Overflowing with Ojas
Dear Friends, I am sitting in a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains looking out into the trees and watching the setting sun. It's so incredibly quiet here. I'm sure you've felt this before, this sense of restoration that can happen in nature, and especially when we rest in nature. When I spend even one day here, I feel like I have refilled some part of me that was running dry. And I bring back more stability and ease when I return.
Last weekend, at a workshop with Rod Stryker, a serious and devoted yoga practitioner and teacher, I learned more about ojas, the vital energy of life that we carry within ourselves, sometimes called the "fluid of life." Ojas is a bit like our mojo. If we want to be healthy, we need to have enough ojas to support our lifestyles, like having enough gas in the tank to get where we need to go. It's what gets refilled when I sit here staring out at the mountains and the setting sun.
According to the teachings, yoga asana (postures), while creating space and leading to transformation, actually use up our ojas. Most activity uses up ojas, and many of us are walking around with a pretty low tank. The effect of too little ojas is lowered immunity, less overall vitality, and less fun. Too often we feel drained, and sometimes our energy is too low to even enjoy our friends and family.
According to the ancient Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine, there are only a few ways to increase our ojas, including eating well, rest and relaxation, being in nature, and giving and receiving love. These are the basic ingredients needed to increase our ojas, which can then support all our activities, including our yoga practice. We need to have enough ojas for our yoga practice to create more space in us (prana) and help transform our lives (tejas).
This teaching really matches my own experience. When I'm too hungry, tired, lonely, or cut off from the natural world, I don't get as much transformation from practicing asanas. Often, I don't even have the energy to get to the mat if I haven't had enough of the basics. But when I come to my practice with enough nurturing meals, rest, and love, my practice really opens me up and transforms me and my life. Whether we call it our ojas, our basic wellness, or our mojo, we need a strong foundation to support our lives and to really tap in to the transformative power of our yoga practice.
How can we organize our lives to include more ojas? One way is to simply sleep more. When I am at the cabin, I often allow myself to go to sleep when the sun goes down. In our daily life, it's hard to get to bed early, I know. Another option is to listen to a yoga nidra CD (or go to yoga nidra class), or lie down for a few minutes in the afternoon.
Fall is a wonderful time to be in nature in a way that restores our natural energy. Walking in the woods, or sitting on your deck staring at the sky works wonders. Ojas building foods include small amounts of richer foods (in Ayurveda, ghee, or clarified butter, in small amounts is recommended), and natural and easy to digest foods, like nuts, seeds, and fruits. By eating slowly and mindfully, we nurture our bodies more fully.
Bringing more love into our lives will also help to create a stronger foundation for our practice. And we don't necessarily need a significant other to practice love (remember the song, Love the One You're With?) We can practice loving nature, loving our fellow yogis, and/or loving ourselves. All of which will increase our ojas, and give us more vitality for life. The energy of love is what fills our tank, and it doesn't really matter whether its coming to us or coming from us. Wholesome food, adequate rest, time in nature, and love will form the soil in which the transformative power of yoga can take root in us and allow us to grow into our most beautiful selves.
May we all be filled to overflowing with ojas and opened and transformed by our yoga.
with much love, annie.