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There are three essences that govern the functions of the sthula sharira and sukshma sharira (gross and subtle bodies) on a finer plane than the three doshas. These subtle essences are known as Prana, Tejas, and Ojas.
Prana, or life force, is the subtle essence of the ether and air elements. Prana is the vital principle that keeps all living creatures alive. In its most distinguishable form, we can observe prana in our breath. The active force of prana stays with us until the moment of our last exhale. Prana is present in respiration, both on a whole-body level as well as on a cellular level. Prana is also present in awareness, so any time we draw awareness to a physical region or idea, we are filling it with Prana.
The rhythm of our heartbeat, and all voluntary and involuntary movements, are possible through our life force, as well as all sensory and motor functions. On the level of the mind, prana sustains our consciousness, stimulates our thoughts, emotions, and memory, and controls the stability and changes in our emotional state.
The simplest way to nourish prana is by breathing deeply, especially through our nose, and through pranayama exercises. Deep inhalations nourish our cells, and full exhalations expel toxins from body in the form of gas.
All beings have prana, including fruits and vegetables. The moment we pick an apple from a tree, it starts losing its prana, so if we consume the freshest organic products grown locally, prana is at its peak.
Nasya and Neti Pot both activate prana in the mind by opening energy channels present in the head. Furthermore, having clear nasal passageways facilitates the entry of air into our prana-carrying-channels. Daily meditation, through building awareness, activates upward moving prana in the mind. Taking walks in nature, near rivers and oxygen rich forests are other ways to activate prana.
The second subtle power is Tejas is the radiant essence of the fire element. It encompasses the qualities of light, splendor, and the innate intelligence in our body. If the sun embodies the element of fire, then the glowing light from the sun is tejas.
The main functions of tejas are to maintain the intellect of our mind, as well as the corporal and cellular intelligence of our body. Tejas governs proper nutrition by converting food into energy, thus maintains, and gives form to all the tissues and cells in our body. Tejas trains our cells to distinguish poison from nectar, pathogens from friendly bacteria, and toxins from sustenance.
Tejas is present in solar energy, so any foods or fruits that are directly nourished by the sun will be rich in tejas. We should eat plenty of fruits that grow high in the trees, as well as sun-grown vegetables that grow above the soil. Photosynthesis is tejas in the form of plants, thus chlorophyl-rich leafy greens are excellent for nourishing our tejas.
Cooking predigests food through the fire element, and fuses tejas into our meals, making the nutrients more available to us, hence the importance of cooking foods in Ayurveda. Ghee is another food which is highly rich in tejas because heat and fire are used to transform milk into the final product of ghee. Watching a sunrise or sunset nourishes tejas, as well as Trataka, Gazing Meditation, on a ghee candle flame.
The third subtle power is Ojas. Like honey, which is the nectar of pollen collected by bees, ojas is the fine nectar of all tissues of the body. Ojas is defined as “the essence of all our seven bodily tissues.” Once all seven tissues have been nourished, this resulting ambrosia is added to our “vitality savings account.”
Like what ghee is to milk, ojas is to the body. To make ghee, we start with milk, churn it into butter, then heat and clarify the butter to create ghee. To make ojas, the body starts with food, which through excellent digestion is then refined through our seven tissues to create ojas.
Ojas grants us the immune function to have resilience against disease, along with many other functions like helping our cells and bodies grow, become strong, stable, and receive proper nourishment which leads to longevity, contentment, and a wise, loving demeanor. Ojas is recyclable energy, which can circulate through a healthy system again and again. This vitality can be supplied to any bodily tissues in need. It takes at least 35 days for nutrients to pass through all seven tissues, to reach the destination of becoming ojas. When our agni is strong, we have a better chance of assimilating nutrients and creating strong ojas.
Through diet, ojas can be nourished with ghee, milk, rice, dates, seeds, and whole grains. Due to the cooling, sweet qualities of ojas rich foods, they should be eaten warm and freshly prepared to help these rich, heavy foods be digested properly, rather than turning into ama.
Love and compassion for all beings are products of strong, healthy ojas in the heart. Another way to nourish ojas is through gratitude, and loving kindness towards all beings.
Prana, tejas, and ojas as the subtle essences can be linked to their respective doshas. This means that prana is considered the subtle essence of Vata dosha, tejas is the subtle essence of Pitta dosha, and ojas is the subtle essence of Kapha dosha. While the doshas express themselves in the gross forms of the elements, the essences of each dosha work on a more refined level of our mind-body. Health happens when our doshas are balanced, but health is also present when our prana, tejas and ojas are in balance, and when one is not disproportionately dominating the other.
When a person is Prano-sar, or of outstanding pranic energy, that person is bound to be an excellent communicator, genius musician, an artistic creative, a renowned public speaker, or writer. A person who is Tejo-sar has a bright, lustrous presence, is warm and inviting to all and is bound to be a leader, justice advocate, scientist, or scholar. An Ojo-sar person with their cool, calm, loving demeanor, has a natural capacity to be a healer and nurturer. They are steady and wise and likely to have a “green thumb,” as their supportive energy fertilizes any seeds and roots they plant.
The superior forms of the subtle essences construct the vibration, color, and strength of our aura, which protects us from negative influences in our physical and energetic field. We can nourish our superior essences through the practices of meditation, mantra, reflection, and introspection.
We can observe these essences all around us in nature, in the seasons, and in our meals. Notice the interplay between prana, tejas, and ojas all around you. Through our physical prana, we breathe deeply to inhale the oxygen rich fragrances of the garden, through tejas, we can perceive with awareness the brilliant sights around us, and through ojas, we can interact with the fertile seeds of creation that propagate new life around us. The entire universe is a harmonious orchestra of prana, tejas, and ojas conducted by the infinite power of the divine.
Awaken to the vital essences of life force, radiance, and vitality in the Subtle Powers of Prana, Tejas, and Ojas, a four-part series with Sarah Dunfee, available in the Chopra App under For You.