According to Ayurveda, we each have a physical body (bones, tissues, blood, muscles, etc), and a subtle body (mind, intellect, and emotions). Our physical bodies contain a mix of elements categorized into three doshas (kapha – earth and water, pitta – fire, and vata – air and ether). Keeping these elements balanced through diet, exercise, work, and lifestyle is essential for maintaining good health.
Our subtle bodies similarly contain three vital forces which are also based on the elements. These forces are ojas (contentment and stability/water element), tejas (intelligence/fire element), and prana (breath and life force/air element). These subtle forces must also be kept in balance for optimal health and disease prevention.
The focus of this article will be on ojas. In a culture where we are accustomed to experience things through our senses, it may be hard to envision what exactly ojas is. It does not take an x-rayable shape like a bone, and we cannot feel it moving like a muscle. Rather, ojas is a subtle force; it is the strength behind our immune system and the stability that gives the mind feelings of peace and contentment. We cannot perceive it as easily as we perceive our hair and nails for example, but we can recognize symptoms within us of having strong or weak ojas.
After healthy food is properly digested, absorbed, and assimilated, the pure essence of that food spreads throughout the subtle body, giving energy, strength, and vitality, and this subtle energy and vigor can be translated as ojas. Ojas is located in the heart, but circulates through the blood to all parts of the body.
Physically, a person with strong ojas is resistant to disease and has strong immunity. A person with low ojas in comparison, may fall ill easily, and feel weak or fatigued.
Mentally, a person with strong ojas feels peaceful, grounded, and able to handle day to day stress. Ojas also allows the mind to stay focused and at work for long periods of time. A person with low ojas on the other hand, may have mood swings, feel mentally unstable or ungrounded, and fatigue easily in the mind.
Prevention and treatment of most illnesses in Ayurveda involve the building up and maintenance of ojas. To maintain good health and be resistant to disease, it is essential to be able to recognize early warning signs of depleted ojas, and to know what you can do to rebuild your ojas.
To build and maintain strong ojas, you need:
1) Healthy digestion – if food is not properly digested, it will not be correctly broken down and absorbed to give our cells, bodies, and minds sufficient ojas, or vigor. To maintain healthy digestion, use digestion promoting spices with your meals such as ginger, pepper, and fennel (depending on your constitution), follow Ayurvedic food combining rules, (fruits eaten alone for example), leave enough time in between meals for food to digest (4-5 hrs for a large meal), eat the biggest meal at noon when fire of digestion is strongest, avoid eating late at night, and avoid ice cold drinks which put out the fire of digestion.
2) Understand your unique mind-body Ayurvedic constitution – see an Ayurvedic practitioner, or familiarize yourself with the different constitutions. Once you know which elements tend to get out of balance within you, you can choose an appropriate diet, exercise regime, and lifestyle that serve to increase rather than deplete your energy.
3) Eat ojas building foods – fresh, unprocessed, organic foods build ojas in general, but certain specific foods are especially ojas building such as raisins, almonds, ghee, raw honey, sesame oil, dates, figs, organic milk, saffron, pumpkin seeds, yams, mung beans and essential fatty acids as in flax seeds and walnuts. Some herbs that build ojas are ashwagandha, shatavari, ginseng, wild yam, aloe, and marshmallow root. A classic rejuvenative combination is Chavyanprash, an herbal jam made from ghee, honey, spices and tonic herbs, which can be purchased online or at many Indian spice stores.
4) Get sufficient mental and physical rest – overexertion depletes ojas. When tired, instead of grabbing the cup of caffeine for a quick fix, try listening to your body telling you it needs rest. The long term health results will pay off.
5) Meditate – meditation is essential to rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit, give mental clarity, decrease stress, and give the deep relaxation needed to build and maintain strong ojas.
6) Spend time in nature – especially if you live in a big city and are bombarded with ojas depleting traffic lights, city noises, and fast paced lifestyle, spending quality time in nature on a regular basis can restore harmony and balance to the elements in your body.
When you already feel signs of weak ojas such as mental overwhelm, emotional instability, fatigue, and weakness, try to avoid the following which further deplete your energy:
1) Excess work – Of course we all need to work to maintain ourselves, but in our culture it has become commonplace for people to work 50 – 60 hour work weeks, or to work long days without taking sufficient breaks. Our culture rewards such hard work, but for long term health benefits and strong ojas, it is essential to take breaks, keep life in balance, and have time each day for rest and recreation.
2) Loud music, television, media, overuse of computer and other technology – the more we turn outside ourselves to the high-tech gadgets of modern life, the more our energy reserve gets depleted. Of course, using technology in moderation has benefits, but overuse should be avoided.
3) Poor Diet – See above section on foods that increase ojas. Foods that deplete ojas are canned and frozen foods, fast and processed foods, white sugar, white flour, sodas and sugary drinks, and anything without strong nutritional value. Eating on the go or while watching tv, rather than sitting down to a quiet meal while focusing on our food with gratitude, is also an ojas depleting activity. The simple formula is to eat as nature intended us to, from the earth’s natural resources.
4) Lack of sleep – Sleep is a sacred activity when our body, organs, and mind restore themselves. We cannot expect ourselves to be like the Energizer Bunny and keep going without sufficient rest. Observe nature and learn from the animals who follow natural rhythms, resting when nature calls them to rest. When the sky is dark, it is time for the body to wind down and sleep. The deepest, most restorative sleep is had before midnight, and even deeper sleep before ten pm.
5) Mental stress – worry, fear, and anger also lower ojas, leaving us depleted, lethargic, and burnt out. Try to keep your life stressors to a minimum, and if you do encounter stress, make time for healthy stress relieving activities.
6) Overindulgence in sexual activity – loss of semen equates massive loss of ojas, whereas retention of semen results in the building of strong ojas. Many spiritual paths therefore recommend celibacy or reduction of sexual activity, for by retaining sexual fluids, one increases in determination, concentration, steady mind, and physical strength.
When you observe yourself in a low ojas state, feeling weak, fatigued, stressed or overwhelmed, take caution not to turn to the very substances that deplete ojas further just for a quick fix (caffeine, tv, alcohol, etc).
Instead, empower yourself to choose actions which gradually rebuild and maintain strong ojas. When our cells are getting the nourishment they need, resulting in strong ojas, we feel joy and bliss. In such a state of excellent health, we don’t need to look to outside entertainment for happiness, as we feel nourished from within.
Ojas Drink Recipe
Take this delicious drink regularly to build and maintain strong ojas – can be taken in the morning as an energizer, or at night for restful sleep.
1 cup organic milk (if you don’t drink milk, substitute non dairy milk or water)
2 pitted dates (dried or fresh, and soaked if possible)
8-12 almonds (peeled and soaked overnight in warm and fresh water if possible)
Pinches of at least one of the following spices: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, or saffron (cinnamon good in the morning; cardamom and nutmeg at night for restful sleep. Also pick spices based on your constitution)
1 Tsp Unsweetened Coconut flakes (optional)
1-2 Tsp Ghee (optional)
Ojas building herbs such as Shatavari or Ashwaganda (optional – only if you have some from an Ayurvedic practitioner who knows your constitution)
Place spices, herbs, coconut, and ghee (if using optional ingredients) and milk in a saucepan and bring slowly to a boil. (If you did not soak almonds and dates, also add them in saucepan, if soaked, keep them aside for later). After the milk and ingredients have come to a slow boil, remove from heat, add soaked almonds and dates if you did not already add them, and blend all ingredients together in blender or food processor.
Optional – after blended, add 1 tsp of raw honey for additional sweetness, but do not add honey over flame as it can become toxic – only add after mix has already been heated.
Pour into cup, give thanks, and enjoy the naturally sweet taste, as well as the immediate nourishing effects of this ojas drink.