In Ayurveda, the qualities of health and vitality are attributed to a substance called ojas.
Ojas is the most subtle form of kapha, the element of water and earth, and it is responsible for lubricating joints, giving skin its glow and making us more resilient to change. It slows the aging process, and protects the body from illness and disease.
Here's how you can begin increasing your ojas today:
1. Nourishing Food
Ojas is the product of well-digested food, and one of the best ways to increase ojas is by eating balanced, nourishing meals.
Generally, foods high in unsaturated fats, antioxidants and natural sugars are recommended for increasing ojas. Here's short list of foods to consider emphasizing in your winter diet:
- Berries, grapes, peaches, mangoes (sweet, juicy fruits)
- Dates, figs and raisins
- Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Whole grains (brown rice, oats)
- Sweet potatoes, squash
- Healthy oils/fats (sesame oil, olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil, ghee)
- Warm spices like cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, pepper, cardamom, ginger
- Homemade bone broth
2. Sufficient Sleep
It's hard to build vitality when your body and mind don't have enough time to rest and repair. Adults should get 6-8 hours of sleep each night, and it is recommended to sleep between the hours of 9:30pm and 6:30am.
3. Yoga Practice
An ojas-increasing yoga practice includes some movement, breathing and meditation, at a capacity that is gentle and builds your health. Aim to do a yoga routine for at least 20 minutes each day, and include ten minutes for breathing and meditation.
Constriction is the biggest cause of depleted ojas, and sustained breathing and meditation practices relieve constriction in the mind and body so that prana flows and the food and experiences you take in each day can be processed appropriately.
4. Reduce Overall Stress
Try to look honestly at whether you are overworking or overextending yourself. We often have the sense that we can do more, or ought to do more, than is actually possible with the time, energy and other resources we have access to. If you feel like you are in overdrive throughout the workweek, try living a bit more quietly on the weekends.
Winter is a great time to shift your focus to nurturing your relationships, rather than ruminating on what you can or should accomplish.
5. Gentle Exercise
See if you can include some regular movement in your day, especially if your work and and hobbies tend to be sedentary. Take advantage of rare sunny days when you can and walk outdoors. Enroll in a weekly fitness, dance or yoga class so you can enjoy the support and presence of friends.
Exercise doesn't have to be as hard as possible, as long as possible, and as often as possible. Find something you enjoy that feels like it feeds your body and soul.
6. Promote Positive Thinking
Cultivating positive thoughts is especially important in winter, when the gray of the skies can have a dulling effect on your spirits.
Try to spend free time in activities and with people who boost your mood and help you feel light. Laugh, play and spend time outdoors when the weather allows.
Take one minute each day to feel gratitude toward some aspect of your life. Feeling gratitude is a reset button for your emotional state, and the conscious feeling of thanks will dispel negative thoughts. You can even set a daily alarm or reminder on your phone to help start this habit.
7. Find a Creative Outlet
Ojas is the creative juice of the body, and engaging in hobbies that get your mind thinking creatively
If you are thinking to yourself, "But I'm not creative..." I completely disagree. All humans have creative talent. But you may be out of practice, and creativity can be intimidating if you haven't used it in a while. Start small, maybe with some coloring books, or by signing up for an art or crafts class. Don't be afraid to make mistakes--that's when you learn and grow.
8. Work on Acceptance
One of the biggest contributing factors to low ojas is refusal to accept things as they are. This attitude shuts down vital processes in the body and mind, restricts breathing, slows digestion, and it gets you stuck.
Something to consider is that we generally tend to think we have more control than we actually do. And it's quite scary to honestly see how little control you have, unless you know deeply that you are safe and in the right place in the world.
For me, one of the purposes of yoga and meditation is to build that knowledge, and to cultivate the attitude of acceptance. The same is true of religion.
If acceptance is difficult for you, find a teacher, a mentor, or a group that helps you feel safe and accepted as you are--not for who you aim to be. As you witness that feeling of acceptance, you'll be able to feel it more toward yourself and your surroundings.