Gratitude is like the oil in a car. It keeps our bodies, hearts, and minds from seizing up. Giving thanks for the small things—from the morning light and evening breeze, to the warmth of a cozy bed or the comfort of a close friend—nourishes the very substance that expands our hearts. Well-oiled and juicy, we can more easily navigate the ups and downs and twists and turns that life inevitably delivers.
Yet sometimes the heart feels dry and stiff. Instead of a vibrantly pumping organ that dances like the wings of a butterfly, it feels more like a rusted gate, squeaking slowly as it resists the gifts of life. At times like these, gratitude seems like a distant relative, absent and basically irrelevant to our daily lives.
With ojas well-nourished, we more easily notice the nourishment and richness around us.
This experience may, in part, be due to a depletion of ojas—one of the three vital essences that, when in harmony with the other two, tejas and prana, leads to vitality, clarity, and endurance. Ojas is a like a rich soil that feeds and nourishes life. It grants patience, endurance and stability, energy and enthusiasm, and provides us with a secure, calm, and generous ground. With ojas well-nourished, we more easily notice the nourishment and richness around us.
Daily activities deplete ojas—especially screen time, driving time, and any time we feel emotionally stressed. Poor diet, digestion, and sleep add to the depletion, and even our yoga and meditation practices, which build prana and tejas, automatically consume our reserves of ojas.
Luckily, our reserves can be rebuilt through a few simple practices. Devotion and, (yes) gratitude, build ojas. Connecting to something bigger and making lists of what we're thankful for, even when it seems hard, can help us feel more supported. Rest plays a big part too. Try yoga nidra, the yoga of sleep. Also pay attention to your diet. Eat foods that are close to the earth, high in nutrients, and easy to digest, like boiled milk, ghee, and soaked nuts and grains.
Herbs are also helpful allies. Typically, we turn to ayurvedic rasayanas like Ashwagandha and Shatavari, both superb for building ojas, but local plants (including some common “weeds”) can powerfully nourish as well:
NETTLES (Urtica dioica)
That stinging plant that irritates the skin is also loaded with vitamins and minerals. It is chlorophyll-rich and high in iron as well as magnesium, chromium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K, Thiamine (B1), and Riboflavin (B2). And unlike some supplements, the nutrients are easy for our bodies to assimilate. Nettle infusions as a daily tonic can also help with seasonal allergies, but be forewarned, they are a natural diuretic. Best to drink in the morning to avoid nightly trips to the bathroom.
OATSTRAW (Avena sativa)
Before the stalks of oatmeal are dried and turned into straw, they are rich in macro-and trace-minerals, including more than 300 milligrams of calcium and many of the B vitamins our bodies need. Oats have a reputation for building libido, as in “sow your wild oats," which is a nod to their ability to nourish the deepest layers of our tissues. In addition, Oatstraw can also help calm the nervous system and create stability in our emotional lives.
RED CLOVER (Trifolium pretense)
High in protein, minerals, and vitamins, Red Clover is known as the herb of fertility. Like libido, fertility is strong when our deepest tissues are nourished well. Many women work with Red Clover at various stages of their lives to support them through everything from PMS, to fertility, to menopause. Part of the pea family, this plant contains a natural level of phytoestrogens that bind to the body’s estrogen receptor sites, protecting us from the more dangerous xenoestrogens currently found in the food chain.
The best way to assimilate the gifts of these plants is through an herbal infusion.
Make an infusion:
Pour 1 quart hot water over
1 cup of dried herb material (blend the three herbs above or use separately).
Cover with a lid so the volatile oils don’t escape.
Steep 4 to 8 hours (overnight is easiest).
Drink 8 ounces per day or as much as your body needs.
Refrigerate unused portion.
After three days, the infusion will sour. (It makes a great fertilizer for house plants.)
NOTE: While these herbs are considered safe for most people, they may be contraindicated under certain conditions or while taking certain other herbs or medicines, so it's best to check with your doctor before using them.