Ayurveda to Boost Your Immune System during Cold and Flu Season
Meghan Hays Ayurveda Salt Lake City
Well, there's no fighting it: it's here!
Cold and flu season, that is. And now with COVID to worry about, it's all we can do to keep ourselves stress-free and healthy to avoid becoming sick or to recover efficiently and without complication, if we do.
In Ayurveda, fall and early winter are considered the "Vata Season." Vata is one of the three Ayurvedic doshas, or bio-physical forces that govern our minds, bodies, and all of nature. Vata is cold, dry, light, and unstable.
If you have a lot of vata in your constitution, you are naturally more dry, mobile, and unstable with a proclivity toward creativity and enthusiasm but also gas, constipation, worry, anxiety, dryness, and fragility in your tissues. Since fall, or vata season, increases all of these qualities for everyone, those with more innate vata will need to double-down on these tips and tricks.
Here's what you need to do:
If you're getting less than 7 hours a night, you're basically setting yourself up for failure in all areas of your life: productivity, mood balance, hormones, immunity, and disease risk. Want to get sick? Sleep less. Here are some extra tips to help, and here's the link to purchase my video on sleep with some unexpected hacks.
- Get into a routine around sleep. You need to go to bed and rise at the same times each day so that your nervous system and biorhythms know what the heck is going on. Ayurveda says we need to be asleep by 10pm so that our liver can do its "nighttime janitorial" duties. If you stay asleep past 10pm, you'll get a "second wind" while your metabolism kicks up to detox the body.
- Make sure you're winding down well before bedtime (preferably 2-3 hours) with a warm, herbal tea (chamomile, valerian root, lavender, passionflower, and skullcap are all good choices), a warm Epsom salt bath, or some journaling, meditation, or breathing exercises that calm you nervous system and help you let go of the day.
- Finish dinner at least 3 hours before bed (so by 7pm if you're aiming for the ideal 10pm bedtime). You sleep better on an empty stomach, and food on the stomach after 10pm interferes with those liver duties I've mentioned above. (An earlier, lighter dinner is also a great way to regulate body weight if that's a goal.)
- Take a nap. You can restore and refresh your mind with a short nap, preferably before 3pm so you don't disrupt bedtime.
- If sleep is a chronic problem for you, try a daily Yoga Nidra practice (Google "NSDR" and you'll find dozens of free guided yoga nidra meditations on YouTube). Perform during the day, when you wake up in the middle of the night, and/or before bed. Typically, insomnia is caused by an overactive nervous system, so you'll need to begin to implement daily mindfulness practices that teach you how to down-regulate your nervous system while you are awake; yoga nidra is the perfect solution, AND for every 40 minutes of yoga nidra you perform, you'll get the equivalent of 2 hours of sleep.
2) Keep Your Digestion in Tip-Top Shape!
According to Ayurveda (and cutting edge, scientific discoveries around the link between the digestive and all other systems of the body), all disease begins in the digestive system. In fall (and perhaps all year-round for those with more vata in their constitution), it's time to give the digestive system warm, cooked, well-seasoned, nourishing foods. Put away the salads, smoothies, and iced beverages. That's just going to make you lighter, drier, and more unstable. It's time for soups, stews, curries, and stir-fries. Trust me, if you've got digestive issues, this usually solves 80% of problems. I repeat: cook...your...food. Also use tons of spices you probably already have in your spice cabinet - they've got so many antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, especially garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and oregano!
Here's the coconut mung bean curry recipeI give basically everyone with a vata imbalance (gas, bloating, anxiety, constipation, etc.) and everyone who could benefit from some nourishing comfort food in the fall or any time of year.
3) Easy fasting gives your body time to fight infection and "detox" naturally.
Just like your sleep schedule, your meal schedule plays a huge role in balancing your nervous system. Eat meals and snacks at the same time each day, leaving about 3 hours between each one for proper digestion (or more if you're not hungry).
Also, skip the complications of intermittent fasting and just do what nature intended for us to do: finish dinner by 7pm / 3 hours before bedtime, and don't eat again until breakfast. This gives most people an 11 to 13 hour fast. Done!
4) On the digestive note: consider supplementing with a probiotic.
Here's the one I take that helped me break a pattern of digestive issues (along with Ayurveda) and has research and study-backed evidence that it enhances your immune system and ability to fight off infection through its bacteriophage technology.
4) Get outside in nature every day.
Yep, it might be really cold, but don't neglect the amazing impact that fresh air and sunlight can have on the lungs, hormones, and immune system. Even just 10 minutes a day and/or a walk around your block to check out the sky, hear the birds, and look at some trees can help balance mood, energy levels, and boost your immune system. Ayurveda says this is one of the #1 ways to build our immune systems. I have found it to be a game-changer for me.
5) Sweat Daily.
It goes without saying that exercise, or purposeful movement, is one of the best ways to stay healthy. The more consistently you get your heart rate up, the lower your markers for inflammation and the longer you live in better health. 20-30 minutes a day of brisk walking is all you really need, but you can also benefit from yoga or Pilates (done vigorously - think: flowing and standing poses or poses done on hands and knees, bearing weight against the pull of gravity, that get your heart rate up) and/or calisthenics (push-ups, squats, lunges, low-impact aerobics, and other weight-bearing moves using your body, gravity, and or resistance equipment). Shameless plug: my
monthly membership provides 2, 30-minute classes a week that do just this!
Check it out here!
Movement is your ticket to healthy bones, muscles, mind, hormones, and immune system. Beware, however, as over-the-top workouts can leave you depleted. If you choose hardcore workouts or a super-intense system of movement, give your body recovery time of a few days, otherwise you'll actually lower your immune system and defense against pathogens.
6) Be prepared if you do become ill.
As soon as I feel myself getting sick, I do two things:
- I sleep and hydrate as much as I can - this speeds the healing process immeasurably!
- I also take this supplement with zinc, elderberry, and Vitamin C (cease any other Vitamin C supplements you are taking, and follow package directions for duration); I notice a decrease in severity and longevity of all symptoms (sometimes I end up not getting sick at all), including when I had COVID.
I also had great success in my own Lung and Immune Tonic in capsule form.
I have many clients who reported great relief from COVID symptoms (helped them breathe and clear mucous from their lungs) with this formulation. I have made it
available on my website for anyone to order (please allow 2 business days to process before shipping out as I make each order by hand.
So bottom line: get enough sleep, manage stress, keep healthy routines around (cooked) food and (daily) movement, don't overload your digestion, and stock up on supplies for when you do feel sick. I hope this helps keep you healthy and happy this fall! Please let me know if you have any questions at Meghan Hays Ayurveda Salt Lake City, or email me here! XO
Meghan Hays Ayurveda - Ayurveda Salt Lake City