Ojas (OH-jas) is considered to be the most refined by-product of digestion, said to reside in the heart. Ayurveda considers ojas to be an essence of nature and a cosmic substance that directly influences our experience of life.
Our vitality, immunity, vigor, skin, sleep, digestion, spirituality and physical strength are all directly influenced by our reserve of ojas.
A plentiful reserve of ojas is reflected in the luster of the eyes, radiance of the skin (that glow so detectable in babies and pregnant women), potent fertility, tenacious immunity, strong digestion and clarity of mind.
A strong link between ojas and spirituality is also drawn, as ojas is seen to be the physiological expression of pure consciousness.
As such, a lack of ojas will be reflected in all the body systems, not least of all a sallow or dull complexion, compromised immunity, fertility, anxiety, and a weak mind.
Stress, overwork, and lack of sleep are culturally common ways that ojas becomes depleted. Excessive alcohol, fever, ejaculation, orgasm (for both men and women), too much exertion in the form of exercise or sports, malnourishment or poor digestion and absorption (agni), and draining emotions such as sadness, fear, anxiety, depression, irritability and anger are the other main ways that our ojas may be sapped.
Building ojas is an art. Perhaps one of the best ways to consistently build ojas is to eat a diet of fresh, unprocessed whole foods in the appropriate season. Through the process of healthy digestion, microscopic amounts of the essence of these foods accumulate over time and become ojas.
Other effective ways of building ojas include yoga, pranayama breathing exercises, and meditation, spending time in nature, sleeping (early to bed, early to rise and not in excess), laughing, showing love and affection and giving to others, spending time being creative, not rushing, relaxing, and doing things that make you happy.
Certain herbs in Ayurveda are also prized as great ojas-builders. Traditionally, a concoction of these herbs, including Ashwagandha and Shatavari, were blended with ojas-building foods like dates, almonds, coconut, saffron, ghee, honey and cardamom in a milk base. This mixture was warmed and taken before bed as a sleep aid and an ojas-builder to boot.
- Ashwagandha Capsules (Strength of 10 Horses)
- Shatavari Capsules (Woman with 1000 Husbands)
- Ojas Nightly Tonic
- Lymphatic Massage Oils
- Tri-Doshic Massage Oils
- LifeSpa Skin Care Line
What is Ojas?
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 well-being, 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.
Certain herbs in Ayurveda are prized as great ojas-builders. Traditionally, a concoction of these herbs, including Ashwagandha and Shatavari, were blended with ojas-building foods like dates, almonds, coconut, saffron, ghee, honey and cardamom in a milk base. This mixture was warmed and taken before bed as a sleep aid and an ojas-builder to boot.
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).
The purpose of Ayurvedic daily oil massage also called – abhyanga – as part of the daily routine is to balance the nervous system, prevent physiological imbalances and to lubricate and promote flexibility of the muscles, tissues, and joints. The classical texts of Ayurveda also indicate that daily massage promotes softness, youthfulness and luster of the skin, and placing oil in your ears and nose can help support upper respiratory immunity.
5 Reasons for Self-Massage
1. Oil Calms the Nervous System: On your skin, there are at least 1000 sensory neurons per every square centimeter. When you massage just your arm with oil, you are calming more than a million sensory neurons. (3) According to Ayurveda, oil calms vata or the nervous system. The skin has more than 20 million sensory neurons exposed to the environment that are aggravated by air, weather, stress, travel, clothes, and more. Applying oil to the skin can calm these neurons significantly. In one study, ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone) – which increases with stress – was decreased by 20% for the group of participants who received massage, and increased by 30% for the group who rested and did not get a massage. (4)
2. Oil Feeds the Bugs: On average, the skin on the human body has over 1 billion skin microbes on every square centimeter, each busy doing their jobs. What they do for a living is just beginning to be understood. Some of the emerging science is suggesting that these beneficial microbes eat fatty acids or oils. In fact, studies show that some microbes on the skin actually feed on the sebum of the skin. (5) The sebum is an oily substance that helps keep the skin from drying out. Dry areas of the skin have been shown to have fewer microbes and tend to be more vulnerable to infection. (8)
Microbes also seem to concentrate in the sebaceous areas of the body, where there is a predominance of oil glands. They seem to hang out in the areas where there is the most food, correlating with the sebaceous or oily areas of the body. (7) Microbes like moist areas as well, for similar reasons. Microbes seem to love oil so much, studies are showing they are actually eating the oil in the ocean after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. (6) Applying oil to the skin not only feeds the good skin microbes – it offers a host of other mind-boggling benefits.
3. Microbes Boost Skin Immunity: Skin microbes manufacture peptides that boost the skin’s immunity by protecting the skin from undesirable microbes. The skin microbes not only provide an immune response, they also seem to educate the immune system as to how to respond to the invaders. (7) The skin’s natural fatty/oily sebum is thought to be a natural antibacterial layer (thus helping to keep some of the bad microbes out), and it also secretes fatty acids that help good microbes to colonize and help boost immunity. (8)
4. It Supports the Human-Microbe Symbiotic Relationship: Skin microbes seem to alter the functioning of the body’s immune system, and the microbes on the skin seem to change in accord to the immunological functions of the body. It seems we humans and our skin microbes have co-evolved to support each other by helping to boost each other’s immunity. (8, 9)
Skin microbes may inform our skin’s immune system by developing the skin-associated lymphoid tissue (SALT), which is the immune layer beneath the skin that protects us, the host. Researchers believe this process on the skin may act in the same way gut microbes support the development of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), where 80% of the body’s immune system is thought to be. (8)
5. Massaging the Skin Increases Oxytocin: Oxytocin is known as the bonding, loving, giving and caring hormone. The increase of beneficial microbes has been shown to increase oxytocin levels in the body, and increased oxytocin levels may in turn mediate microbe-influenced factors such as our attitudes, social behaviors, and hormone and immune balance, to name a few. (10-12)
In a number of studies, massaging the skin has been shown to increase the production of oxytocin. In a recent study published in Alternative Therapies, 95 subjects had their blood levels evaluated for oxytocin before and after a 15-minute massage. Oxytocin levels increased by 17% for the group that received a massage. The control group who just rested showed a 9% decrease in oxytocin. (13-15)
1. Pert, Candice. Molecules of Emotion. Simon and Schuster. 1999
2. Gerson, Michael. The Second Brain. Harper Collins. 1998
3. Granstein, Richard D. and Luger, Thomas A. Neuroimmunology of the Skin: Basic Science to Clinical Practice. Springer Science & Business Media, 2009
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