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What if there was a special substance in the body that governed aging, immunity, radiant skin, vigor, mood, sleep, digestion, spirituality, and physical strength? According to Ayurveda, there is.
This substance is called ojas (OH-jas). In Sanskrit, ojas has two prominent meanings. In the context of physical health and vitality, ojas means “vigor.” In the context of spiritual and emotional wellbeing, it is referred to as “the physiological expression of consciousness.”
Ojas is considered the most refined by-product of digestion. That means that, while complete digestion of a meal is considered to take about 24 hours, it takes thirty days for the body to digest food and refine it enough to manufacture ojas.
Unfortunately, during these thirty days, many factors can compromise its production, and many people have depleted ojas and lack the vigor, immunity, radiant glow and longevity they desire.
Find out if you have “healthy ojas” and learn how to replenish it!
What Is Ojas?
Perhaps the best way to describe ojas is to understand how honey is made. Ten to twenty thousand bees per hive collect the nectar or essence of thousands of flowers and concentrate them into honey – the ojas of the flowers.
In the same way, when we eat fresh, unprocessed foods, microscopic amounts of their essence accumulate over time through the process of healthy digestion and become ojas.
If the digestive process is disturbed, the essence of the foods will not be extracted and no ojas will be made.
How is Ojas Made?
According to Ayurveda, the entire digestive process takes thirty days to complete. Within that time, not only is food ingested and eliminated, but nutrients from the food are used to build what is known as the seven major tissues of the body. The culmination of this process is the production of ojas.
As I mentioned, many factors exist that can compromise or block its production.
Here’s how it’s made:
Step One: Healthy, wholesome, unprocessed food is ingested. The coordinated effort of the stomach, pancreas and liver/gallbladder prepares the food to be assimilated (assimilation is when the nutrients are drawn out of the food and into the bloodstream).
This first product of digestion is a nutrient fluid called rasa which is the first of the seven major tissues of the body. A small amount of local or not-supreme “ojas” is released as each of the seven tissues is made. The thirty-day process of building supreme ojas begins; it is gradually building as digestion continues and each tissue is made.
Step Two: The rasa or first product of digestion is converted by enzymes – also called agnis or digestive fire – into blood, which in Ayurveda is called rakta. Here, another small amount of local ojas is released into the blood.
Step Three: The rakta or blood converts into muscle or mamsa with the help of blood-based enzymes. A small amount of local ojas is released into the muscles.
Step Four: The mamsa converts into fat or medha with the help of muscle enzymes, and releases a small amount of local ojas into the fat.
Step Five: The medha or fat converts to bone or asthi and releases a small amount of local ojas into the bone.
Step Six: The asthi or bone converts to nerve tissue or majja and releases a small amount of local ojas into the nervous system.
Step Seven: The majja or nerve tissue converts into the reproductive fluid where a small amount of ojas is released into the sperm or ovum. Remember, supreme ojas has been building with the production of each tissue, making the reproductive fluid the bodily tissue with the most accumulated ojas.
Step Eight: The final product, supreme ojas, is released and stored in the heart. From here it nourishes the subtle energy in the body, which in turn feeds the body’s vigor, vitality and immunity.
The Western Equivalent
It is not clear in Western science exactly what ojas is. Perhaps it is just too small and subtle for us to measure. I believe ojas might be a community of beneficial microbes that proliferate without stress, and thrive in a sattvic, loving, kind and safe environment. We know stress will deplete beneficial microbes and ojas as well. I will write more on this topic as the research is available.
Some experts believe ojas is made mostly of peptides, small protein-like molecules. In the form of ojas, these peptides control immunity, endocrinology (hormones), the nervous and digestive systems, and the psychology.
In the west, cutting edge research by Candice Pert, PhD at the National Institute of Health discovered that certain peptides also known as neurotransmitters act as carriers for the immune, endocrine and nervous systems and the emotions. These peptides, as described by Dr. Pert, act much like Ayurveda’s concept of ojas (1).
Activities that Deplete Ojas
According to Ayurveda, stress and excessive activity depletes ojas. This makes sense when we consider the recent research by Dr. Gerson in his book The Second Brain confirmed that humans process the majority of their stress through the digestive system. Remember, ojas is the most refined product of digestion. In fact, 95% of the body’s serotonin and the majority of its neurotransmitters in general are manufactured and stored in the gut (2).
Stress is also the key cause of excess degenerative stress-fighting hormones, inflammatory molecules and free radicals, which will alter the function and flow of the body’s peptide (ojas) based information network. But it should not be forgotten that this stress and the production of “ojas” and the neuro-peptides are dependent on the efficiency of digestion (2).
Excessive sex: Since the production of the reproductive fluid is the last step before supreme ojas is made, the reproductive fluid carries all of the accumulated supreme ojas getting ready to be stored in the heart. Excessive sex can deplete the ojas both in the sperm and ovum as well as rob supreme ojas from entering the heart, and even depleting the reserves of ojas in the heart. Multiple orgasms a day or sex everyday for extended periods of time will deplete ojas reserves.
How the Seven Body Tissues Can Deplete Ojas
When any one of the seven bodily tissues described above engages in excessive activity, this will deplete ojas and compromise overall vitality and wellbeing.
The production of rasa, which is the first nutrient fluid and eventually becomes lymph, is literally stopped by the chemistry of stress. The lymphatic fluid flows best in an alkaline environment. Stress releases stress-fighting hormones that have acidic waste products. Excessive stress results in excess acidity which causes the lymph to congest. It can be stress from work, exercise, emotions, travel or digestive stress from bad food that can block rasa.
Rakta, the body’s blood, can deplete ojas when it becomes inflamed and toxic, carrying damaging inflammatory and degenerative chemicals throughout the body.
Mamsa, the muscle tissue, most commonly depletes ojas through excessive exercise and exhaustion.
Medha, the body’s fat, will deplete ojas when it is stored and taken out of circulation due to the excesses of stress. Most toxic chemicals are fat soluble and thus are stored in times of stress.
Asthi, the body’s bone, will deplete ojas due to chronic issues such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. These conditions are extremely rare in second and third world countries where the culture of stress is not as rampant.
Majja, the nervous system, depletes ojas when it is directly affected by stress and excessive activities. Excess stress stimulates the release of degenerative hormones which accelerate aging, cause chronic disease, fatigue, sleep issues and much more.
Shukra is the reproductive fluid. Excessive sex will deplete ojas.
*Note: Since ojas accumulates in each of the seven tissues, the last three are the more common sites of symptomatic ojas depletion, i.e., the nervous system, bone density and reproductive fluid as noted above.
Consider the Royal Pace – Can you imagine a king or queen stressed out, out of breath or running down the halls of their castle? Consider living life without the haste and stress and adopt a “royal (stress-free) pace.”
Activities that Build Ojas
- Loving others
- Acting on what you are passionate about
- Giving and serving others
- Yoga, breathing and meditation
- Nasal breathing exercise
- Being in nature
- Eating fresh wholesome foods in a relaxed manner
- Getting ample rest – 7-8 hours of sleep with the cycles (up early, to bed early)
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Recipe: Using Foods to Build Ojas
There are certain foods and herbs in nature that literally build ojas. Eating these foods in combination with a more balanced lifestyle will support immunity, sleep, vitality, complexion, mood stability and longevity.
To boost ojas and gain the predicted benefits of ojas-producing foods and herbs, the following recipe is derived from our “Ojas Nightly Tonic” product and can be taken before bed to boost ojas and support sleep. This is about as yummy of a drink as you will ever have.
1. Add very small amounts of each to 1 cup of milk (non homogenized cow, almond or coconut) as you slowly bring it to a boil:
- Chopped dates
- Chopped almonds
- Coconut meat or flakes
2. Add Ojas-building herbs to the milk (1/4 tsp of each):
- Shatavari (wild asparagus, sometimes spelled Shatawari)
- Ashwagandha (winter cherry or Indian ginseng)
*A convenient blend of all of the above ojas-building foods is called Ojas Nightly Tonic and is available in LifeSpa’s online store and at our onsite Ayurvedic boutique.
3. Once the milk, herbs and ojas-building foods and spices are cooked and off the flame, add 1/2 tsp of ojas-building raw honey.
Drink one cup of the ojas-building hot milk tonic each night for 3 months to rebuild ojas levels and support sleep, immunity and overall health.
This article was originally published January 23, 2013. It was updated with the newest info/research and republished September 19, 2015.