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Vitality: What’s It?
By  Todd Caldecott

The concept of ‘vitality’ or ‘energy’ is an ancient one, referred to in Chinese medicine as ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’), and in Ayurvedic medicine as ‘ojas’. While we all know what it means to be full of vitality, as well what it’s like not to have any, it is curious to note that this concept is entirely absent from modern medicine, in which good health is defined quite simply as an absence of symptoms.

The closest modern medicine comes to the concept of vitality is in its conception of ‘homeostasis’, a physiological mechanism that maintains the balance of innumerable biological activities to ensure that the body functions within ‘normal’ parameters. From an energetic perspective, homeostasis is but one example of our vitality, as an organizing and self-sustaining principle that extends beyond physicality to include our thoughts and emotions, including our capacity to feel passionate and inspired, and in its highest evolution, to give and receive unconditional love.

In Ayurvedic medicine, the vital essence of the body is called ‘ojas’, described a subtle force that incessantly works to keep the body, mind and senses continuously refreshed. Two types of ojas are described: one called ‘para ojas,’ which is located in the heart and represents the divine ‘breath’ that separates the animate from the inanimate; and ‘apara ojas,’ which is found in a state of continual flux, derived from the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breath.

Apara ojas is that which we directly perceive as our vitality, which changes from day to day, depending on several factors such as how well we eat or how much sleep we get. This form of ojas is considered to be the ‘sara’ or ‘essence’ derived from all the bodily tissues as they metabolize the nutrients we consume – when the food is healthful and proper, and when the tissues function normally, the net result is plenty of ojas, which is fed back into the system to support the body and maintain health.

The status of ojas can be assessed by factors such as the luster of the eyes, the strength of limbs, and the function of the mind and senses. People that can read auras will see that when the ojas is strong the aura is bright and shining. Like the flower of a plant that produces nectar, the greatest concentration of ojas is found in the reproductive tissues, which like a flower, is representative of the body’s ultimate biological imperative.

For this reason, sexuality is an important factor in the status of ojas, and in the sexual act, ojas plays a role in ensuring the viability of the ‘seed’ and the process of conception, as well as in pregnancy and childbirth. The powerful role that ojas plays in sexuality is equally important in spiritual development, which in many respects are two sides of the same coin, or like octaves in a musical scale.

For this reason, some spiritual practitioners in India called ‘brahmacharyas’ take a vow of celibacy to conserve the body’s ojas, practicing techniques such as meditation and breath control to use this powerful biological energy to facilitate a deeper spiritual awareness. This exceptional practice isn’t for everybody however, and for most people

Ayurveda actually recommends regular sexual activity, but within limits. Excess sexual activity, especially in men, is considered to promote a loss of ojas, leading to weakness, fatigue, aging and disease. Some practitioners counter these techniques by learning to channel their sexual energy during sex, thus conserving the vital essence while still allowing one to experience sexual pleasure. Another helpful technique to retain and build ojas is the consumption of specially prepared herbal medicines called ‘rasayanas’ or ‘rejuvenatives’, which are thought to reverse the effects of aging and disease by enhancing ojas.

Normally ojas flows all over the body, empowering the organs and tissues that are most active. For instance, if you are doing physical labor, ojas is concentrated in the muscles of the limbs and trunk. Similarly, if you spend your working day in front of a computer, ojas will be concentrated in your head and hands. In order to maintain health, ojas should have a chance to flow equally all over the body, and hence, any activity to the exclusion of another should be avoided.

Thus the labourer should take time in their day to think, to read, to use their mind and ensure that ojas flows to the lesser used organs. Conversely, and what is a much more common problem these days, the person in front of a computer needs to take time in their day to get a real break from staring at the computer screen, to get up move their body about and ensure that ojas is properly circulated.

The one time of day that ojas is allowed to freely circulate as well as be replenished is during sleep. Thus the importance of sleep cannot be underestimated, and insufficient sleep, which for most people is less than 8 hours of a night, gradually leads to a diminishment of ojas and promotes aging and disease. In disease very often the flow of ojas is blocked, and it is this blockage in energy that gives rise to pain. The primary cause for the blockage of ojas is toxins called ‘ama’. In Sanskrit, ‘ama’ literally means ‘undigested food,’ which not only suggests the importance of a proper diet and good digestion to maintain health, but also the route by which these toxins enter into and accumulate in the body.

The most important factor to prevent the accumulation of ama is the strength and potency of digestion, called the ‘agni’. When the diet is proper and digestion is strong, ama never has a chance to form. However, when foods are eaten that agni has a difficult time processing, ama beings to form. As ama accumulates, it blocks the flow of ojas, robbing the tissues of their vitality.

This is why, prior to undertaking a rasayana (rejuvenative) therapy to enhance ojas, a method of purification and digestive enhancement is undertaken first, to eliminate ama and strengthen agni. If this is not done, the rasayanas might not be properly processed and may enhance actually enhance ama, making the situation worse.

Fortunately, some rasayanas are so potent that not only do they enhance ojas, but they also dispel ama and strengthen the digestion simultaneously. Perhaps the best example of this is the famous Ayurvedic formula called Triphala.

For most people, Triphala can be taken on a daily basis, 1 tsp of the powder mixed into a glass of water, let to sit overnight. The next morning, stir the glass again, let the powder settle, and drink, leaving the sediment behind. Taking Triphala in this way is a simple Ayurvedic insurance policy for good health and abundant vitality. .


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