Globally, our health and immune system has been top of everyone’s newsfeed this year. COVID has had us examine the body’s natural defense system and reminded us that age, ethnicity, and chronic illness can impact the strength of our immunity. As the year of the pandemic comes to a close, it’s a great time to do an audit on our own immune system. Did you have a few colds this year? Feel sluggish? Did you notice your body took longer to heal? These may be signs of weakness in your immune system.
A healthy immune system is a key to optimal health, particularly during a pandemic. According to Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom, optimal health is called Ojas and occurs when our lifestyle supports our metabolism and digestion.
The building blocks of life are the five elements—air, space, water, fire, and earth. The elements combine to form three metabolic types or doshas—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. All three doshas exist across all living creatures and body systems. Most people have one (or more) doshas that dominate their mind-body type.
Regardless of mind-body type, our doshas can become unbalanced. Late fall, early winter is the season of Vata. The qualities of Vata dosha are cold, dry, and irregular. Think of wind whipping through the leaves. Skin can be cold and dry, you may experience restlessness, and other body patterns such as sleep become erratic.
Here a few practices you can add to your daily routine this fall to restore balance.
Sip warm water throughout the day; cold water extinguishes digestive fire. Stay warm with seasonal diet changes. In addition to moist warm grains or soups, follow the availability of local produce.
Think about the timing of what you are eating as well. Many people go to bed a little earlier. Ideally, have two hours before bed to digest your food. Do you need to eat earlier?
In addition to the temperature, warm up food with spices. Ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves add flavor, but they have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and even antiseptic properties. Raw garlic contains allicin, which naturally attacks certain bacteria. Spices are taken with boiled milk that is still warm. The fat in the milk helps absorption, and the herbs facilitate the digestion of the milk.
Address dry skin and sluggish lymphatics with a full body oil massage (abhyanga). If you usually use coconut oil for this self-massage, switch to cured sesame oil. Skip the bottom of your feet, so the shower doesn’t turn into a slip and slide.
When it comes to exercise, meet your body where it’s at. Exercise stimulates the body to make more blood cells that fight bacteria. Therefore, avoid over-exercising as your body has to spend energy healing itself rather than fighting off illness. Try to add in a few calmer workouts, yoga is excellent, especially more restorative poses and yoga nidra. And if you can, time your exercise to greet the sun. Get outside for a walk, it doubles as a soothing movement practice and ensures your body is getting much needed vitamin D.
Meditation is one way to manage stress and decrease negative thoughts which trigger the release of stress hormones. When hormones trigger our immune systems, the cells become confused and may attack our bodies instead of bacteria. This process can contribute to autoimmune disease.
Pranayama or breathing practice is a powerful way to stimulate the calming side of our nervous systems. Consider alternate nostril breathing or nadi shodhana to prevent congestion.
Ayurveda compliments yoga philosophy and is a reminder that small lifestyle changes can improve immunity. One positive of the pandemic may be that we have more time at home to reflect; change of seasons is a great time to regroup. Think about the practices and routines you want to carry forward. What can you leave behind? Surrender to fall.
Candace Good, MD is a practicing psychiatrist and author of Own Your Present: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Mindful Meditation and Living a More Conscious Lifestyle. Dr. Good specializes in college and holistic mental health with additional training from Marharishi Ayurveda. She is a certified meditation teacher from The Veda Center. Follow her on Instagram @goodenoughdoc.