An Introduction to Ojas and Ayurveda
Have you ever met someone who radiates like an angel? You can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is…maybe a sparkle in the eye, the luminous silky skin or a softness in the face, sealed with an authentic smile. It’s as if a Divine Being left the Heavens for earth…Well, perhaps. Most likely, though, you encountered someone with an inner vitality that shines, really showing through—it’s the manifestation of what we call ojas in Ayurveda, a natural healing system originating in India practiced for thousands of years.
To be more specific, ojas is the subtle substance produced by the body that governs one’s vigor and immunity. It takes the form of the most refined product created by our digestive process and is critical to maintaining well-being and vitality. For those familiar with Ayurveda, the ojas process is similar to how ghee is produced from milk—an end-product refined through many natural transformations until it emerges in its purest form. As to diet, eating organic and unprocessed foods—in their purest forms and thus most nutritious—helps ensure proper ojas production as digestion is less likely to be disturbed. A person with exceptional ojas rarely becomes sick.
Beyond understanding the importance of ojas, maintaining proper health and well-being in Ayurveda encompasses much more than just mitigating symptoms of disease. Ayurveda consists of healthy bodily tissues, properly functioning energies, optimal digestion, appropriate removal of wastes, accurate sensory perception, a pleasant mind and being connected to your soul. And although it involves a general set of rules and suggestions generalizable to everyone, Ayurveda must be customized to each individual for complete balance and health.
The Four Goals in Life
According to Vedic traditions, which are central to the practice of Ayurveda (and Yoga), only when we are healthy can we fulfill what are the four aims in life.
- The first goal is dharma. This is what we came here to do throughout our lives—
whether teach, play music, heal people or animals, farm the land, have a family… or less desirable things, such as beginning a war. (see The Bhagavad Gita)
- The next goal is artha, which is the means of navigating your life. This could be earning money or having the right connections. It is the resources needed to complete your dharma.
- The third goal is kama, or desire. Healthy desire can drive us to do worthy things on this planet… write a novel, travel as a nurse, inspire large audiences, visit the moon, cure cancer. It is that driving force residing deeply within us.
- And, finally, there is moksha, or what is one’s ultimate life goal. Achieving moksha means liberation from our individual self—the one who appears to be in the center of the world, making all the decisions. Our perceived separation (as individual selves) from Creation can cause great suffering. But upon awakening to who we really are, we can free ourselves from this illusionary bondage.
Without proper health, without proper ojas, these life goals are often only realized at a fraction of what is possible. Imagine how much more fulfilling life could be…being excited to jump out of bed each and every morning, your dreams that much closer to becoming a reality. Now that is health!
How does one grow the glow?
Let’s start with healthy digestion.
Ojas are built at the tail end of the digestive process, which takes over 30 days. Food is transformed first in our GI tract. From there, it passes through, in order, seven bodily tissues that comprise the physical structure of our body. As long as we are awake, we deplete these tissues with our various daily activities. So the food that we eat must be digestible and able to be transformed into nourishment for each of these tissues. If something isn’t properly transformed along the way, the food can become unusable and get stuck. Once this happens, the flow of nutrition from tissue to tissue can be hindered, thus never making it to latter tissues in the process…or ojas.
Let’s look at some tips to stoke that fire in the belly. If we look at the qualities of fire, we will see that it is like the sun. It is hot, dry, and light. To create more fire, we want to create more of these qualities. Heat can be created with spices, chilis, exercise and temperature. Dryness can be found in astringent foods, skin powders, and possibly the season or environment, depending on one’s residence. Lightness exists in easily digested foods and weight… think of eating popcorn versus ice cream.
Creating a consistent schedule for meals each day is most important. Try to eat at the same time every day. Space meals 3-4 hours apart and avoid snacking. Finish dinner at least three hours before bedtime. Make lunch the largest meal of the day – if you are going to be bad, be bad at lunch time! Avoid heavy foods for dinner like meats and processed foods, opting instead for soups and stews.
Eating warm, soft, cooked foods are best for digestion, avoiding cold or frozen foods as much as possible. Also avoid raw foods since the digestion process hasn’t been started on the stove and all the work will have to be done in the belly.
Sip warm drinks during the day, avoiding any gulping. We had noted that fire is dry, so by having too much liquid, especially around meal time, the fire can dim. Again, avoid icy cold drinks – the antithesis of stoking digestive fire.
Nothing creates heat like a little exercise. Be sure to get some movement each day, especially if you feel heavy.
Who needs to build ojas?
Once the digestive fire is well on its way to doing some optimal cooking inside the belly, we can consider the qualities of ojas, which are like the moon. They are cool, sweet, heavy and unctuous.
Ojas is the refined energy of kapha dosha, so moving forward, please consider that Ayurveda is a very individualistic approach and that there may already be plenty of ojas in your life!
Those who are considered to be kapha dosha tend to have a larger physical structure and more endurance, although they probably don’t like to use it. They may be rounder – round face, round eyes, round nose…curvy! They will tend to have larger hands, joints and bones. Hair and lashes will be lush, eyes will be white, nails will be very strong. The voice will be beautiful and strong, perhaps an amazing singer. Personalities tend towards very sweet, loving, happy, caring, faithful, patient and steadfast. There is nothing better than a big hug from a nurturing kapha person.
If this is you, you are probably loaded with ojas and will live a long, healthy life. But if not, continue reading to learn how to get more ojas.
Create ojas through food.
Two of the best foods for building ojas are pure whole milk and ghee. Anybody who is rather thin, feeling depleted, stressed, overly busy, training for a competition or race, restless and unable to sleep, overheated or anxious—any of these things would probably feel better just by integrating these two ingredients into the diet.
Milk should be boiled and spiced before drinking. Two options for spicing milk are:
Option 1: dry ginger, turmeric, black pepper
Option 2: nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and a little palm sugar
Milk is soothing and can help with sleep, so have that cup of warm milk before bed.
Other ojas-building foods include: avocados, bananas, dates, figs, yams and sweet potatoes, turnips, leafy greens, zucchini, nuts (especially almonds that have been soaked with the skin removed), mung beans and whole grains. Some of these foods can be too heavy for kapha dosha, who will need a lighter, drier menu.
Foods to avoid, even for kapha dosha, are: raw foods, canned, frozen, fried, or old foods, alcohol and stimulants, refined sugar, refined flour and heavily processed foods.
Chyavanprash is a rejuvenating herbal jam that can be taken in the morning on an empty stomach to build immunity, strength, stamina and clear the mind. It is Ayurveda’s cure-all and will definitely build ojas. Take it every 1-3 days, alone or with warm water or warm milk. As with all herbs, it is not good to take them indefinitely, so take a break after each jar.
Create ojas through lifestyle.
Slow down and get enough rest. Trying to do too much is depleting and destroys ojas. Get on a sleep schedule that you can maintain every day (not just on week days) so that your body can find a rhythm. The hours of sleep needed will vary for each person, but if you can wake each morning before sunrise feeling refreshed, without an alarm clock, you are on a great schedule! Avoid sleeping during the day.
Use fragrances. Burn quality incense or wear essential oils.
Limit sexual activity for men. Reproductive tissue is in line for digestion right before ojas, meaning it is the last of the seven tissues to be fed. It takes about 31 days to create, so it is costly in time and energy to make. Women on the other hand are actually energized by sex, so it’s not as important to limit for them.
Cleanse and fast only when necessary. This will depend on the individual, but the more cleansing, the less ojas. Spring time is great for an annual cleanse for everyone, and fasting could be beneficial for kapha dosha, but to do anything more can be depleting to both digestive fire and ojas, as both need to be fed to maintain strength.
Do yoga. This could be meditation, breath control or a physical practice of yoga postures. Be sure to have long, smooth breath when doing yoga postures. Add a rejuvenating breathing practice like brahmari (bee’s breath) after physical yoga and breathing practices. Build a meditation practice up to 20 minutes, twice a day.
Find the fountain of youth.
Having a wholesome diet and lifestyle that brings balance to individual needs can lead to a long and happy life. Ayurveda is not meant to be a rigid practice, but a foundation of healthy habits and practices that the mind and body can count on. Because most of us have not been brought up with an Ayurvedic lifestyle, it is best to slowly integrate these practices so that we never feel overwhelmed and think about giving up. A little bit of Ayurveda is always better than no Ayurveda at all!
To determine your personal dosha, imbalances or ojas, consult with a trained Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor or Practitioner.
Maria Radloff is an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor in Salt Lake City. She is passionate about home cooking and is dedicated to turning everyone’s kitchen into a healing oasis. She is committed to serving anybody who is interested in learning or using Ayurveda. Book an appointment now.