How does the change in seasons affect your health? For many of us, our body’s brilliant ability to detect changes in the climate can be quite sensitive, especially as we shift out of summer and into the fall season with its promise of rain and cooler temperatures. The rhythmic transition into fall is often a reminder for us to nourish our body in preparation of the cold winter months ahead. A sudden change in temperature, along with other factors like stress, lack of sleep, or poor diet can leave us susceptible to fall ill with a cold, or even worse, the flu.
As I travel through the Northern Indian subcontinent, my irregular sleep schedule and a drop in the overnight temperature was enough for my body to cry for some self-nurturing care. What first started as a sore throat turned into congestion, sneezing, and a dry cough. After the onset of body aches and a fever, I knew it was time to seek some medical care, which only seems to be available in the form of Ayurvedic medicine here in Rishikesh. But what a better time and place than to be in the home land of Ayurveda and determine just how the self-care remedies could provide a guide for the cold and flu season- with me as the patient.
Ayurvedic Approach to Cold and Flu:
The treatments themselves do not ‘cure’ the condition, they simply restore the body’s self-healing ability– Leon Chaitow
Ayurvedic Medicine may seem intimidating or discouraging with its apparent foreign nature or even mystical remedies. I had the opportunity to consult an Ayurvedic Doctor, and after 1 week of committed compliance to the recommended self-care remedies, I was pleased to discover it wasn’t so “mystical” after-all and I felt great! All of the recommended treatments were practical and made logical sense to me with respect to their ingredients and healing benefits. Keeping in mind that the cold or flu cannot actually be “cured”, it is important to remember any kind of medication, supplement, or herb is only a treatment to relieve symptoms and strengthen the immune systemso that the body can better fight off its invader. This is the ground on which Ayurveda works.
Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that was first discovered by the Indian sages dating back thousands of years ago. Interestingly enough, Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine, and early Greek medicine all have roots in the classical Ayurvedic medical texts. The main focus of Ayurveda is to provide guidelines for daily/seasonal diet and behavioral routines so we can remain vital and connected to our full potential.
Ayurvedic Self-Care Remedies For Cold and Flu:
The following are 7 Ayurvedic self-care remedies to help tackle the flu or a cold. As a bonus, many of the remedies or practices can actually be a preventative measure for falling ill.
1. Stay hydrated: Dehydration weakens the immune system. It is very important to remain hydrated when you have a cold or the flu. In addition, Ayurvedic tradition says it is essential to avoid cold drinks and iced water as they tend to aggravate the nervous system, digestion and throat. Warm water, herbal teas, or Ginger Lemon Honey are soothing alternatives.
To enjoy a Ginger lemon honey drink, add thinly sliced ginger to a cup of hot water with half a squeezed lemon and 1 tablespoon (optional) of raw organic honey as a natural sweetener. Raw honey has a high level of anti-oxidants and is an alkaline-forming food. Ginger is a powerful herb that mobilizes toxins, restores balance to the body, and stimulates the digestive system.
2. Neti Pot: The Miracle Worker: When we fall ill, the natural immune response of the body is to produce mucus and trap the foreign invader so it can be eliminated out of the body through the wonderful secretions of our nose. Many over the counter or symptom relief drugs prevent the production of mucus, otherwise known as anti-histamines. The problem with these medications however is that they do not allow the body to do what it is designed to do, which is to naturally heal and repair itself.
The Neti pot has been used for thousands of years and is a simple way to naturally cleanse the sinuses. The saline solution that is used to flush out the nasal cavity, loosens the mucus membranes and removes excess mucus, toxins, and bacteria. This is a helpful cleansing habit that can lessen your chances of getting sick and can even shorten the duration of your symptoms.
How to Prepare a Neti pot
1. Pour 1 cup warm water+ ½ tsp of non-iodized salt in your neti pot (you can always buy a prepared salt specifically for neti pots)
2. Place the tip of the neti pot into one of your nostrils
3. Turn your head at a 45 degree angle
4. Open your mouth wide and breath only through your mouth as you pour the water into one nostril
5. The water will slowly come out of the opposite nostril and the saline solution will pull along with it any excess mucus, environmental chemicals, pollen, dust, viruses, and bacteria.
3. Facial Steam: For a natural decongestant add 5 to 10 drops of Eucalyptus essential oil to a bowl of warm water. Hover your face over top of the bowl and put a towel over the top of your head to contain the heat. Hold for 5-minutes as you take deep breaths in and out of the nose. Eucalyptus helps relieves symptoms by controlling airway mucus and by stimulating the immune response.
4. Amalaki Tablets: Indian Gooseberry tablets or Amla, also called as Amalaki, is high in natural antioxidants and is known to have rejuvenating and revitalizing properties. It is also believed to have the most concentrated source of vitamin C in a form that is easy for the body to assimilate. Amalaki contains tannins which are known to be the most reliable and effective immune enhancer. It is recommended to take 2 tablets with warm water before bed. As an alternative to taking the supplements you can also eat a handful of gooseberries.
5. Avoid sugar and dairy products: Milk and sugar are mucus forming foods and can cause inflammation of the mucus membranes in the respiratory tract. Ayurvedic traditions recommend avoiding these from your diet as your body works hard to overcome the cold or flu.
6. Kapalbhati: The Detox Breath: This breathing exercise is a yogic system of body cleansing intended to cleanse the sinuses, esophagus and throat. In addition, this detox breath is good for toning the abdominal muscles and stimulating digestion. The forceful exhalations by pumping the naval in and out warms the internal body helping to loosen the mucus membranes and helps to purify the body by expelling toxins out of the breath.
7. Cultivate a Restful Routine: Although this tip may seem intuitive, it is the most important piece to recover from a cold or flu. Many people will run the mistake of taking symptom relief drugs and still maintain an erratic schedule that pushes their body to its limits. By achieving adequate rest you will feel better sooner and you will actually be able to accomplish more as your body recovers.