often the root cause of disease. If not addressed, loss of rasa may result in immune deficiency, low vitality, chronic poor health, or imbalances that can reappear. Rasayana herbal therapies can address and remedy core depletion by restoring our rasa.
The Sanskrit word rasayana translates as "that which enters"(ayana) into the body's reserve of vital life energy or essence (rasa). Rasa is also considered the sacred "juice"that sustains our life. While most of life's activities consume rasa, a few herbal substances have been found to rejuvenate it.
Yogic philosophy and texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, refer to an inner "moon"situated at the roof of the palate, which pours a stream of pure nectar known as amrita, or rasa. The all-consuming inner "sun"of our being is situated near the navel and consumes this cascading ambrosial flow of amrita. Overstimulation in life creates excessive heat in the body thought to accelerate the consumption of rasa. Many of the physical and emotional changes of aging are attributed to the gradual—or not so gradual—loss of rasa. Debilitated old age is the result of a dramatic consumption of rasa.
Rasa promotes moist and cooling life-extending qualities, while the solar energies feed on rasa as fuel, eventually leaving us dry and agitated in old age. The fire is essential, as it provides us the ability to digest, move, create, grow, and thrive. But Ayurveda and yoga teach us to be mindful of excessive rasa-consuming activities while still manifesting our creative life force. In the yogic paradigm, aging is not measured in years but in how much one's rasa has been used or preserved. One can feel youthful or tired at age 60. It's all in the rasa.
Asana inversions like Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) act to reverse the flow and preserve rasa. But it is herbal therapies that currently dominate rasayana therapy. In previous columns I've discussed a few rasayana herbs used to rejuvenate vitality, such as ashwagandha, shatavari, amalaki, and haritaki. These herbs can be used without harm to restore the rasa daily. A useful analogy is that of pouring oil into an oil lamp each day rather than waiting until the oil has burned out.
Modern medicine has done little research into the potential of rasayana therapies and herbs; however, because of their nutritive quality, the herbs used in rasayana therapies are some of the safest. Rasayana herbs have a toning and rejuvenating effect on the digestive system, nervous system, and adrenals. A simple rasayana technique I use in my Ayurveda practice is to combine one-half teaspoon of one or more rasayana herbs in powdered form into fresh cow's milk and simmer until warm. (Kapha doshas should use soy milk.) Then add a teaspoon of honey and a teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter); stir until well mixed. This simple rasayana is a safe restorative practice that can be added to one's evening routine.
Of course, you'll want to use herbs best suited for your dosha, so consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner before initiating a complete rasayana therapy. While undergoing rasa rejuvenation, it's best to avoid physical and emotional strain, as agitation and fiery emotions burn up rasa. Also eliminate stimulating foods and spices, as well as caffeine and alcohol. Sleep between seven and nine hours each night and abstain from sex; rasa depletion can cause low sex drive.
James Bailey, L.Ac., M.P.H., Dipl. NCCAOM, practices Ayurveda, Oriental Medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and vinyasa yoga in Santa Monica, California.