Tag Archives: ojas

Increasing Ojas to Improve Immunity

Summary: Examining the role of the subtle substance ‘Ojas’ in our immune system. In Ayurveda increased levels of Ojas correspond with higher levels of immunity. Practical advice on increasing Ojas.

Ojas plays a key role in maintaining a high level of immunity in the science of Ayurveda.

Ojas is described as a ‘subtle substance’. So subtle in fact that there is no direct equivalent of Ojas (pronounced ‘oh-jus’) in the Western medical model of human physiology [1]. We can however, think of Ojas as being like the sap in a tree. Although invisible, it pervades and nourishes all parts of the tree – the branches, the leaves, the flowers and the fruit. In Ayurveda Ojas is said to be the ‘concentrated essence’ of all the bodily tissues (the Ayurvedic ‘dhatus’). Some describe Ojas as the ‘essence of vitality’ – if our levels are low our health, energy and enthusiasm all suffer.

Ojas is actually created in our bodies through the proper digestion of food. Perfect digestion gives rise to lots of Ojas and a very strong immune system.  So, foods that are easy to digest tend to enable more Ojas to be produced – foods that are difficult to digest produce less.

A low level of Ojas leads to a weak immune system. A high level corresponds with a strong immune system. If the immune system is sufficiently strong, then Ayurveda suggests no bacterial or viral infection will ever be able to settle in our system. If we can raise our immune system to this higher level Ayurveda suggests that vaccination for protection against disease is then simply unnecessary!

How to Increase Ojas in Our System

Ojas and Diet

Fresh, home cooked foods generally strengthen Ojas.

Pre-prepared, tinned, frozen foods, and leftovers, etc., all deplete Ojas. Foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and fried food are difficult to digest and also lower Ojas. Smoking cigarettes (worse still, non-prescribed drugs) and alcohol all lower the body’s ability to produce Ojas.

In general, Sattvic foods increase Ojas and both Rajasic and Tamasic foods deplete it. Sattvic foods are generally light, freshly prepared, pure, easily digestible and eaten in moderately sized portions. Tamasic foods such as red meat and oily fried foods are heavy and dull and difficult to digest. Rajasic foods such as onion and garlic can bring drive and energy, but also stimulate strong desires and emotions.

Examples of Sattvic, Ojas enhancing foods are: locally grown in-season sweet fruits and vegetables, dairy produce (except hard cheeses), grains such as rice,  nuts (not peanuts), sweet tastes in general (not from refined sugars but natural sweetness from milk [2], unsalted butter and bread). A Sattvic diet is sometimes referred to as a ‘Yogic’ diet.

Certain specific foods such as sesame seeds (e.g. in Tahini), almonds, dates, raisins, ghee (clarified butter), raw (unheated) honey, boiled organic milk and organic plain yoghurt also increase Ojas.

We don’t have to be obsessive about diet, but generally favour the more Ojas producing and Sattvic foodstuffs. It’s perfectly ok to occasionally eat meat if that’s what you really want – as long as you are aware of the consequences (both health-wise and karma-wise)!

 Ojas – Other Factors

Ojas also gets depleted by negative emotions, such as excess anger, worry and fear. Meditation can help rectify this.

Over work and lots of travel also lower our levels of Ojas and consequently weaken our immune system. Travel also disturbs the Vata element in our bodies.

Ojas is said to be present in semen – so excessive sex can result in lowering of Ojas for a man. What is classified as ‘excessive’ depends on an individual’s VPK mind-body type – Kapha types can have more frequent sex than Vata types without any problems. This is not a moral judgement, but based on the principles of Ayurveda. If we have high levels of Ojas we may not be too concerned about this – but if we are showing symptoms of low Ojas then we should consider it carefully. Of course, in the yogic traditions there is the practice of tantric sex – where couples have sex but there is no ejaculation, thus maintaining a high level of Ojas.

Spiritual practices (such as yoga, meditation, bhajans (devotional singing), company of evolved souls, singing in church, etc.), being in nature, looking after animals, loving relationships and an Ayurvedic lifestyle all increase Ojas and boost our immunity.

Additional information on Ojas and how to boost it can be found on the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health website and the Svastha Ayurveda Blog – both contain informative articles and practical advice.

Footnotes

[1] There is also no equivalent of the Ayurvedic concept of Nadis (subtle energy channels) either – although Chinese medicine identifies something similar as ‘meridians’.

 [2] Milk is currently unfashionable among the health conscious, but Ayurveda loves it – provided it is first boiled (can try adding a couple of pinches of dry ginger powder to lighten it). Never take it direct from the fridge. Don’t drink it with meals either.


Other Key Ayurvedic  Strategies to Build a Strong Immune System

or, return to  Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – Overview article

Ayurvedic Diet to Increase Resistance to Disease

Summary: Recommendations from Ayurveda for an ideal diet. Helping us maintain balance in our doshas, good health and resistance to disease. 

Ayurveda places great emphasis on diet. But the foods recommended vary with an individual’s mind-body type.

So, before recommending any specific foods, Ayurveda categorises an individual according to the Vata-Pitta-Kapha system. Only then can Ayurveda give specific recommendations regarding the ideal diet. For example, some oily foods and dairy products would generally suit a pure Vata type (provided they can digest them adequately), but long term consumption would not be good at all for a pure Kapha type. Ayurveda actually views food as ‘medicine’! Eating the ‘right’ foods for our doshas can maintain their balance. It can even rebalance them – if they were already out of balance to start with.

Following Ayurvedic dietary advice is therefore important in maintaining balance in our system. This promotes overall good health, a sense of well-being, and immunity too. We don’t need to become obsessive about diet, but generally keep in mind the principles.

We should really regard following an Ayurvedic diet as a long-term investment in health.

An Ayurvedic Diet

Ideal Diet Depends on our Mind-body Type

A great deal has already been written on the ideal diet for different mind-body types. Once we know our predominant doshas e.g. Vata-Pitta, we can then reference a list showing what foods to favour and what to mostly avoid. Of course, this is very generalised advice. We really also need to take into account the strength of our digestive fire, the particular season (e.g. avoid a lot of chillies in the height of summer!), any allergies we might have and how out-of-balance our doshas already are. But we can get some useful self-help advice from these charts. One of the most comprehensive lists available is on the Ayurvedic Institute’s website. This information can also be downloaded in pdf format from their site.  There is a simpler list, plus some sound advice targeted to specific doshas on the Goop website.

Ayurveda suggests we should generally favour fresh, home prepared dishes over pre-prepared, packaged, tinned, or frozen foods. Freshly cooked food is higher in life force (prana). Most pre-prepared, packaged, tinned or frozen foods are lower in life force, as are left-overs. Meals prepared with fruits and vegetables that are in season and available locally are also favoured. An Ayurvedis diet is inherently an anti-inflammatory diet.

 An Ayurvedic expert from India, when asked for the best dietary advice for Westerners, said: ‘if a foodstuff is advertised on TV don’t eat it!’

Seasonal Changes

Ideal dietary recommendations are not fixed. They change with the changing seasons. This reflects changing environmental conditions such as seasonal temperatures, wind and rainfall. Ayurveda therefore recognises the inherent connection between us and our environment.

Increasing Ojas with Diet

Ayurveda recommends foods that increase a subtle substance called ’Ojas’ in our bodies. A high level of Ojas corresponds with a high level of immunity. So, dietary recommendations will include foods that naturally increase Ojas. These recommendations, together with seasonal advice, sit alongside the ideal diet for our specific mind-body type (Prakriti). Foods that increase Ojas will be ‘Sattvic’ in quality (a detailed explanation of the classification of foods into ‘Sattvic’, Rajasic’ and ‘Tamasic’ is given in the Deola Ayurvedic Blog).

The Six Tastes

Ayurveda identifies six tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent and astringent). The first four tastes are familiar to all of us. However ‘pungent’ is the slightly burning taste we get from certain spices such as black pepper, and ‘astringent’ is a slightly drying taste e.g. from beans and lentils. It is good to experience all six tastes at least once a day in our meals (ideally in every meal). Different tastes help balance different doshas – so knowledge of tastes is useful in balancing our doshas. Getting the six tastes each day also stops craving for certain foods (e.g. sweet foods). Further information on the six tastes is available on the ‘Joyfulbelly’ website.

Ayurvedic Dietary Tips

It is not just what we eat that is important – but how we eat it matters too, so Ayurveda offers practical tips for mealtimes.  Even simple things like avoiding ice cold drinks before, during or just after a meal can really help digestion, and ultimately our immunity.

It is also good to have a strong digestive fire or Agni so we can properly digest any food without the toxic by-products caused by incomplete digestion. Ayurveda offers simple practical advice on how we can strengthen our digestive fire. A strong digestive fire also ‘burns off’ disease.

Contrary to advice given in many ‘health conscious’ blogs, Ayurveda certainly does not recommend eating raw or partially cooked vegetables. It is almost impossible for people with a normal level of digestive fire or Agni to be able to digest them. Raw vegetables induce Vata – ‘wind’. If you want to prove this experimentally, try eating some raw cauliflower! Well cooked vegetables can be easily digested and their nutrients absorbed. This is a really important consideration in Ayurveda where good digestion leads to good immunity.

What Foods to Avoid

It is probably best to avoid refined sugars if possible (sugar can appear as many different names in food products, e.g. sucrose, dextrose, fructose and even ‘agave nectar’.) Research showed substantial quantities of sugar intake can lower immunity for several hours after consumption. However, the actual effect of sugar on our immune system may be more complex than originally thought (Scientific American carried an informative article on this). Ayurveda tells us to avoid high sugar, carbonated drinks – these are even worse when ice cold. The carbonated bubbles disturb vata, and the cold puts out the digestive fire.

Although Ayurveda recommends most vegetables (the exact recommendations depend on our mind-body type) it does not recommend  potatoes or other members of the nightshade family (e.g. tomatoes). This does not mean we should give them up completely – just be aware of their Rajasic and Ama (toxins) inducing properties.

As a final thought on diet, a great Indian Ayurvedic doctor was asked what was the most nourishing food to eat. To the surprise of his audience he said ‘The food your mother made you when you were a child. Why ? Because it was made with love’!


Other Key Ayurvedic  Strategies to Build a Strong Immune System

or, return to  Boosting Immunity with Ayurveda – an Overview article