Summer: the great harbinger of vitality. Nestled between the transition seasons of spring’s renewal and fall’s release, the long days and abundant sunshine ripen the fruits on the trees, call us early from our beds to play in the mountains and bestow on us a general sense of energy and optimism.
The peak strength that we enjoy at this time of year tends to dwindle as the days shrink and the nights cool off again, and it sometimes feels as though we spend the remainder of the year trying to recapture the sensation of effortless energy. So, what is vitality exactly? And how do we get more of it?
Yoga’s holistic sister science, Ayurveda, calls vitality ojas, a Sanskrit word to describe a sweet, cool substance that resides in your heart and circulates through your body; when increased, ojas forges us with immunity and bliss. Ojas is often described as the finest product of digestion, but the process is a little more complex than that. According to Ayurvedic science, when you digest your meals properly and build strong, healthy tissues as a result, you form ojas. When you have more ojas, you experience greater states of contentment and well-being which in turn means you’re more likely to make good decisions about what you do to your body and mind, experience lower stress levels and therefore digest your meals better. So rather than being the end result, ojas forms a continuous cycle between your behavior and health.
In summer when nature is encouraging more relaxation and recreation, or any time you are eating well, making time for self-care and nurturing your passions, you’re likely keeping your ojas reserves pretty well stocked. You awaken feeling clear and inspired, you emit a radiant glow, feel grounded in integrity and your body gener-ally functions well.
Ayurveda, calls vitality ojas, a Sanskrit word to describe a sweet, cool substance that resides in your heart and circulates through your body; when increased, ojas forges us with immunity and bliss.
If however, you’re living with your foot on the gas pedal, you’re probably depleting your ojas reserves. Injury, anger, grief, stress, alcohol and excessive exercise are identified as some of the factors that exhaust ojas, while symptoms include joint pain, debility, stiffness, heaviness, fatigue, drowsiness and loss of confidence.
In order to keep that easy summer feeling going once the light has faded, you may have to work a little harder to replenish ojas, but with a few changes to diet and lifestyle you can sustain health, immunity and vitality year-round:
- EAT PURE FOODS: Since ojas is the result of good digestion, this one is a no brainer, and it’s probably the most important behavior at a time when food is more processed than ever. Eating a diet rich in organic fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins is a good place to start, but there are certain foods considered to be particularly helpful for building ojas. These include avocado, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, milk, ghee, yoghurt, dates, mangoes, walnuts and almonds.
- REST + DIGEST: It’s all well and good to load your plate up with mineral-rich veggies, but without enough rest, you can only get so much out of healthy eating. Your digestion, along with many other vital physiological functions, is governed by the parasympathetic nervous system, the relaxation response that only functions if you get enough rest to begin with. Rather than rushing through your days and combating fatigue with caffeine, make your days sustainable. Schedule time for meditation, restorative yoga, get enough sleep and you’ll actually digest your meals better.
- AVOID ANGER: Anger is a natural response to stress, but in chronic doses it can be deleterious to your health. Ayurvedic science would describe the qualities of chronic anger as being the com-plete opposite of ojas: hot and sharp, like a wildfire burning up your physiology, drying out your tissues and making your mind excessive-ly sharp and critical. If you’re quick to anger, incorporate practices like gentle yoga, deep breathing and journaling to help you trans-form it into focus and motivation.
- PEAK THE (SWEET) TRUTH: Telling the truth is a common health-be-stowing principle across many spiritual disciplines and is specifically mentioned in Ayurvedic texts as a behavior that can contribute to ojas production. A white lie here and there can seem like no big deal, but research shows that dishonesty adds “cognitive load” to your brain, takes more energy than being truthful and makes life complicated. Staying truthful keeps life uncluttered and helps you to retain integ-rity around your own patterns and actions, which contributes to your wellbeing. But remember the first rule: always be kind.
- KEEP GOOD COMPANY: Loneliness and isolation are an epidemic today, leading to elevated instances of anx-iety and depression. The antidote is not just increased socialization, but ensuring you surround yourself with supportive, positive people who share your interests and uplift you. In other words, when it comes to your community, think quality, not quantity.
Photo by Jack Affleck.
Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2021 issue.