Typically when we think of digestion we think immediately of food and the digestive system in our body—a very physical and tangible concept. Food enters our mouth and the process begins with chewing and breaking down the bites. Then our body increases production of saliva to further reduce the pieces, we swallow, stomach acids are introduced, and our body squeezes food through the intestines. Eventually food is either absorbed as nutrients for the body or is expelled as waste.
In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, one of the guiding principles is: “We are what we digest.”
This concept goes so much deeper than just what we put in our mouths—it refers to everything we take in through all of our senses, and even extends to how we digest information, the media, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and experiences.
Thinking about how I interact with my world in this way has been a wildly life-changing paradigm for me.
Take a moment to ponder your own day-to-day living; what do you take in through your five senses? Consider the smells you inhale, the sounds you hear, the food you taste, the things you touch, and especially the images you see.
What do you expose your senses to each day and how does that affect your overall health?
There is a big difference between taking in a serene field full of flowers moving in the breeze, the horrors on the nightly news, or a crime show you chose to watch on TV. What do you ask your senses to take in and digest? Where does the waste product go? The images we see have a profound effect on our wellbeing.
In Ayurveda we look at the two very powerful concepts of OJAS and AMA.
Ojas is considered the Nectar of Life–our essential life energy that flows through our cells to bring bliss, balance, and full nourishment. When ojas is high, we feel truly clear and positive about our lives and our level of happiness. Our immune system is strong and we are energized and enthusiastic. We may experience feelings of joy and bliss often, and others might say we have a sparkling personality.
On the flip-side, ama is “that which is undigested.” When we have a build up of toxins and waste in our physical, mental, and emotional bodies, it may show up as achy and painful joints, lethargy, sluggish elimination, fogginess in our thinking, a coating on our tongue, low immune response, and even difficulties in manifesting intentions.
We can make a conscious effort to increase our ojas and decrease our ama. We can choose to expose ourselves to more positive experiences and to decrease the amount of negative images, noises, and conversations we are exposed to. We can eat organic whole foods that make our cells sing, and lessen our intake of processed foods that have lost their healing energy.
Getting out into Mother Nature and doing something that makes our heart happy is instant ojas!
The list is infinite, but perhaps the most important way to increase ojas is following our heart’s callings in our life’s work and sharing our natural gifts with others.
I invite you to consider all of the ways you “digest” what comes your way and also to be aware of how you are “digested” by others around you.
Do you want to be someone elses’ ama or ojas?
The following internal scan exercise can help you check in with yourself and process your experiences at the end of the day, or anytime:
1. Take your time getting into a comfortable position and start to breathe deeply, closing your eyes gently.
2. Reflect on your day. How is the food you consumed sitting in your body? Check in with your belly, your emotions, and your thoughts. How are you feeling?
3. What conversations, experiences, images, and situations did you digest? Where did the ama, the waste product, go? Where is it sitting in your body, mind and heart?
4. Finally, use your breath to simply inhale ojas, and exhale ama. Let go of anything that doesn’t serve you.
Be still. Observe the way your experiences are digested by your body. What did you notice—anything interesting? I’d love to hear from you, in the comments below.
With knowledge of the power of ama and ojas and your body’s own internal wisdom, you can control what and how your body digests the world around you.
Bija Repta, RYT is the Director of DevaTree School of Yoga's Down Dogs & Doshas: An Integrated Approach to Ayurveda and Yoga. Upcoming Course: 3 weekends, November 25-28, 2016, January 27-30 & March 24-27, 2017 in London, Ontario.