Ojas – The Key to Immunity & Vitality

6.19.2013

 

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.

 

Categories: Ayurveda & Massage/Bodywork, Ayurveda & Nutrition/Diet, Ayurveda & Women's Health, Ayurveda & Yoga/Exercise, Treating Common Health Issues with Ayurveda
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Yin: The Feminine Principle and the Stress Epidemic

8.06.2012

 

I’d like to touch upon the concept of Yin & Yang – the principles of The Feminine and The Masculine – to relate to the human body and our health and well-being. Although these terms are taken from the Chinese system of medicine, similar principles exist in Ayurveda. I find them incredibly useful in speaking to patients about both the energetic and symbolic aspects of our nature. Both of these energies exist within all of us, regardless of gender. Yang is the active, masculine, fiery, energizing principle. It relates to “doing.” Yin is the stable, feminine, watery, building principle. It relates to “nourishing.”In order to experience good health, we need both. In our Yang-obsessed culture, the overwhelming majority of the imbalances I treat have to do with patients who have become depleted as a result of over-activity, or the Yang/doing/masculine principle, and underemphasis on the Yin/nourishing/feminine principle.

 

When we go out into the world to work, run errands, exercise, etc. we are engaging the Yang/Masculine aspects of our being. When we rest, meditate, sleep, take a relaxing vacation or receive bodywork, we are embracing the Yin/Feminine aspects of our being. The issue facing so many of us today is that we are living in societies moving at warp speed and are bombarded by constant stimulation. Dr. Claudia Welch, Ayurvedic Practitioner and doctor of Chinese Medicine, refers to this as the “Stress Epidemic.” This epidemic is having a catastrophic impact on the overall health and well-being of our society. Despite our best efforts and the realization that we need more rest and rejuvenation, several of the following scenarios may prevent us from doing so:

 

 

  • We believe we don’t have the time, money or lifestyle to do so
  • We have a core belief that we must be constantly “productive” to be valuable
  • Our minds have been moving at such a fast pace that we feel physiologically unable to slow down and take the rest we need
  • We believe that if we stop moving, everything will “fall apart”
  • We believe that “productivity” is equal to “doing” and don’t value the creative potential that results from engaging in more Yin activities

 

How many times have you asked someone how they are (or vice versa) and the answer was, “Good…busy!”? Overwhelming busy-ness has in many ways become a badge of honor and is often connected to our sense of self-worth. On a more serious level, it can be symptomatic of a lack of connection with our deeper self.

 

So, we’re busy and stressed a lot of the time. How does this impact us physiologically? As Dr. Welch points out in her book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, Yang is a reducing principle and Yin is about building, restoring and creating substance. We need both to survive and experience good health. When we engage the Yang energy in an imbalanced ratio relative to Yin energy, we are in a state of constantly reducing or depleting the body and mind. This leads to mental and physical exhaustion and sets the groundwork for a myriad of diseases to manifest in the body.

 

On a deeper level, this calls us to consider our respect and appreciation for The Feminine and what it symbolizes. As individuals do we respect (through thought, speech and action) nourishment, food, emotional comfort, silence, rest, and rejuvenation? Does our society respect these aspects of being, and if not, how can we begin to cultivate this respect for The Feminine principle in our culture once again? The answer is…by starting with ourselves. Here are a few ways in which you can renew your connection to The Feminine:

 

  • Eat with consciousness, in a calm environment without distraction
  • Take a moment to give gratitude for your food and for those who made your meal possible, or say grace before meals
  • Begin a meditation practice
  • Take several short breaks (5-10 mins) throughout the workday in which you disconnect from your computer, phone, etc., and simply relax
  • Be in nature
  • Spend time with people who are emotionally supportive
  • Receive bodywork
  • Do Restorative or Yin Yoga
  • Practice silence
  • Do self-massage with oil (Abhyanga)
  • Go to bed by 10pm and sleep for as many hours as is best for your Ayurvedic mind-body type
  • Take a restful vacation or go on a retreat
  • Fast from your computer, phone, iPad, etc. at least one day/week
  • Spend time near an ocean, lake, river, stream

 

The familiar symbol of Yin and Yang illustrates how without one, the whole could not exist. This is true for our own health as well as the health of our society and entire world. When we take small steps in our own lives to respect our need for both The Masculine and The Feminine, we are indeed helping to tip the scales in the direction of collective healing.

 

Categories: Ayurveda & Massage/Bodywork, Ayurveda & Nutrition/Diet, Ayurveda & Women's Health, Ayurveda & Yoga/Exercise, Treating Common Health Issues with Ayurveda
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