Derived from Yoga’s sister science of Ayurveda; Ojas is our subtle ‘essence’ responsible for vitality, health, radiance, energy levels, strength, immunity in particular, vigour, longevity of life and overall mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Ojas is something the body both has within itself (i.e. babies are a fantastic example of having a high level of Ojas, with their soft and glowing skin and bright eyes), but it’s also something we obtain, extract and metabolise from the foods we eat. Ojas is said to make up our physical bodily tissue – the organs, muscle, bones, ligaments and fat cells, and it has a strong effect on how we feel within the mind.
Within the realms of Yoga and Ayurveda, physical health is thought to be determined by our digestive system, which isn’t surprising when you consider the thousands of nerve endings that cluster together in the gut, and the fact that it’s often referred to as ‘the second brain’. We know how it feels when our digestion isn’t working well; we’re unable to obtain the proper amounts of nutrients from our food, and it either passes through the body too quickly, or lingers around for too long, creating a build up of toxins.
The foods commonly consumed in the Western world today tend to harm our digestion; modern day gluten, processed foods, sugars, processed saturated fats, additives all hamper the body’s health. The rituals we have around meal times and the food combinations we make are also detrimental to digestive health; e.g. dairy and should never be eaten after a meal as this disrupts digestion, and the same goes for anything which is cold, yet we often eat yogurt or ice cream as a traditional dessert….
Excessive amounts of water – especially cold water – also slows digestion and metabolism, but that doesn’t stop us from gulping down a glass of water with ice at an evening meal.
Fruits should be eaten on an empty stomach, as the natural sugars digest faster than other types of food, and if fruit is eaten with or after a meal, the sugars will ‘sit’ on top of all the other slower digesting food and ferment in the stomach, turning to toxic sugar. Things like pineapple, banana and melon (sugary fruits) are best eaten before other foods or on a completely empty stomach. Ayurvedic practitioners will often advise patients who consume melon ‘eat alone or leave alone’, yet the West will regularly serve melon with or after a meal…..
Ayurvedic food combining gives us useful knowledge into the way our digestion works, and can aid in creating a healthier overall state of being if each person adheres to the way of eating which is best for their body.
Digesting Our Surroundings
Optimal digestion is key to the formation of Ojas, but it’s not just about the foods we digest; we are what we eat indeed, but we’re also effected by how we digest the world around us. While the mouth takes in food, our other sense organs also have a huge impact on how we obtain, extract and metabolise life, all creating who we are and how we feel.
The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, interactions, emotions and experiences we take in every day also contribute towards creating our bodily tissue; if we’re stressed, this will impact the immune and nervous system, and in turn effect the heart; spending time with people we love and care for conversely releases endorphins into the body, increasing our physical and mental wellbeing.
Autumn and Winter are times when we may recognise the symptoms of depleted Ojas levels the most, of which these are most common:
- Low immune function and frequent illness
- Anxiety, nervousness and feelings of worry
- Low mood levels
- High stress levels
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Frequent injury
- Chronic pain
- Stiff or ‘cracking’ joints
- Dry skin
- Emaciation or unexplained weightloss
- Excessive hunger or loss of appetite
Causes of depleted Ojas:
- Stressful environments
- Over working
- Not getting enough sleep
- Excessive vigorous exercise
- Chronic pain
- Poor diet and unsuitable food combining choices
- Excessive sexual activity
- Not spending enough time outside or in nature
- Spending time with people who ‘bring you down’
- Overuse of technology
- The older we become, the more depleted our stores of Ojas also become
- Excessive travelling
Ways to build Ojas:
- Develop a mindful and gentle Yoga practice that serves your body and the way it feels each day
- Daily meditation and contemplation
- Spending time with people you love and trust
- Being inspired
- Being of service (helping others)
- A balanced exercise regime that energises you without depleting you, preferably involving being outside in nature
- Spending time in nature
- Self massage
- Reducing the amount of time spent with technology and unnatural surroundings
- Getting adequate amounts of rest and sleep for your body and mind type (your Dosha; click here to take a Dosha test)
- Listening to uplifting or calming music or specific healing tones.
- Making well informed food combining choices to aid in digestion
- Eating Ojas building foods like THIS RECIPE. Ojas building foods are generally clean, whole foods which are nutrient-dense. If you feel as though your vitality is depleted, add these specific Ojas building foods and herbs to your diet: Dates, almonds, coconut (the meat, water and oil), pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sesame oil, tahini, walnuts and walnut oil, cashews, avocado, ghee, foods high in antioxidants like berries (not strawberries as these are inflammatory) and cacao, raw honey, mung beans and lentils, flax seeds, beetroot, raisins, figs, whole grains, ripe grapes, bananas, sweet potato, peaches and mangoes, organic warm milk from grass-fed cows or goats. Regularly drinking warm water throughout the day also aids in healthy digestion, and is especially cleansing when combined with fresh lemon.
- Specific herbs which are known to aid in building Ojas levels:
Ashwagandha, ginseng, shatvari, amla berry, turmeric, yam, mushroom root. I would specifically recommend ashwagandha – which translates as ‘the strength of ten horses’ and an Ayurvedic rejuvenation blend known as Chyawanprash which can be bought in many Asian supermarkets.
- Pranayama practices like Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostil breathing)
- Shambhavi Mudra
Signs of high Ojas levels:
- Feeling peaceful and grounded
- Physical and mental strength
- A positive outlook
- Ability to think clearly
- Efficient digestion
- Ability for the body to obtain the required nutrients from foods
- Bright eyes
- Radiant skin and healthy complexion
- Strong immune system
- Infrequent injuries
While we live in a world and an age in which the mantra is ‘no pain, no gain’ and have a habit of equating stress with success, it’s important to remember that this isn’t necessarily our natural state. Indeed, we were not made to sit in chairs, stareat computer screens, spend excessive amounts of time indoors surrounded artificial lights and noise. We wouldn’t naturally exhaust ourselves at gyms in order to mould the body into a ‘perfect shape’, and we certainly wouldn’t feed our body with chemical-laden foods and our mind with violence and trashy TV.
And yet we do….
No wonder we seem to have lost the ability to truly be ourselves; we don’t even know who we’re meant to be any more. In order to find balance, total health and the ability to care for others, it’s imperative that we include self-care as a part of life. In order to live up to our full potential – in order to give – we must have enough within ourselves first. Those who are the most vibrant, full of life, speak from the heart and follow their heart, and have a generous and giving mentality are usually those with high Ojas levels.
According to Ayurveda the heart is said to be the seat of Ojas, and this is relatively simple to understand, when we consider that we’re likely to feel most vital and full of health and life when we’re living a life aligned with the heart, and moving through each day at the heart’s pace. From the subtle heart, ten roots are said to extend outwards, which direct the flow of Ojas throughout the bodily tissue.
The complete digestive process of Ojas takes around 30 days, so to notice a difference when looking at building up depleted Ojas levels, it’s important to consistently maintain the practices and food choices suggested to truly nourish the body and bring it back into its natural healthy state. This is the first step to helping those around us and being of use in the world. It’s easy to preach and simply say words, but to be an example of peace, health, happiness, wellbeing and kindness is one of the most effective ways of changing the world. To quote Mahatma Gandhi; “Be the change that you want to see”.