Why Happiness Starts in the Stomach
In the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, a filmmaker decided to eat a steady diet of fast food for 30 days to see how it would affect his health. Although he and his doctors expected some changes, they were shocked by how quickly his skin turned sallow, his cholesterol levels and blood pressure skyrocketed and his weight shot up 27 pounds. Worse, his mood changed from one of vibrancy to depression.
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there is not only a direct connection between the food you eat and your health, but food affects your happiness as well. You could even say that health and happiness have a common source in a single product of digestion — called ojas.
Ojas is the physical equivalent of both bliss and immunity. It is what causes the eyes to sparkle, the skin to look radiant and the immunity to be strong. And it's directly related to digestion.
"Ojas is the finest and most refined product of digestion and metabolism," explains Mark Toomey, Ph.D., the director of Maharishi Ayurveda programs and health practitioner at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center and Spa. "It's very much related to how we digest and metabolize not just our food, but our very thoughts."
There is a lot written about ojas in the ayurvedic texts. Ojas is said to be slightly yellow in color, to reside in the heart and to also continually circulate throughout the body. It is cool, soft, sweet, stable, viscous, clear, and pure, and when lively in the body, these qualities can be felt in the pulse during an ayurvedic consultation.
"Ojas is also much related to strong Kapha dosha, called bal kapha," says Dr. Toomey. "A person with good ojas has a solid build, enthusiasm, strength, knowledge and wisdom."
In Maharishi Ayurveda, digestion is also known as agni, which means fire. Agni has to be operating perfectly in order to transform food into its most refined product. It's within that transformative process, the sequential development of food into your tissues, that ojas is most lively.
"Ojas operates as the first energy to structure the tissues of the body; it's the first physical substance to form when the fetus is growing; and it's found pervading all levels of creation, from finest of the finest and out to the most manifest," says Dr. Toomey.
How to Keep Ojas Lively
So how do you keep your digestion running perfectly and your ojas level high?
"One of the main factors in immunity is to keep the srotas, the microchannels, clear so information can flow freely through the body," says Dr. Toomey. "This is why it's so important to keep the digestion running smoothly, to keep impurities from building up and blocking the srotas."
Here are six ways to keep the srotas clear and ojas flowing freely in the body.
- Eat a balanced and wholesome diet in a timely fashion.
- Follow the ayurvedic daily and seasonal routines, which bring the physiology in tune with the laws of nature, such as going to bed on time and eating at the same time every day.
- Practice the Transcendental Meditation® technique and TM-Sidhi program daily to release stress and strengthen digestive capacity.
- Take rasayanas, the traditional herbal elixirs that nourish the body and mind and develop higher states of consciousness. Rasayanas such as Maharishi Amrit Kalash not only contain rare ingredients that convert quickly to ojas, but the meticulous preparation procedures, which can take several days and as many as 50 steps for a single batch, refines the ingredients to make them extremely wholesome and digestible.
- Practice behavioral rasayanas. These are the behavioral guidelines that help govern behavior and action in life. The following qualities are found in those who practice behavioral rasayanas: truthful, free from anger, nonviolent, not exerting to the point of exhaustion, calm, sweet-spoken, stable and steady, practicing meditation, engaged in cleanliness, perseverant, observing charity, practicing religion, devoted to love and compassion, balanced in sleep and wakefulness, using ghee regularly, behaving with propriety according to the time and place, not conceited, well-behaved, simple, in control of the senses, keeping the company of elders, holding a positive outlook, self-controlled, not indulgent in alcohol, and respectful toward teachers and elders.
- Include foods in your diet that increase ojas. The three most favored in Maharishi Ayurveda are ghee, amalaki (amla) and cow's milk. As Dr. Toomey explains, the production of ojas directly depends on the foods you eat and your digestive strength. For these three foods, the conversion from food to ojas can be almost immediate. For other foods, it can take anywhere from six to forty-two days.
"Certain factors diminish the production of ojas and therefore should be avoided," says Dr. Toomey.
These factors include excessive physical exertion; rough or inadequate digestion; excessive exposure to wind and sun; staying up late; physical trauma; fatigue; not following seasonal influences; excessive loss of dhatu (blood, mucus or semen); and intake of toxic substances, which includes exposure to environmental pollution but also too much stress overload.
By cultivating a strong digestion and strong ojas, you can improve your health, happiness and immunity.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.