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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Ayurveda & Weight Loss: An Alternative Approach

1.24.2013

 

Post-holidays we hear plenty about weight loss. The typical message we receive about how to lose weight is to work out more (the harder, the better) and eat less (the lighter, the better). Indeed, for some people this approach is the ticket, but in Ayurveda we look at weight loss differently because even with weight loss there’s no “one size fits all.” In this article I’ll discuss a scenario for weight gain that has become increasingly prevalent in our society as a result of high levels of stress, and how it would be addressed through Ayurvedic Medicine.

 

Fat tissue, called “medas dhatu” in Ayurveda, is ruled by the Kapha dosha. Kapha is composed of the water and earth elements and thus has the qualities of those elements – it’s heavy, moist, soft, cool, slow and stable. Kapha is the bodily humor that provides stability, stamina, grounding, protection and lubrication. When we put on weight it means that there has been an increase in the Kapha dosha in our body. But is Kapha alone always the culprit? The answer is “no” and it’s extremely important for us to understand the root cause of weight gain in order to truly heal the imbalance. Below are two common examples of weight gain and how they differ.

 

A purely Kapha form of weight gain often results from a lifestyle and diet that contain too many of the heavy and stable qualities of Kapha – eating too much heavy, oily and/or sweet food in conjunction with sedentary habits. Because we treat with opposite qualities in Ayurveda, reducing the excess weight would require the opposite qualities of Kapha – lighter foods, reducing herbs and a more mobile lifestyle, among other things.

 

The second scenario, which has become more prevalent in our society, is when a person gains weight as a result of becoming too depleted or ungrounded. In response, the body puts on weight in order to stabilize the system. In this case, Vata dosha is the root of the imbalance and this type of weight gain is referred to as “Vata pushing Kapha.” In this instance, a lifestyle that is too stressful, ungrounded, mobile, overwhelming or driven depletes the body and mind (a Vata imbalance). In order to protect the depleted system, Kapha dosha tries to ground and stabilize the body, resulting in weight gain. (For example, many cases of hypothyroidism/low thyroid functioning – of which fatigue and weight gain are symptoms – are manifestations of this scenario.)

 

In recognizing the weight gain, the person may do increasingly rigorous workouts and eat light foods or restrict diet in order to combat the excess weight. But Vata is already too mobile and light, and “like increases like” so these habits further increase Vata dosha and can actually aggravate the root cause of what’s feeding the weight gain to begin with. In addition, for an already depleted system, the increased activity and lighter diet can serve to cause further depletion, fatigue, “burnout”, etc. leading to a scenario in which the person continues to feel frustrated by the excess weight, but is also increasingly more fatigued and depleted.

 

For those who notice weight gain and are also dealing with issues such as fatigue, burnout, anxiety, overwhelm or high stress levels, a gentler, more rejuvenating approach that addresses the underlying Vata imbalance is the key to weight loss. Gentle to moderate exercise and yoga, moderately grounding foods, stabilized routines, bodywork and practices that calm the mind are just a few examples of the treatment approach most beneficial for Vata pushing Kapha weight gain. As with all imbalances, a weight loss program should be customized to you. When you nurture the specific needs of your unique constitution, you will find your equilibrium.

 

Categories: Ayurveda & Nutrition/Diet, Ayurveda & Yoga/Exercise, Treating Common Health Issues with Ayurveda
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