In western medicine we talk about immunity, meaning the ability to resist diseases, especially infections. Western anatomy and physiology explains that the body has natural immune systems to control bacteria and viruses, including the lymphatic system, the white blood cells, natural killer cells, and others that work in tandem to keep the body healthy.
So, in spite of the fact that about 2% of our body weight is foreign bacteria and viruses, some of which are beneficial and some disease-causing, most of the time we do not get ill.
Western medicine has a number of artificial methods designed to promote immunity from specific infections, such as polio, measles, mumps, the flu, etc.; and these are administered through vaccinations and innoculations.
Ayurvedic concept of immunity – ojas
Ayurveda also has a concept of immunity from disease, and this is said to be governed by Ojas (or Ojus). Ojas is the substance that enables the body to function at its best, to resist illness, and is responsible for the radiance that healthy people have.
There are said to be two forms of ojas – Para and Apara.
This is considered to be the essence of life, is received in the womb, and consists of eight drops of pure fluid that resides in the heart. Para ojas is constant and leaves the body on death.
This is said to be a pure fluid that circulates in the body, is the essence of the bodily tissues, which is variable in quantity, and which has the qualities of kapha dosha – heavy, cold, smooth, soft, subtle (travels in the fine channels), sweet, stable, sticky, and unctuous (oily). These qualities are similar to those of milk or ghee.
Functions of ojas
A healthy quantity of ojas provides:
- Strength and good functioning of cells, tissues and organs.
- Stability and growth of muscles.
- Resistance from disease.
- Clarity of mind and voice.
- Radiance of skin and luxuriance of hair.
- A state of ease and happiness.
- Kindness, compassion, love, and peace.
Factors that decrease ojas
Ojas, and consequently immunity and resistance from disease, can be reduced by various factors:
- Excessive exercise and physical labour.
- Constant fatigue and poor sleep.
- Excessive masturbation and sex.
- Chronic unmanaged stress.
- Excessive fasting and nutritionally-poor diet.
- Excessive emotions such as shock, grief and anger.
- Physical trauma and injury.
- Exposure to environmental toxins, including excessive sun, chemicals and electromagnetic forces (EMFs) and microwaves.
How to increase ojas and immunity
Looking at the causes of reduced ojas, you should attempt to reverse them. It is important to manage your work and energy levels, and have sufficient rest and sleep. To sleep better, have an evening routine to wind down and allow your body and mind to relax before going to bed. If you exercise frequently, make sure you have sufficient recovery periods.
Manage your sex life so it is restrained and within a loving relationship.
Avoid fad diets and excessive dieting and fasting. Avoid nutritionally-poor foods such as junk food, fast foods, and artificial foods.
Manage your emotions and cultivate positive attitudes and emotions. When distressed or upset, seek support and help, from friends, loved ones, your community or from a professional.
Review your lifestyle so you reduce your exposure to chemicals in house cleaning products, gardening products, hygiene and skincare. Reduce your exposure to EMFs by turning off the wifi when you can, and keeping smartphones and other devices away from you during sleep.
Avoid news, movies and other media that cause unnecessary stress and emotional aggravation. Instead, choose media that are positive, uplifting, inspiring and spiritual.
Avoid excessive consumption of foods that are bitter and sour, and very spicy foods. Instead, eat foods that are natural, freshly-made, which tend to be sweet, unctuous and nourishing. These include root vegetables like kumera, and pumpkin. Eat almonds, raisins, dates, sesame, honey, rice, and fruits. Drink organic milk and use ghee liberally.
There are various herbs that are ojas-boosting, such as ashwagandha, shatavari, amalaki, and haritaki. Consult your ayurvedic practitioner to obtain a formula that is tailored to your health condition and age.
Finally, cultivate an attitude of peace. Practise gratitude and kindness. Acknowledge negative reactions and emotions that come up, and let them go. By letting go of judgement and always trying to be right, serenity arises, and you “go with the flow” more easily. The mind becomes clear and peaceful, and the body becomes relaxed and able to function optimally. This is the way to good ojas and strong immunity.