Literally translated as ‘vigor,’ ojas is the essential energy of the immune system. There isn’t an exact correlation for ojas in Western medicine. Truly, the meaning of ojas encompasses many things.
Ayurvedic practitioner, author and chef Kate O’Donnell describes ojas as “the subtle essence of our life energy”. In some ways this vital essence can be considered the eighth dhatu (bodily tissue), but it is not exactly a tissue. It is more refined and subtle than that. However, ojas can only be built after all the seven dhatus are nourished.
Although a healthy immune system reflects strong ojas, ojas is more than immune function; it is the protective force behind every cell, the supreme force of stability, and resides on a subtle level in the heart. Ojas meaning can be thought of as a subtle essence or sap that gives rise to vigor and vitality. Strong ojas provides a sense of contentment and stability. As Dr. David Frawley (2000) states,
“When [ojas] is sufficient, there is health. When it is deficient there is disease.”
How to Build Ojas
Given the importance of ojas, you may be wondering how to build this vital essence. First, it may be helpful to understand what depletes ojas. Among those factors are stress, anxiety, processed or devitalized foods, excessive sexual activity, drugs and stimulants, overwork, and living in a way that is detached from nature. If you view ojas like money in the bank, all of these activities drain one’s resources and reserves. Over time, living in the fast lane, enduring excessive stress, and eating devitalized foods can lead to fatigue and compromised immunity.
To understand what builds ojas, it may be helpful to keep in mind that ojas is the pure, subtle form of Kapha dosha (Halpern, 2012). Therefore, many of the foods and herbs that nourish ojas also promote Kapha dosha. An ojas diet includes foods such as milk, ghee, dates, and almonds. Eating dates stuffed with almonds or almond butter is a natural sweet treat and an ojas builder.
Furthermore, yoga, meditation, time in nature, loving relationships, deep sleep, and mental rest help build ojas. If you suspect that your ojas is low, you may need to take some time to reflect upon the ways in which you may be draining or dissipating your energy. Protecting and building ojas often involves slowing down and doing less.
Ojas Building Herbs
When it comes to building ojas with herbs, rasayanas are supreme. Rasayanas are a category of herbs that is unique to Ayurveda. Many rasayanas are nutritive tonics, but they have a prabhav—that special something—that is particularly nourishing to ojas. Here are a few rasayanas to consider when looking to build ojas. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but may help get you started!
Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) fruit
Amalaki, which forms the base in Chyawanprash, is one of the best rasayanas for Pitta dosha. This vitamin C and iron rich fruit has a cool energy and a sweet (nourishing) vipaka (post-digestive effect). Amalaki nourishes the bones and teeth, supports liver function, and is a blood-builder.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root
Ashwagandha is one of the go-to herbs for any type of Vata imbalance. With a bitter, sweet, and astringent taste, a warm energy, and a sweet vipaka (post-digestive effect), ashwagandha bolsters the health of bones, muscles, and nervous system.
Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) stem
Guduchi is particularly beneficial for Pitta dosha, though it balances all three doshas. This rasayana has a warm energy and a sweet vipaka. It is nourishing, yet also helps burn ama (toxins/undigested food matter). Guduchi helps regulate immune system function and builds ojas.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) stigma
Saffron is light and unctuous. It nourishes all the tissues, but it particularly beneficial for the blood and reproductive systems. This lovely red spice is a well-known aphrodisiac, promotes healthy blood flow, and is indicated for certain heart conditions.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) root
Shatavari is specific for female sexual health. However, this cool, moist root with a sweet vipaka is nourishing for people of all genders. Shatavari specifically acts on the reproductive, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems in addition to protecting ojas.
Shijajit (Asphaltum punjabianum) mineral pitch
Shilajit is a rasayana that is particularly balancing for Kapha dosha. This curious mineral pitch has a pungent, bitter, salty, and astringent taste, a heating energy, and though it is rejuvenating, has a purifying overall effect on the body. This heating, purifying component makes shilajit ideal for Kapha dosha. Shilajit exudes from specific rocks in the Himalayas and is gathered in the summer. It is especially helpful for the urinary, reproductive, nervous, and circulatory systems.
Chyawanprash, Ojas Building Powerhouse
Chyawanprash is an excellent way to get a rasayana super boost. This special Ayurvedic jam is a highly revered rasayana and ojas builder. In fact, Chyawanprash contains all of the herbs listed above in addition to other nutritive herbs and digestives such as long pepper/pippali and cardamom. Plus, the honey, sesame oil, and ghee medium that characterizes Chyawanprash adds further ojas building effects.
If you are interested in protecting and building ojas, remember that the solution is to be found in diet, lifestyle, and special herbal supports. There are a plethora of rasayanas that can bolster ojas, and Chyawanprash is an excellent way to get a super boost of ojas building rasayanas.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.
Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology East & West. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing: a comprehensive guide. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Halpern, M. (2012). Principles of ayurvedic medicine. California College of Ayurveda: Nevada City, CA.
O’Donnell, K. (2015). The everyday Ayurveda cookbook. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.
Pole, S. (2013). Ayurvedic medicine: The principles of traditional practice. Philadelphia, PA: Singing Dragon.