This article is the second in a series leading us into the Ayurveda Immersion at Yoga Center of Columbia beginning in January.
Last week we talked about the three doshas or body constitutions, the six tastes known as sat rasa, and the principle of how “like increases like and opposites balance each other.” This week we will discuss what happens when the body-mind structure is in balance.
According to ayurveda, there are three subtle essences that arise within the body from the doshas.
Kapha is the constitution related to water and earth. When kapha is out of balance, one may feel heaviness, sadness, or depression; one may be sluggish, lethargic or carry excess weight. When kapha is in balance, a person feels love and compassion for oneself and the world, she feels at peace and in harmony with herself and those around her. Ojas arises.
Ojas is the first of the subtle essences. Ojas is the lubricating part of the body that nourishes all of the tissues, such as blood, lymph, muscles, and bones. It is the stuff responsible for a strong immune system, vigor, longevity, and overall well being of an individual. We cannot have ojas without balanced kapha dosha. When ojas is present, one has a radiant complexion, youthfulness, cheerfulness, a high threshold for stress, and mental clarity. If ojas is weak or low, one may be timid, insecure, have poor appetite, or have feelings of worthlessness.
A few ways to protect ojas would be to eat a balanced meal which, according to ayurveda, contains all of the six tastes as discussed last week. Do not rush your meal or eat on the go in the car or on the run. In other words, sit and enjoy your meal, taste your food and keep good company when you eat. Nourishing your mind through meditation or quiet walks in nature also protects and increases ojas. There are more ways to support ojas, but this is a good start.
Tejas is the second of the subtle essences. Tejas is the inner radiance that shines in the luster of one’s eyes and the glow of one’s skin. Tejas brings clarity to the mind, will-power, courage and fearlessness to one’s demeanor. It is a type of fire that transforms food into nutrients the body can use and it transforms sensory experiences into knowledge and even wisdom. One cannot have tejas without balanced pitta dosha.
Pitta dosha is the constitution related to fire and secondarily water. When pitta is out of balance, one may feel sharp emotions like anger, jealousy, irritation, frustration. In the extreme, pitta becomes the “type A” personality. When pitta is in balance, one has energy to accomplish things, one has a healthy sense of competition, and there is a warmth to one’s personality that is highly attractive.
Keeping pitta in balance will stoke the subtle fire of tejas in a healthy way. Avoid excessive talking about menial things or gossip to strengthen tejas. A regular meditation practice or even chanting mantras will keep the inner radiance shining brightly. Long slow deep breathing and mindful awareness are also helpful.
The third of the vital essences arises from Vata dosha. It is known as prana. Vata dosha forms from the elements of air and space so a person with a vata dominant constitution will have qualities of lightness, mobility, tendency toward dryness, and plenty of creativity. Vata dosha is the primary biological force because it is the one that creates and supports movement. Without movement of any fashion there is no life. The key to managing all doshas and subtle essences is to care for vata.
When vata is out of balance, one may feel mentally scattered or ungrounded; one may be anxious, nervous, or fearful; and one’s behavior may be erratic. When vata is in balance, one is creative and open-minded; one is a powerful speaker with an enthusiastic personality and the ability to understand a broad range of topics quickly. When vata is in balance, prana is unblocked and flows freely.
Prana moves in five directions in the body: downward and inward like an inhalation, downward and outward like an exhalation, metabolizing or support during transformation, upward and outward as in speech, and circulating throughout the entire body-mind structure. When prana is unblocked and flows freely, one has abundant vitality and is a source of inspiration.
A few suggestions to keep vata in balance are to keep a regular schedule for your daily routine: wake at the same time every day, eat meals at the same time, and go to bed at the same time every day. This sets up a rhythm for life so one’s body-mind knows what to expect and even prepares for food or sleep so that one may gain more nourishment from those experiences. Turning off all electronics, including television and phone, one hour before bedtime to have a more sound sleep is another way; one could use that time for reading, quiet contemplation, or meditation. Third but not lastly, increasing one’s intake of root vegetables in the diet may have a grounding, soothing effect on one’s system to help balance vata.
So you can see that cultivating the subtle essences can be a very positive force in one’s life. Ayurveda practice offers techniques to enhance ojas, tejas, and prana to restore balance in one’s life but also to live life fully and to thrive.
In my upcoming Ayurveda Immersion, co-taught with Debbie Martin at the Yoga Center of Columbia, we will go into more detail on how to cultivate the subtle essences. The Immersion is a great way to learn in community with others; the conversations will be interesting and stimulating, and the community support will help you to change unwanted habits for the better. If you would like to learn more, I hope you will join us!