About a year ago I shared an article about the Ayurvedic perspective on circadian rhythm. In it, I shared how different times in the day have different qualities associated with them, thus making certain times more appropriate for specific activities.
I’ve also taught about how the seasons of the year have different qualities and thus different requirements for how we can best take care of ourselves based on what Mother Nature provides.
Today, I’d like to expand on this idea and look at the seasons of life.
A quick breakdown on the doshas
To understand Ayurveda, we must first have a basic understanding of the doshas, or qualities. In Ayurveda, which literally translates as “the science of living,” these qualities constitute everything. The doshas are made up of a combination of the elements. The elements are Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Space. It’s important to remember that every human has a combination of all the elements, but some combinations will be more prominent then others.
The three doshas in Ayurveda are called Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. Pitta is a combination of Fire and Water. Vata is a combination of Air and Ether. Kapha is a combination of Earth and Water.
The seasons of life
According to Ayurvedic thought, there are four stages to our lives.
- The first stage occurs between birth and the first 25 years of our lives. This stage is represented by the qualities of Kapha. In this stage we are meant to enjoy our lives. As children we adopt a carefree attitude and engage in play without worry. We are meant to learn and grow and be a student. Children require more sleep, which is indicative of Kapha energy. Other positive attributes of this stage of life include contentment and dependence on others to help us grow.
- The second stage occurs between the ages of 25 and 50. During this stage of life we are meant to acquire wealth. This is the stage of the householder and is dominated by Pitta energy, which motivates us to work. The positive attributes of this stage of life include transformation, independence, ambition and confidence. For the most part, our culture still adheres to this general timeline, as this is the time when we really start to build wealth and work hard.
- The third stage of life occurs between the ages of 50 and 75. This stage of life is considered the hermitage phase and is dominated by qualities of both Pitta and Vata energies. In this phase, we become concerned with our purpose and our legacy. We become more concerned with honor and truth and begin to transition out of the highly energetic phase of the householder as we make our way into retirement. This is a phase of slowing down and finding what really matters to us.
What is interesting about this stage is that the finding of meaning and purpose doesn’t happen until much later in life, which seems at odds with the “follow your passion” movements of our current times and the constant reminders that our Millenial generation is most concerned with finding value in the work they do and connecting with a purpose. It seems that Millenials have become much more concerned with the questions traditionally reserved for later stages of life.
- The final stage of life occurs between 75-100 years and is considered the renunciation phase. This stage of life is all about finding liberation, both for the soul upon death, but also from material attachments. The dominating energy of this stage is Vata, which includes qualities such as dry, brittle, and cool — all common afflictions for the elderly. In this stage we can spend time on spiritual pursuits that we didn’t have time for before and retreat away from the world to find peace and quiet as a preparation for the transition of our soul.
Keep in mind that Ayurveda stems from a philosophy that believes in reincarnation, so it is important to prepare for the transition of the soul so that the soul can be reborn into a good next life, or preferably, become liberated from the process of rebirth once and for all. Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation, all cultures and faiths wish for a peaceful passing for the body and soul so that the transition to the next step, whatever that step may be, is smooth.
What I love about this philosophy is that even though it is thousands and thousands of years old, it still believed that human beings have the capacity to live to 100 years old!
Whether we like it or not, we will age. While we can’t control the fact that we will age as time goes on, we can control how we choose to age. In Ayurveda the goal is to age easefully, moving through the transitions of life with balance and grace.
The good news is, the negative side effects we associate with aging all come from imbalances in the doshas, which can and will afflict us all through life. To prevent these negative side effects throughout our entire life, we simply need to find balance. Obviously, this is one of those times when it sounds simple but to practice balance becomes much more difficult.
I personally love Ayurvedic philosophy because of its emphasis on balance. While difficult to cultivate and even harder to maintain, the good news is we can choose to practice balance at any time in our life.
Now that we know the stages of life, understand the qualities of the seasons, and have an understanding of the qualities of the different times of the day (if you’ve read some of my previous articles on Ayurveda linked to throughout this post), we can start to build our lives to suit our own needs and find balance.
Each individual is unique and will have a different definition of balance. Balance also never stays the same — it will always be changing based on external inputs. This is why balance is a practice just like asana or meditation is a practice.
We are CONSTANTLY CHANGING. Find solace in the practice of balance. Coming back to center will always feel the same, even if the way you get there looks different.
Look back at the seasons of life and identify which one you are in. Be loose with the numbers given; for example, you might be 26 and still a student or you might be 75 and still working a full-time job!
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you feel about where you are in your own life?
- Do you feel like you are living in alignment with the stages outlined above?
- Do you feel any tension points with the stages of life? What do you like about them and what don’t you like?
- What challenge are you facing in your current stage?
- What can you do today to practice balance given your current situation?