Ojas or vitality is a key concept in the ancient system of Ayurveda. Ojas is said to be our basic immunity, or immune system and vitality, described as a kind of “sap” in the body.
The ancient author, Charaka (1500BCE) noted (from earlier texts of his mentor, Sri Agnivesh), that ojas is either red (rakta – blood), white or yellowish in the body, and is in the heart. It is responsible for the vitiation or emaciation (kshaya) of the body and impairment of mental and sensory faculties. It is said to have the colour of ghee (clarified butter) and taste of honey (Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, XVII.73-75).
Ancient Ayurvedic texts also mention a disorder known as ojakshaya, in which the body starts to shut down, as a result of impairment to the immune-system, causing emaciation of all of the dhatus or bodily tissues, viz. plasma, marrow, blood, adipose, muscle, bone and the reproductive system. This disease is quite different from that of arbuda (cancers, malignant tumours) noted in the body, and appears to be not dissimilar to modern diseases we known, such as AIDS.
Overactive or hyperactive immune systems with inflammations etc. are described as pitta and ama (bile, and toxins) entering into the immune system (ojas), corrupting it and causing these flare-ups. Bile in the body in excess, caused by excess salt-intake, sour foods, alcohol etc. and pungent spices aggravates the small intestine and liver, causing an excess of bile, fevers etc., eventually leading to impairing the immune system. Imagine burning oil beyond its temperature threshold!
Ayurveda thus looked at preserving vitality or ojas in the body. There were many herbs, formulas and substances for this:
- The Formula Chyavanaprasha, which contains Amalaki (Elblica officinalis), the “Indian gooseberry”. Rich in Vit. C, this fruit is taken and prepared into this tasty, sweet paste with numerous other herbs. Amlaki is also useful relative to boosting collagen. This formula itself is named after the aged Seer, Chyavana, whose youth is said to have been restored by it, including his weathered skin, to new.
Amla is also one of the three fruits in the recipe Triphala for eyes, skin and digestive health, and in itself, also helps to promote eyesight and hair.
Hundreds of rasayanas or rejuvenation pastes or confections exist in Ayurveda for various purposes, including Brahma Rasayana, which contains more Haritaki (Terminalia chebula), than Amla. It is a rejuvenate herb in its own right, also, promoting ojas.
- Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia). One of the most immune-boosting herbs in Ayurveda, it is anti-pyretic, and also useful in cases such as HIV and Cancer to boost immunity of patients.
- Hira Bhasma (Diamond Ash) and Swarna Bhasma (Gold Ash). These might seem quite strange concoctions, however, the process of these goes back to the ancient iatrochemical system of rasa-shastra or alchemy in India. Parada or Mercury is also used, such as in the formula Makardhwaja, which is extremely useful for booting immunity, or ojas. These exotic, and expensive formulas are taken in extremely tiny dosages, under strict supervision of practitioners trained in their specific administration, along with specific diets for disorders from cancer, or debility or Parkinsonism.
- Shilajit / Mineral Pitch. The term “bitumen” originates originally from the Sanskrit “jatu”, meaning pitch. It was used as early as 3,000BCE in India to seal baths, sewers and drainpipes against leakage in the Indus-Saraswati civilisation (which also boasted sit-down toilets, separate bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms etc!). Shilajit comes from rocks in the Himalayas and is a great rejuvenate for the skin and hairs. It is also a rejuvenate for the uro-genital system, especially against diabetes (of which, Ayurveda recognises 20 different types – as also Type1 and Type2 for the first time).
Other forms of dietary aids included the yogic-diet, consisting of wholegrains and also dairy, such as milks infused with cardamom, cloves etc. and sweetened, as well as nuts and fruits, said to help boost immunity.
We can thus see the importance of boosting immunity in the body, especially against modern pandemics, and also general viruses and seasonal changes alone, that can disturb the natural rhythms in our bodies.
Simple things such as taking in garlic cloves daily, can also assist with immunity, especially disorders such as fibromyalgia. Garlic cloves boiled in milk,. with a little sugar added, can also help keep disorders at bay and boost immunity on a daily basis!