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

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 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