The Spirit of Health, The Vital Essence Ojas


As spring and winter engage in a dance that teases, antagonizes and frustrates our daily rhythms, I am amazed at the human potential for adaptation and grace. Although many people may be subject to unexpected illnesses like the belly flu or adrenal fatigue when weather fluctuates, it is more often than not that our bodies incline toward balance.  The dance of the seasons keep us on our toes…what clothes to wear, what foods to eat, which daily activities we choose to do…often without noticing the deeper rhythms of the autonomic systems. Our bodies are amazing.

Throughout my years of studying yoga, nutrition, Ayurveda and herbalism, I have come across a particular gem of an idea that is at the heart of true health, an idea that threads all of these healing modalities. In Ayurveda, this concept is known as Ojas, and is the ‘essence of vitality.’ In yoga, I have found that this essence finds me, not pumping out poses on the mat until I sweat, but in the early am, when I light the candle on my altar and turn inwards for peace and Self reflection. I also find that this spiritual vitality fills me when I do a practice that supports me at that moment, such as doing a restorative practice when I am tired, even though my mind may want to engage in something more demanding. In my food it is found not by just eating my veggies and staying away from fried foods, but by eating with presence, with focus and being thankful for my food, my company, and the energy of the meal–whether home cooked with love or on the road. It is the gratitude that gives me both physical health and spiritual health, ojas.

In Nature, I find the essence Ojas when I connect, at a heart level, with the plants. My favorite hobby is to take a walk with my dog and find a plant or tree to sit by…and really connect to. The earth and nature embody ancient wisdom and we only need to become still and open to absorb the knowledge. Taking time to rest and connect with the vibrancy of plants replenishes the body and the mind, and removes tired, dull and depleted energies.

The rhythms we create for ourselves go a long way in determining how happy or how unhappy we are, how vital or how depleted. The vital essence Ojas is an amazing concept to me, because it is found whenever we connect our heart to our rhythms and make wise choices based on finding balance. The more we love, nurture and support ourselves, the happier we are and the more health we exude. The more Ojas we have, the more capable we become to support others on their road to balance and vitality.

“The happiness of one’s own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one’s happiness, the happiness of others.” -Paramahansa Yogananda

Do grilled cheese sandwiches make you glow?

Yup.. some things in life are extremely comforting, nourishing, and relax us like nothing else. Grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cream or other creamy delectables, movies on the couch with pillows, blankets & loved ones (cats and dogs are included here!), chocolate, wine, beer, sex…These are typical American allies to rest and renew, and ultimately feel good. However, although entirely scrumptious and perfectly healthy in moderation, the multiple whirlwinds of modern day living have pressed many of us into unwise overconsumption & craving those things that don’t always do us so well.

Angabangha is the definable term that describes this mind-blowing confusion of why we crave what is not good for us. Hmm.

So how do we untangle ourselves from the maddening confusion of our senses?? Balance and health is like a dirty word in this society…like a patch of nettles that people would rather avoid than understand. What is even more frustrating is that our own innate power has been stripped from us as well, taken out of tradition, culture, family and contexts and handed over to physicians and shrinks who put little (if any) emphasis on living in a balanced, nutritive and earth-friendly way.

It would be incredible if good healthcare education were offered in our schools, our media & our culture. If only it were a fad…cool and wanted by the majority. The pop culture of health & vitality….

Until then i guess we just have to unplug from the collective consciousness, grow some balls and flow against the mainstream. Do our own research and wise up.

Personally, I find that looking to the traditions that have been time tested is a good start. Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine…similar in concepts, applicable to modern living, and openminded enough, they offer incredible wisdom that can be bridged to, or integrated with other modern therapies.

In yogic scriptures, the advice is to hang out with someone of a higher vibration than you..one who has seen the truth, like a sage. One way to do this is to find someone who is living in a way you admire. Not who has the best paying job or cutest wife, but who is solid in themselves & is living a life they love. It is easier to wallow in self pity than it is to change, so notice who you tend to hang out with. What is their health like, their life, their attitude? Rising to the occasion of eating better, cultivating a more positive attitude, and enjoying activities that support and nourish you will give you deep nourishment, the kind that makes you glow. And once you glow, you can be that solid one that is happy and helps others glow too.

One Anjali (food as medicine)


In yoga practice, palms are joined together at the heart, symbolizing acknowledgement of the light we carry deep inside of us, the light of the eternal flame.  In being aware of this light, and present when we hold this gesture, we both recognize the value and honor of seeing both ourselves and others as something beyond appearance & position in society.  By joining our hands at the heart we humble our egos and connect to something more intimate, our source. Many traditions join the hands at the palms to pray.  Yoga is a tradition that embraces all traditions, all people as One Human Race.

Our hands play an important role in everything we do. As extensions of ourselves, they respond to our thoughts and desires through passionate articulation (I think of my Italian Daddy here!), they physically give and receive, and frankly, do a lot of work that often goes by unnoticed.

By cupping the hands together, we can receive nourishment. Filling cupped hands with water to say..splash on the face..settles the water into a heart-shaped pond in the palms (I noticed this while pregnant with saki & happened to see hearts everywhere!).  Observing this can bring us immediately into the moment & suspend the constant stream of thoughts into gratitude for the hands, for the water, and for this life.

Cupped hands are also used as a form of measurement in many of the less industrialized countries.

Sri Swami Mayatitinanda, affectionately called Mother Maya, talks about the importance of quantity along with quality. The cupped hands, or Anjali, equal approximately 1 cup. Your cupped hands reflect the size of your stomach. This information was a profound revelation on my path to good digestion and health. Having been taught to be a ‘good girl’ and clean my plate was poison to my system. American restaurants serve twice the amount of food per plate than what we can properly digest (sometimes three times the amount!!) Too much food stops up the digestive tract creating an undo amount of stress not only on the stomach and colon, but on the liver and spleen as well. Toxins build up in the body (called Ama in Ayurveda) & as a result we feel tired, bloated, or grumpy…and get constipation or diarrhea or break out in acne. Yuck.

Every morning I prepare some lip-smacking oatmeal that if Tony the Tiger was still around (shoot maybe he still is ??), he would say THEY’RE GRRRREAT! Food as medicine is all about quality along with quantity. It is recognizing how active you are going to be and how much your body can digest per sitting. (and yes, we must sit down when we eat moms…) It takes your stomach about 20 minutes to send the info to your brain that you are full. By noticing how many handfuls of food you need to fill your belly, you can get bowls of that size and not worry about it. Eat what is in the bowl and wait that 20 minutes. If you are still hungry, eat a bit more! Ayurveda says that we should fill our bellies with 1/2 food, 1/4 liquid and leave 1/4 air for room to digest.

When I make oats for Saki & I before she goes to school I measure a handful of oats for each of us (one Anjali). Rolled oats, not the quick ones, are full of nutrition and expand when cooked. When I add the herbs and the nuts and the dried fruits this meal is a perfect size for us. We are not overstuffed and there is no waste! As a conscious mama this delicate balance is often sought after in my kitchen experiments! Cooking, like yoga, is all about practice!

Bootysattva’s Herbal Oatmeal:

Recipe soon to come 🙂 (I have run out of time & must go practice yoga…)

**Please check out Path of Practice by Bri Maya Tiwari for a wonderful book on our relationship to food, breath and sound through the Ayurvedic and Vedic tradition. (This is Sri Swamini Mayatitananda before her name changed)

The Sun & Gayatri Mantra

Alex Grey

The sun is a symbol of Source in many cultures. Whether viewed as the powerful sphere of light that brings warmth & nourishes life or a constant flow of Divine Energy, the Sun is magnificent.

In Astrology, the Sun symbolizes our basic personality, which from a simple point of view can help direct or hinder our life’s flow amongst other people & activities in our life. The Sun also represents the cyclic pattern that connects birth and death, gifting us with the unceasing movement of night and day & seasonal changes.

In Tantra, the power of the sun is so strong that when embodied, brings confidence, decisive action, strength and clarity.  Particular poses (asana) encourage the glow of the sun & feed the solar plexus with a fire that is invigorating and stimulating. Backbends (even mild ones such as cobra & locust), twists and sun salutations stoke this solar power. 

The Owl is said to contain so much light awareness of the Sun that it not only sees clearly in the darkness but is the protector of the night, piercing the dark with the clear sight of the Divine. Many midwives and spiritual healers connect to Owl Medicine as a totem, because the owl is a symbol of this gateway between birth & death, humanity & divinity. The owl can see through the veils to the light of truth…and so those with owl medicine can uncover secrets & the shadow side of people & situations they are working with.

In yoga philosophy there is a concept or action called Tapas (see previous post.) Tapas is the fire that removes that which prevents us from shining. It is the force of the sun, the fire that reveals our inner sun (our divine spark), which is also brilliant like fire. Tapas is the action of clearing away the layers that cover our unique expression of being Divine and perhaps (most likely) also clears away that which blocks us from connecting to the Divine.

What is Divine? ‘Divine’ is a limited word for such a vast concept. It is a complex source of love & light in a depth that often surpasses the human understanding. Divinity is pure awareness that embraces trust and truth in a non-dualistic, holistic manner. To feel the Divine inside and to be connected to Divinity releases fear. And fear is pretty much the underlying seed of everything that feels bad. The Buddhists call this suffering. The majority of people in America try to plow through this suffering by self medicating and by searching for connection with drugs. Psychedelics give glimpses and definitely open the neural pathways for a wider perspective into reality, but addiction to these drugs prevent the seeker from truly experiencing life as being divine.  A big scare hitting the streets & festivals are drugs such as Ketamine &  Crystal Meth. They are incredibly addictive, dangerous & destructive in the mental, physical & spiritual realms. Safer & more effective paths to the divine are mantra, asana & meditation.

The Gayatri Mantra, which appears in the Rg Veda (Rig Veda), one of the oldest scriptural texts known to man, is a meditation on this Divine Light. It was Ghandi’s favorite and has been shared by many different religious sects. The mantra, whether in short form or long form directs attention to the spheres or planes of existence that contain the earth, sky and Celestials. It honors Light in the form of the power that fuels the Sun and asks for our connection to that source, illuminating us to our own light, & illuminating our minds.

The Gayatri Mantra is fuel for the soul, spiritual armor for those who chant it regularly & healing to the physical and subtle bodies. If every shrink in America & substance abuse center would teach people to chant this mantra 108x (one full mala) daily..a fire of illumination would sweep over this country. There would be so much more happiness & peace (to say the least). So whether a teacher, a seeker, a yogi, a parent, a Christian, a Buddhist or Agnostic..no matter. These sound vibrations are available & accessible to everyone, and will help to unlock hidden potentials that will shake up dated belief systems & poor habits. With fire comes transformation. As light shines on the darkness of the mind, whatever is lurking in the subconscious is lifted & the soul, with the power of the sun, shines brighter. 

Honoring the Children

This past weekend my daughter and I experienced our first Kumari Puja.  In India, young girls are celebrated and honored as little vessels of the Divine feminine, or Goddesses, in these traditional ceremonies. Beautiful sanskrit prayers are chanted to the adorned children, while loving friends and family members offer gifts such as flowers, jewels and yummy foods.

Saki and her friends were perfect in their unique individuality, feeling the immense love in the room supporting & honoring them for who they are. They were funny and appreciative and filled with reverence. Since it was their first time, they were nervous before the ceremony, but once in it they just shined.

It is my hope that this ceremony has helped my daughter respect herself to the ‘ummph’ degree. Being 9 years old can be tough, especially with the world and the human race facing such challenging times right now. It is up to us as parents to find ways that support and nurture our children into becoming who they are meant to become. Oftentimes it means just sitting on our hands, like the granny midwives, and observing what unfolds. Sometimes it is taking their hands and guiding them through the rough patches. It is a special time however, when we can be a part of something (other than a birthday) that truly shows how much we respect them for who they are. Honoring the children in ceremony, no matter what religion or tradition suits you, is an awesome time for self discovery, transformation and sustained healing power. Om Shanti!

Navaratri

Today, October 8th, begins the celebrated Vedic tradition of connection to the Divine, in the feminine aspect or Goddess. For 9 days, a portal opens, where intentions for transformation and growth are magnified. During these 9 days it is encouraged to devote your time and energy to a practice that connects you deeper to Source.

This tradition comes from the Vedas, where Source is seen as the Goddess, the Divine Mother. In each third of the 9 days a particular aspect of the Divine feminine is recognized-from the destroyer of fears & suffering (Durga) to the bringer of wealth and vitality (Maha Lakshmi) to knowledge and creativity (Saraswati)- and is honored.

For yoga practitioners, reading vedic scriptures and learning about the aspects of the Divine not only support internal transformation but deepen one’s perspective, or understanding of the nature of cosmic energy. Yoga is ‘hot’ these days, contorting the body to get all sweaty and look good…but the true yoga is when the blockages are cleared and the nature of our Self is revealed. This self is connected to the Divine, is Divine…and through practice (sadhana) this is discovered.

Yoga is the path, or the practice of becoming one with the Divine.

If you have a mantra practice or a perhaps meditation/asana & kriya that you already do, continue what you are doing but perhaps with more reverence & inspiration. Offer your practice to the Divine energies that support your transformation in releasing fears & suffering so that health, wealth and creativity can flow in.

If you do not already have a practice–no worries! Create one that feels good. Here is an example:

1. Go to a field or look around your yard for some wildflowers to offer to the Divine Mother ( or divine energies/aspects that you wish to cultivate in you.) Yellow goldenrod is growing everywhere now..& is also a flower that protects one from ragweed pollen (which may be up your nose right now causing ‘head cold’ symptoms). Marigolds, roses and mums are also everywhere.

2. After offering some flowers or fruits (apples are also in season!!) Light a candle…set an intention. This could be for more ease in your life–less stress and worry.

3. Perhaps open the body with some asana, or poses that both stretch and vitalize you.

4. Sit. Be aware of your breath. Now is the time to do some Pranayama (breath control) and this can be as simple as letting the belly soften to fill as you inhale, and then gently drawing the belly in as you exhale (abdominal breathing).

5. Add Mantra: So Hum is a beautiful beginning mantra. The ancient yogis seated in caves of the Himalayas heard the breath as So Hum…Inhaling ‘so’ Exhaling ‘hum’. This breath means ‘I am That’ (loosely defined) I am that infinite source, or fabric of consciousness that creates, connects and transforms all things. I am Divine.

Or be creative. Yoga is a process, a union…and today is just a beginning..Happy Navaratri! Happy New Moon!

The Mind: Wise Elder vs. Grown Child

In yoga psychology, there is this idea of a higher mind (the wise elder so to speak) and the lower mind (who is kind of like a grown child.)  At any given moment, either one or the other is in charge, delegating where you focus your attention, directing you through the fuzz of life’s complexities and even defining how you perceive that ‘fuzz.’

These aspects of the mind kind of lead you on this journey of life. Each moment (as you know) is an opportunity for choice–either good or bad. Not being stuck in the past or daydreaming about the future, brings us to right now!..where the choices for our lives are made. No matter how busy, or how much you may  feel life sucks right now, you have every right to carve out a good living by making choices that support you. Even if you have a desk job that you hate, or are surrounded by a rowdy family that brings chaos like a hailstorm.. by seeing with the right part of the mind, this ‘elder,’ you can change things. By allowing the childlike ‘lower mind’  to guide us, we are often led to do the same things over and over again because it is so easy, so comfortable. This is just not cool. We are swimming in stagnant ponds of repetition and comfortability, creating a lot of inner ‘blah’ because life just isn’t what we want it to be.

The trick? Wake up the elder, that higher aspect of mind that is unafraid to jump into the deep end, to get on stage and tell jokes, or to practice and get good at playing an instrument, home alone, instead of bar hopping. The elder is not afraid to be a rebel, to mess up and have to start over. The wise elder of the highest aspect of your self (otherwise known as ‘witness consciousness’, or the ‘observer’) knows that we are all alike, just trying to live this dream with passion and flavor, unafraid to BE.

So let the elder lead you through the next decision you have to make. You just may be surprised, that instead of fuzzy chaos, or repetitive steps that lead nowhere, the path become clear and it is though an invisible hand leads you straight to the right people, the perfect opportunities and ultimately–contentment.

** The picture is of Gentian, which when taken as a flower essence helps to shift mental focus to make right choices, especially when times are difficult. **

An Insight into Tapas…(a yoga concept not a yummy little plate of food)

“Don’t get too comfortable” is strangely enough, a common saying. Why? Well, to take it from the yogic perspective, we just get stuck in our habits. We become lazy, not growing or evolving. We get so stuck that we become bored, fearful or even anxious. We are not really living.  This is the modern, western society swamp that many of us get stuck in. So how do we get out?

Tapas! This is the sanskrit word for austerity & heat. It is noted in the yoga sutras that we need austere practices to burn away that ‘comfortability.’ It is this comfortability that creates the dullness and according to yogic philosophy, the heat of tapas will help remove that dullness.  But austere practices can be a little harsh, eh? The definition of austere is severe, or stern, having strict discipline. Well thats classical yoga. Lets take it from a Tantric perspective.

Tapas is the fire that illuminates….The heat of tapas removes the blocks that prevent your authentic self from shining. So think about that! Try doing things out of the box, out of the ordinary so that you can become unstuck from mundane habits.  No matter how perfect you think you are, unless you are Buddha or somebody pretty clearly enlightened, you can still do some personal work.  Tapas may be a little uncomfortable at first, but with practice and personal observation, you will see its worth it! You will begin to LIVE.

Here are some ideas:

  • Get out into the woods, climb a tree or stick your feet into an icy creek
  • Do a powerful, sweaty yoga practice that makes your liver cry tears of joy!
  • Be still for a change–and observe your mind.
  • Read from the Upanishads (absolutely awesome sacred spiritual texts)  instead of watching ‘So you think you can dance?!” on TV
  • Fast from an unconscious habit (cheesy poofs when you are sad, complaining, being too ‘adult’ with your child instead of playing)