Cold and Flu Season is upon us, and with the added stress of a pandemic, we’re all wondering how best to care for ourselves during this time. Ayurveda seeks to answer the question of “how best do I care for myself” by studying nature, seeking balance, and taking a holistic approach. So let’s take a look.
A cold or flu share many of the same symptoms and can range from mild (light headache, some chills, small fever, sore throat, small cough) to severe (high fever, aches and pains, exhaustion, severe cough). In Ayurveda, colds are considered a Kapha-Vata disorder, as the body produces an excess of mucus and fluids (kapha) and wind in the form of coughing, sneezing, chills (vata). It’s actually really healthy to experience some light changes in body temperature at the beginning of winter, as the body starts to gear up to fortify for the harsher months. It’s also healthy and “normal” to experience small changes in body temperature and a little excess mucus in the spring, after winter, as the body acclimates from the cold-dampness and creates more moisture to soothe and cool you down in the warmer months. Energetically, wind (vata) keeps things flowing and moving in the colder months (fall/winter), and fire (pita) keeps things flowing and moving in the warmer months (spring/summer), so it’s important to take note of those elements as we address cold/flu season in the winter.
What that means is, as the colder months settle in, the fire element dissipates from the outside world and we harness that energy internally, heating ourselves up from the inside out to stay warm. That means our digestive fire is stronger in the winter than in summer, and that we’re actually generating and accumulating more internal energy in the colder months than we do in the warmer ones. It’s a great time of the year to strengthen the body and mind (exercise, read, write) and to eat really delicious, nourishing, warm, grounding, building foods. In the warmer months, the fire element starts to dissipate from within us and moves outwards into the natural world. In Ayurveda, we share energy with the sun in this way—flowing back and forth from our center to the center of our solar system and so on, every cycle, every season, every year. Our digestion slows down a bit in the warmer months (which is why we usually have smaller appetites in the summer, and feel better when we eat lighter foods—like smoothies, salads, snacks—etc.), and we tend to feel more laid back/less ambitious around work and are more prone to want to goof off, hang around, lounge, or play in the summertime.
Knowing this, we know we ought to look at ways we can warm and fortify the body as we approach cold/flu season this winter. This can look a few different ways (generally speaking).
We can start with digestion.
Eating warm, solid, grounding, building, fortifying meals packed with nutrients and whole, organic ingredients can help our bodies rebuild tissue, muscle and blood, strengthen our bodies and warm our hearts; lots of homemade soups from fresh ingredients can do the trick—i.e., carrot ginger soup, sweet potato curry soup, squash soup, soup with dandelion and leek and kale and beans, kitchari, daal, rice and beans, vegetable or meat stew, etc.
Sipping on some warm water with lemon in the mornings, or ginger root, tuslu leaf/flower, licorice root, ashwaganda root, or chai teas throughout the day can also help with warming our bodies and keeping our digestive fires strong throughout the winter.
Creating Additional Warmth
With extra wind, and dry cold conditions, it’s important for us to create heat and moisture in our daily routine. We can do this by taking warm or hot baths and showers with some sinus-opening essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender or lemon. We can do it by exercising (even though we’re cold and cozy and often more tired in the winter) outside or indoors at the gym, elevating our heart rate and body temperature, sweating out toxins and lubricating our joints.
We can also use hot water bottles or heating pads on our low backs, shoulders, or belly to keep the body warm, muscles loose, and bring a sense of peace and coziness to our day.
Immunity and Congestion
To boost our immune system (in addition to eating fresh, organic, whole foods cooked in fortifying ways like soups and stews with spices, herbs, ghee, etc.) we can incorporate medicinal mushrooms like chaga, reishi, cordyceps, and lions mane into our hot coffee (or in place of hot coffee) and into our broths and soups. We can also add extra Vitamin-C to our diet, taking a sublingual supplement under the tongue or capsules from a trusted, organic company. The Ayurvedic herb, Amalaki, is a rasayana (rejuvenate tonic) and a good source of vitamin C and iron. It is also a cooling herb. To prepare this herb for use: take 1 teaspoon of amalaki daily, with warm water at night. This will also help to prevent the common cold. (Do not take this with triphala as one of the three herbs in triphala is amalaki).
We can avoid dairy products, as they produce excess mucus and encourage the body to store up toxins in the digestive system.
We can sleep more than normal, as sleep helps the body repair itself, strengthens the immune and nervous systems, and fights off colds.
We can use nose drops to moisten and soothe chapped noses; in Ayurveda, we recommend using liquefied ghee in a dropper, and dropping 1-2 drops into the base of the nasal pathway (both sides) to bring some relief. If you want to try and need more information on this, reach out to us directly!
On the topic of exercise, which is important during the winter, we want to be clear that we’re talking about regular exercise for those of us who aren’t feeling sick. Exercise can help us stay strong and healthy as a form of preventative care, but once we start to feel the onset of a cold, it’s best that we take it easy and rest.
Pranayama can keep our lungs happy and oxygenate the blood. A great pranayam exercise for winter is called “breath of fire,” which is a variation of an ancient technique known as kapalabhati.To do this, you simply sit in a comfortable position with your spine erect, close your eyes and bring one or both hands to your low-mid belly. Start by taking a few natural easy breaths through the nose. Then, inhale through the nose and let your exhale be a “pumping” of the naval. All inhalations will happen on their own, so keep all of your focus on pumping the naval for your exhalations. Feel free to search for instructional videos on YouTube for this, as there are many!
Fun Home Remedies to Try
- Combine 1 part ginger, 1 part cinnamon, 2 parts lemongrass to make about 1 teaspoon of formula. Steep in hot water for 10 minutes and strain out herbs. Add honey for sweetness if you prefer. This tea will help relieve cold, congestion, and flu symptoms if taken several times a day.
- Combine 2 parts ginger, 3 parts cinnamon, and a pinch of cardamom to make around a teaspoon. Steep in hot water for 10-15 minutes.
- Boil fresh ginger or eucalyptus leaves in a pint of water. (Can also add eucalyptus essential oil after boiling.) Once off the stove, place a towel over your head and inhale the steam. This helps relieve sinus pressure and congestion. Steam alone can also aid in cleaning our your sinus cavity.
- (Depending on your weight) 100-120 pounds: 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 tbs raw honey. Male a nice paste and take this followed by a cup of warm water 3x a day for a week; 120 and above: 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tbs raw honey. Make a nice paste and take this followed by a cup of warm water 3x a day for a week. Due to turmeric being extremely drying and heating make sure to hydrate well during this time. In Ayurveda, the rule for drinking is drink when you are thirsty, preferably warm water, which helps detoxify the channels and keeps Vata balanced.
We’re here, every day of the week, to support you in staying healthy this winter! Please contact us via email or phone to ask questions, set up a consultation, or just to chat. We’re here for you!