The photo above of this forest is a precious reminder of how within us we have the codes to heal and recover if supported. Three years ago this area had been devastated and destroyed by a hurricane. Now we can see the new life, rebirth, that it has undergone…it is healing. We are nature and nature is within us. Just like in nature when we replenish ourselves with rich prana (life force) filled foods, nutrients, fresh air, and sunshine, we give ourselves the best chance to rejuvenate and thrive as well. I think of our prana/life force as a battery… do our everyday habits, decisions, thoughts and beliefs recharge or deplete us? What else can we do to energize our batteries? Yoga, of course. The many practices of yoga can help to keep our batteries, our life force, our health, our vitality, which in Sanskrit is called ojas, vibrant.
Ojas Prana Tejas
In Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, there are three subtle energies… ojas (vitality), prana (life force), and tejas/agni (fire). In his book, Yoga and Ayurveda, author David Frawley writes that “Prana, tejas, and ojas resemble the concepts of chi, the Yang and Yin of Chinese medicine. Prana as the life-force and cosmic breath, is like the primordial chi, which is also related to wind and spirit. Tejas, as the power of will and vigor, resembles original Yang, which is the primal fire. Ojas, as endurance and stamina, resembles primordial Yin, which is the essence of water.” These three energies are alchemical and work synergistically, and can be integrated for optimal wellness and when we raise, balance, or improve one or all of them, we can influence and elevate the others. Let’s separate them to understand and explore them better.
Ojas is believed to be responsible for vitality, strength, health, mental and emotional wellness. From the ancient yogic texts it is said that “a person with good ojas is calm and content and has strong immunity and endurance.” Ojas has been described as our body’s nectar, which has been created by all that we are incorporating and taking in. An individual can invigorate, repair, and protect their ojas by eating healthy, chemical free foods from nature, by drinking generous amounts of clean, hydrating water, by practicing both invigorating as well as restful yoga asanas (poses), pranayama (yogic breathing) to increase circulation, oxygenation, and to reduce stress, and meditation to be centered, grounded, and balanced.
Ojas is said to be created when a person has not only eaten well but is also able to completely digest that which has been eaten, which in turn creates joy. In Ayurveda it is acknowledged that everything we take in – food, thoughts, experiences, and relationships – needs to be processed and how well we process these things significantly influences not just our bodies but our enjoyment (joy) of life. In a blog written by Melody Mischke, Abundant Energy –Unlocking Your Natural Vitality with the Wisdom of Ayurveda, she shares that Ayurveda identifies two types of ojas in the body; one of them is stable, superfine, and resides entirely within the heart, and the other circulates throughout the body. Since the most refined form of ojas resides exclusively within the heart supporting the heart can serve to nourish and protect our ojas too. Yoga poses like active and passive (restorative) backbends, chest, shoulder, and heart openers can create more vitality and heal our heart spaces. A quote by Hafez captures this well: “Be kind to your sleeping heart. Take it out in the vast fields of light… and let it breathe.”
From David Frawley, “Prana is the vital life force in all of us. It is the subtle vata or air element, and is responsible for life. We practice pranayama, or breathing exercises, to tap into this energy within our bodies. Although identified with the breath, prana is also responsible for the processes of circulation, digestion, and excretion.” From Sankrit, the ancient language of yogic tradition, “an” meaning movement and to breathe, and “pra” meaning forth, prana means “breathing forth”. Prana is believed to flow in and out of the body through the breath. Becky Miscke says that “prana is carried on and stimulated by the breath, but it is not the breath. The foods we eat and the water we drink also contain prana and also serve to replenish our own. In this way, ingesting foods and drinks that are healthy, fresh and full of prana themselves serves to nourish this vital force within our bodies- as does purposeful, mindful breathing. The channel system that moves prana through the body is rooted in the heart so, as with ojas, tending to the heart center also supports prana.” Appreciate this reminder that everything is truly connected and one supports the other.
It is said that prana likes to move due to its relationship to the vata energy. Vata can be unstable, easily agitated, or very sensitive, so when we move the body with our yoga practice we also can transform the vata energy, and create more fluidity and flow in our systems. In yogic tradition it is believed that prana flows through energy channels called the nadis. The three main nadis are the Ida, the Pingala, and the Sushumna. This chart below, from the Huffington Post, is a good graphic illustration of these:
It is also believed that the seven chakras run along the Sushumna and that the prana (life force energy) flows through the chakras and creates emotional and physical feelings and experiences. Through yoga and meditation you can expand your chakras by increasing the flow of vital prana in your body which supports optimal wellness in the body and mind.
Tejas is the subtle energy of agni and the pitta dosha that transforms matter into energy and consciousness, and is related to the fire element. Tejas is translated from Sankrit as illumination or fire. Fire in Sanskrit is agni. In an article by Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati, Improve your Digestive System- Balance your Agni, he shares that the word agni is related to the Latin word ignis, which is the root of the English word “ignite”. He also writes that “Agni is the element that keeps our intelligence sharp, clear, and bright. It maintains our intelligence by enabling us to digest information from life so that we can know what is good for us and what is not.” Tejas/fire is related to transformation in your yoga practice and in your life.
Since eighty percent of our immune system is in the digestive tract, Ayurveda puts a lot of attention on how well we are digesting the food and emotions we take in. If digestion is sluggish, often herbs and spices like cumin, ginger, and chile peppers are recommended to stoke the digestive fires. Tejas is the solar energy of the body, so we can practice specific yoga sequences like Sun Salutations and other asanas to boost circulation and strengthen, stimulate, and activate digestion and the solar plexus, or third chakra, which is considered the power center of our bodies. Specific pranayamas like diaphragmatic breathing, which increases metabolism, and Kapalabhatti pranayama, also called breath of fire, which focuses on short forceful exhalations can kindle and ignite the tejas energy. Another pranayama, Surya Bhedana, which means
“ piercing the sun,” involves breathing through the right nostril (Pingala nadi),the solar channel, and exhaling through the left nostril (Ida nadi), the lunar channel, which clears the surya nadi and generates heat.
David Frawley explains that in Ayurvedic tradition, the subtle energies within the body are fluid and dynamic. Blockages within the energy channels and energy centers can compromise health and wellness. The inner practice of yoga is a synergy of these three vital essences and the balance of preventing excesses or deficiencies for vitality and for tapping into our innate healing force.