Ayurveda for PreventionAyurveda primarily functions as a preventive science. This holistic approach to medicine outlines specific dietary and lifestyle practices for achieving body, mind and spirit health and aims to prevent diseases from arising in the first place. This differs from conventional Western medicine, which often focuses on treating symptoms after they've arisen, rather than preventing them from arising in the first place.
Ayurveda Concepts of ImmunityThe Ayurvedic theory of immunity is called beej-bhumi which translates as “seed and land.” The body is seen as fertile land in which infections or harmful “bugs” can grow. If diet, digestion, and lifestyle are balanced and strong, a substance called ojas will predominate in our body. Ojas has a strengthening effect on your immune system and when it is adequate, the seeds (or harmful bugs) find it hard to take root. But ojas doesn't just help us resist physical illness. Its power is such that it can help us prevent or eliminate both mental and spiritual changes that would not serve us. Ojas effectively helps to prevent anything that might cause an imbalance and contribute to disease. If one has a lot of ama or toxic buildup - which is the result of incomplete digestion, an imbalanced lifestyle, or overexposure to environmental toxins - then your body has low ojas or immunity and cannot function optimally, allowing viruses and harmful bacteria to find fertile soil for their growth.
How To Use Ayurveda for ImmunityAyurveda is truly a comprehensive science, and evaluates all aspects of living in order to maintain health. Use these tips from Ayurveda as a guide for improving immunity:
Improve DigestionAs noted above, your digestion is responsible for increasing ojas. Keeping your agni or digestive fire functioning optimally is important because it enables you to assimilate and extract nutrients from foods. If your digestion is weak, you cannot receive nutritional substances that are needed to fuel your body's health. In addition, a compromised digestion can lead to undigested food, which can cause a build up of ama (toxins), leading to decline in immunity and health. Follow these tips to improve digestion:
- Make meals easy to digest. Favor warm, cooked, well-spiced foods. Warm foods that are cooked well with lots of herbs and spices are easier for the body to digest.
- Eat your largest meal of the day at lunch. Your digestive fire is strongest in mid-day when the sun is highest in the sky. Take advantage of this time to eat your largest meal. By dinner time, your digestive fire has weakened so eat a lighter meal, like soup or sauteed vegetables and grains, and allow several hours for digestion to complete before you go to sleep.
- Eat with mindfulness. How, where and when we eat is just as important as what we eat. So, be sure to eat in a calm, happy, seated, distraction-free environment. Also, try to maintain a regular eating schedule in which you eat at consistent times each day. This helps train the body for digestion.
Eat plenty of fresh, wholesome foods.To keep your body healthy, it's important to fuel it with fresh, wholesome foods. Choose organic fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and fats (especially Ghruta). These foods will nourish your body and help you build your ojas and immunity. In addition, avoid processed foods, preservatives, sugars, and inferior oils. All of these foods contribute to ama build-up in the body which decreases immune system function and aids inflammation.
Reduce StressStress hormones suppress the immune system, which is is why reducing stress is essential to immunity. You can have a perfect diet and otherwise healthy lifestyle, but if you have high levels of stress, your body won't be able to fight infection well. Evaluate the major stressors in your life and look for ways to reduce or decrease their effects. In addition, create time and space for self-care. Try to devote attention each day to activities that make you feel good and reduce stress (e.g. yoga, meditation, abhyanga, hobbies, etc.).
Get Quality SleepSleep is essential to immune system functioning. If you don't have sufficient sleep, your body cannot produce the cytokines and antibodies that fuel the body's first line of defense. Quality sleep is achieved by the amount of hours you are sleeping, the time you are sleeping, and the level of rest you achieve. Although the number of hours you sleep can differ slightly based on your dosha or constitution, the average person needs 8 hours (both under-sleeping and over-sleeping are detrimental to our health). In addition, Ayurveda says the best quality sleep occurs when we go to bed by 10pm and wake by sunrise. Therefore, a general recommendation is to sleep from about 10pm to 6am daily. Quality of sleep is also affected by a variety of internal and external factors. Some of the biggest factors include temperature, light, noise, stress and caffeine. We should strive to sleep in peaceful, cool, dark and quiet environments, and minimize our stress and caffeine intake. It’s also important to minimize bright lights before bedtime as this can have a negative impact on our circadian rhythms.
Engage in Moderate ExerciseMoving the body every day is vitally important to encourage blood flow and circulation. Try to engage in moderate exercise daily, like asana practice and walking. Strenuous workouts or sports can actually tax the body and the breath, depleting Prana. Learn how to use yoga for immunity.
Keep Your Doshas BalancedOne of the most fundamental aspects of Ayurvedic medicine is the dosha system. Each individual has a certain constitution, often referred to as their dosha. Everything that we do either directly contributes or detracts from our dosha balance. In Ayurveda, disease only occurs after the body and mind have been imbalanced for some time. After a while, the imbalance starts to manifest as physical symptoms, which eventually become disease. That's why it's important to understand what your constitution is so you can learn about the foods and activities that help you maintain balance.
Adjust for the SeasonsIt's important to note that seasonal changes can impact our ama susceptibility and health. During the transition between one season and another, our digestive fire fluctuates. This can lead to incomplete digestion and the build-up of ama. If we neglect to adjust our diet and lifestyle to the new season, ama becomes more prevalent in our bodies. This is why illnesses are high in the autumn and early spring. Learn more about how to stay healthy in fall (Vata season), and in spring, (Kapha season).
Commit to Positive Lifestyle PracticesIn Ayurveda, a consistent dinacharya (daily routine) is essential for maintaining health and balance. That’s because routines help cement our circadian rhythms, allowing for better bodily functioning. Some key elements of a daily routine include:
- Abhyanga, or Ayurvedic massage, is an important practice that can help to improve your overall immunity. Abhyanga helps to stimulate and open the various energetic channels in the body while also reducing stress, encouraging detoxification through lymphatic drainage and calming the mind. Daily massage allows energy to freely circulate and prevents blockages from occurring, and this will significantly improve your immune health.
- Meditation calms the nervous system, decreases stress, and encourages mindfulness, which help to protect ojas.
- Pranayama helps encourage the proper absorption of prana from the air and encourages it to spread throughout the body. Much like every part of our body requires oxygen, every part of our body requires prana - just as much, if not more so. One of the foundations of pranayama involves retaining the breath, allowing the blood to absorb significantly more prana than it would during a normal breathing cycle. By directly increasing your supply of prana, you'll be able to improve the functioning of all your different bodily systems, including your immune system.
Incorporate Ayurvedic Remedies and HerbsThere are many different Ayurvedic remedies and medicines that are specifically developed to help improve immunity. These are some of the most powerful.
- Chyawanprash. Chyawanprash is one of the most powerful immune boosting Ayurvedic medicines you can take daily. This polyherbal jam contains a huge variety of health enhancing herbs, which are carried in a base of ojas-boosting Ghruta, honey, jaggery, and sesame oil.
- Golden milk is a sweet and delicious Ayurvedic recipe that helps to nourish ojas and boost immunity. All you need is a cup of whole, organic, grass-fed milk (oat milk is a great alternative, as are nut milks) mixed with a teaspoon of turmeric powder, a sprinkle of black pepper, and a bit of Ghruta. You can sweeten with honey if you'd like
- Ayurvedic herbs for immunity, like turmeric, cumin, holy basil, gotu kola, and ashwagandha.