If I were to ask a roomful of people the question, “Who would like to have more vitality and greater resistance to stress?” every hand in the room would go up, right? We all want to feel energetic, vital, happy, and healthy. Ayurveda recognizes that preserving vitality and resisting stress and disease are critical to our sense of wellness, and that some people are able to do so better than others. Why is this? I’d like to introduce you to the concept of ojas, which is the stabilizing essence in the body and mind that allows us to resist stress, prevent disease, and gives us strength, immunity and endurance. Through this article I offer insight into why preserving and building ojas is critical to your health and well-being. I also offer some simple ways in which you can do so.
Ojasis one of the most important concepts in Ayurvedic treatment and is essentially an end goal of Ayurvedic healing. Deepak Chopra gives a wonderful definition of ojas as “the pure and subtle substance that’s extracted from food that has been completely digested. Ojas circulates throughout the bodily tissues and heart, sustaining the physical self, bringing clarity to the mind and balancing the emotions. In short, when the body produces ojas, the vital nectar of life, we feel blissful. The cells sing with happiness because both the mind and the body are receiving the nourishment they need.”When we have strong ojas, we experience healthy tissues as well as mental and emotional stability. We also resist stress and disease, and experience strong immunity, endurance and vitality. When we have a depletion of ojas in the physical body, we experience lowered immunity, fatigue, weakness and, ultimately, disease. In the mind, ojas plays the role of providing stability. A stable mind means we are less affected by day-to-day stress and stimulation. There is a solid mental “container” for thought and emotion. Symptoms of low mental ojas reflect an ungrounded mind in which a person can lose control of thoughts and emotions, or experience mood swings and other forms of mental imbalance. The good news is that Ayurveda provides specific protocol for preserving and rebuilding our vitality and immunity through natural means.
There are several ways to build and preserve ojas, but I’ll touch upon a few:
- Healthy digestion: Ojas is the end result of healthy digestion. When we are able to break down food properly, we’re able to cultivate this essence that protects and preserves the functioning of every cell.
- Understanding your mind-body constitution: When one understands the nature of his or her inherent constitution, s/he is able to eat and live in a way that preserves and cultivates vitality and immunity, rather than depletes it.
- Eating appropriate ojas-building foods: Specific, nourishing foods are better at building ojas than others. Healthy digestion is key for breaking these foods down properly, but eating the appropriate foods to build the proper vital essence is the other half of the equation.
- Sufficient mental and physical rest: One of the primary causes of low ojas is continual over-exertion or over-stimulation. Mental or physical “burnout” or chronic fatigue are examples in which a person has depleted their ojas as a result of too much mental and physical activity.
- Meditation: I can’t emphasize the importance of meditation enough! In our modern day and age, our senses are constantly bombarded with stimulation, which can easily deplete our systems and destabilize the mind.
- Time in nature: The sensory impressions in nature are key to preserving ojas and are incredibly healing to body, mind and spirit.
When I first started on my Ayurvedic journey, I was a classic example of someone with depleted ojas. I was dealing with chronic fatigue, pain, weakness and unstable moods as a result of having depleted my ojas from a lifestyle and diet that were inappropriate for my constitution. After having dealt with these chronic issues for so many years, a light bulb went off when I began learning about the concept of ojas, how this vital, protective essence becomes depleted and how it can be rebuilt through Ayurveda.
Through my years studying and practicing Ayurveda, I’ve encountered so many people with stories like mine, who suffered from poor health and chronic conditions, but now experience robust health, vitality and a sense of peace and contentment. This potential exists for all of us. Through conscious effort we all have the power to cultivate optimal physical, mental and emotional health through returning to the medicine of Mother Nature.