Body, Mind & Spirit

15 Ways to Boost Your Immunity Right Now

Published on April 4, 2017

Article by Siva Mohan, MD, MPH for Bodhi Tree

Feeling a little under the weather? According to Ayurveda, we are all comprised of three primal energies (doshas): Vata, Pitta and Kapha. An ideal constitution holds the three doshas in balance. A lowered immunity is primarily caused by a Vata imbalance, which is defined as a state of depletion, dryness and low digestive fire (agni). In my experience, every one of my clients (and myself) has some Vata imbalance. It is just a by-product of living in a world that’s over-stimulating, lacking routine and full of movement—in other words, modern urban life.

8 Initial Signs of a Cold Coming On

You may know these well, but here are the first signs you may be coming down with a cold:

  • decreased appetite
  • dry mucous membranes
  • dry or raw sore throat
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • gas
  • headache
  • changes in temperature (chills, hot spells or both)

Even if you have just three of the above symptoms, chances are you are fighting a bug that’s most likely a virus, which all colds are. For some reason, our culture believes we should “fight through it,” but when we do, we are only lining ourselves up for more suffering. By continuing to deplete ourselves, we can increase the cold’s duration, severity of symptoms and the likelihood of a secondary bacterial infection that may require antibiotics (and the subsequent side effects of taking antibiotics, such as yeast infections).

However, if you address Vata imbalance issues, you may be able to nip a cold in the bud.

The Key Signs of a Vata Imbalance

There are numerous ways a Vata imbalance appears that affect the mind, body and spirit. Here’s a breakdown:

Body

  • dry skin (can be itchy, too), dry hair, brittle nails, dry cuticles, dry lips, dry mucous membranes
  • runny nose (and dry, scratchy throat)
  • dry, itchy eyes
  • gas, intestinal gurgling, belching and cramping
  • tendency toward constipation or even just pebbly, hard stools and straining
  • loss of appetite (and bloating after you eat)
  • coated tongue (a sign of low agni)
  • pain, especially musculoskeletal, or cramping anywhere
  • stiff, creaky-cracky joints
  • dark under-eye circles
  • increased urinary frequency
  • inability to sit still
  • tremor, unsteadiness in movement

Mind

  • trouble sleeping (especially between 3 and 4 am)
  • indecision
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • difficulty focusing and paying attention
  • difficulty completing tasks
  • interrupting your own thoughts with tangential ones
  • cycling of emotions
  • impulsive speech or behavior
  • addictive tendencies

Spirit

  • feeling like you’ve been doing a lot but still don’t really have a sense of where you are headed in this life, what you are about, or where you feel at “home”
  • a pervading feeling of restlessness, or being unsettled

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. So, what can you do about Vata imbalance? Well, in Ayurveda, we balance by introducing opposing qualities. Vata is cold, dry, moving, light, wavering, irregular and unanchored. Bringing in warmth, moisture, stillness, heaviness, grounding, regularity and routine will help to balance Vata. These qualities can be brought in through diet, relationships, schedule, yoga, pranayama and even climate.

15 Vata-Reducing Remedies

There are many Ayurvedic tools to help reduce Vata. I recommend trying these when you first start to feel sick:

1. Oil every orifice.

I’m serious! Try oil pulling (mouth); doing nasya (warm oil drops in the nose and ears) and basti (enemas—but please don’t attempt unless you’ve been instructed how by a medical practitioner). Vata is dry, dry, dry. In Ayurveda, oiling helps to fortify the epithelium that lines the orifices and prevents against Vata imbalance in these areas, thus preventing upper-respiratory infections, earaches/tinnitus infections, constipation/diverticuli, etc.

2. Oil your skin.

The largest organ of the body, your skin is a digestive organ. Although traditional abhyangha (daily self-massage) is recommended before bathing, I suggest moisturizing with sesame oil (instead of lotion) after bathing. Twenty minutes of exposure on your skin is all it takes for medicinal properties to be seen in your bloodstream.

3. Neti sinus cleansing.

Neti-pot cleansing is not intended for when you’re so congested that there is occlusion of the sinuses/nasal passages—that would be too painful. Utilize a neti pot if you are at the stage of dry mucus membranes with light runny nose but still breathing through the nose without any problem. Kids can use a nasal saline spray.

4. Nasya.

After using a neti pot, I put two drops of warm sesame oil (a Vata-reducing oil) in each nostril. I also put two drops in each ear. I do this all before bed because, ideally, we are lying down to receive the oil in the ENT (that’s doctor shorthand for ear-nose-throat) passageways. Are you still going to benefit if you put some warm oil in at another time of the day? Of course.

5. Avoid cold or dry foods.

Nourishing, warm temperature and moist foods diminish Vata and help to maintain healthy digestive fire (agni). This is one reason why kitchardi (see next entry) is great when you are fighting a bug, and why drinking soups and teas also feels so good. Try cooking with ghee (clarified butter), which is known in Ayurveda to help rejuvenate the body and pacify Vata by reducing dryness.

6. Eat kitchardi.

This warm and moist bean porridge contains mung beans, which help to detoxify and rejuvenate the body.

7. Spice up your life.

Garlic, ginger and any kind of pepper are antimicrobial and help to reduce Vata while maintaining digestive fire.

8. Rest.

Constant movement is the hallmark of Vata. Stay still. Snuggle. Leave space in your schedule. Lie on the floor, stare at the trees out of the window, meditate…just be.

9. Lock in to some kind of routine.

Routine is rhythm and that rhythm is what our internal clocks (i.e., circadian rhythms) will set to. With routine to anchor your mind and body, there is greater harmony amongst the millions of processes taking place inside your miraculous self. This synchrony helps prevent against imbalance.

10. Humidify.

Warm baths and humidifiers are great for reducing cold and dryness. If you don’t have a bathtub or humidifier, just put a big pot of water on the stove and leave the heat on low for a few hours. Try adding essential oils or herbs to the pot. Ginger, cardamom, eucalyptus, frankincense and cinnamon all have therapeutic properties that help with cold symptoms.

11. Go to bed before 9pm.

I know, that’s a G-rated bedtime, but really, the later hours are when Vata really kicks in, so the earlier you can go to bed (as many days of the week as possible), the more you’ll reduce the Vata you take in.

12. Spend less time around electronics.

All electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is movement. TV and laptop screens are moving so fast, and that movement is stimulating to our brains. Less stimulation means less Vata.

13. Spend quality time with supportive people in your life.

This brings more Kapha into your constitution, which can help balance Vata. Really plug in to the people who ground you. Maybe instead of going to a noisy bar, go for a walk together; instead of watching a movie, prepare a meal together. The objective is to feel present and grounded.

14. Flame-gaze.

Try staring at a flickering flame when you’re feeling scattered and having trouble focusing. Just allow yourself to become fully immersed in the flame’s dance and nature. That’s it! Flame gazing also calms the nervous system.

15. Avoid rich foods that are difficult to digest.

(Think ice cream or fried foods.) This frees up more energy for healing instead of digesting, and also helps with maintaining healthy digestive fire. Most colds start with a Vata imbalance and end with a Kapha imbalance (congestion, lethargy), so we want to balance Vata without going overboard with too much Kapha.

Published on: April 4, 2017

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