My 3 Favorite Ways to Build Ojas
by Ginny Mazzei
Even before I began studying Ayurveda, I was very aware of the connection between my diet and lifestyle choices and my sense of vitality. I could palpably sense when I was punching holes in my immune system by burning the candle at both ends day after day. I knew I was doing harm to something deep inside of me when, instead of nurturing myself, I pushed and pushed until I used the words “I’m running on fumes” to describe my energy level. Learning about ojas from studying ayurveda gave me a blueprint to reengineer some of my habits and behaviors that were not serving me well.
What is Ojas?
Ojas is one of the three vital essences that together promote and sustain our physical vitality, mental clarity, and overall health. The three vital essences—prana, tejas, and ojas—are the positive forms of vata, pitta, and kapha doshas, respectively. Whereas an increase in the doshas has the potential to create disease, an increase in the vital essences tends to support wellness. So increasing, balancing, and paying attention to these wholesome, subtle forces is a worthwhile endeavor.
Whereas an increase in the doshas has the potential to create disease, an increase in the vital essences tends to support wellness.
The noted ayurvedic physician, Dr. Vasant Lad, describes ojas as a biological substance that is the end product of digestion. It is the foundation of our immunity and longevity. How do we tell if our ojas is lacking? According to theCharaka Samhita, a primary ayurvedic text, “When ojas is diminished the person is fearful, weak, and always worried; has disorders in the sense organs, and deranged luster and mental ability; and is rough and emaciated.” In more modern terms, if we catch every cold that comes around, wake up feeling groggy and fatigued, push ourselves through our day without any zip and vigor, then our ojas needs some serious attention.
Two things to consider when looking for ways to build ojas are optimizing digestion and employing the concept of “like increases like.” Since ojas is the end product of perfect digestion, it makes sense that building ojas will require us to take a look at what we bring into ourselves and how we metabolize and assimilate it. A little less obvious may be discerning WHAT ought to be ingested. One of the first concepts we learn as students of ayurveda is “like increases like.” That is, when you add a quality to a substance and that substance already has a good deal of that quality, that quality is increased. This is pretty straightforward. If you prepare a meal with a slippery, unctuous texture and serve it with a sauce that is also slippery and unctuous, you will increase the slippery, unctuous quality of that meal. The same principle of “like increases like” applies when we are looking for ways to fortify our ojas.
I realized that many of the qualities that characterized my crazy-busy, hectic life were anything but cool, sweet, soft, and stable.
The qualities of ojas as described in the ancient ayurvedic texts are heavy, stable, cool, soft, smooth, sweet, unctuous, sticky, and cohesive. The classic suggestions for building ojas are to increase sattvic foods, activities, and impressions that express the same qualities inherent in ojas. Sattvic refers to a balanced quality that is neither too stimulating nor too sedating. I realized that many of the qualities that characterized my crazy-busy, hectic life were anything but cool, sweet, soft, and stable. Generally speaking, I needed to bring more of those qualities into my daily life through the foods I choose, how I structure my day, the manner in which I work, the way I interact with friends and family, what I bring in through my senses, and even the way in which I practice my yoga.
Here are three of my favorite ways of nurturing and building ojas:
1. Since ojas is the end product of optimal digestion, I now dive digestion center stage in my daily routine.
I make sure that at least once a day I sit down to consciously and gratefully consume a freshly prepared meal.There is a sweetness and calmness that comes from eating quietly, letting the fluids of my mouth mingle with the textures and flavors of my food. Simply making sure that I sit down when I eat (as opposed to eating while driving, or snatching bites in between appointments) has a major impact on how my food digests. That quality of stability in the act of nourishing myself aligns with the stable nature of ojas. Making sure my food is fresh has a positive impact on digestion and ultimately on building ojas: fresh food has a sattvic quality that enhances ojas. And pausing for several moments before taking my first bite of food—taking time to appreciate its source and the fact that what I consume transforms into my very tissues—brings a sense of the sacred to the mundane. Ojas is enhanced when we make space to connect with the Divine.
2. Spending time in nature on a daily basis, even for just a few moments at a time, is another way that I nurture my ojas.
The three vital essences are the animating force linking consciousness to matter. As Dr. Lad describes them, tejas is the innate intelligence that exists in each cell; prana is the force that moves this intelligence among the cells; and ojas is the medium through which this intelligence moves. Spending even just a little bit of time each day breathing fresh air, feeling the support of the ground, letting my eyes register the colors and shapes, my nose the scents, and my ears the sounds, feels to me like I’m bridging an awareness of the cellular intelligence, movement, and substance that exists outside of me with that which exists inside of me. And nature is rich in ojas-like qualities! On nights when I come home from work and the moon is especially luminous and bright, I stand for several moments before going into the house, just soaking up its cooling qualities.
3. Slow, focused asana allows me to create a nourishing inner stillness.
The Ayurvedic texts tell us we have raw ojas that circulates throughout the body, and a much smaller amount of super-fine ojas (8 precious drops) that remains in the heart. With this in mind, I developed a slow, focused asana session in which I allow myself plenty of time to gently move, stretch, and explore my entire thoracic area. The soft, smooth, and connective qualities of this type of practice are followed by stillness, with my awareness resting at my heart center. Giving due time to consciously live in this space is nourishing and brings about feelings of contentment and peacefulness—signs that ojas is present and flowing.
Giving due time to consciously live in this space is nourishing and brings about feelings of contentment and peacefulness—signs that ojas is present and flowing.
If you’d like to add a sweet, ojas-building food to your recipe box, try these Almond-Date Ojas Balls inspired by an Ojas Ladoos recipe from the website vedicook.wordpress.com. Notice the similarity in the qualities of the ingredients to the qualities of ojas (heavy, sweet, unctuous, sticky). As stated in the vedicook recipe, “Ayurveda warns against combining equal proportions of ghee and honey by weight, however equal proportions by volume is recommended for building ojas . . .”