From simple ways to prevent seasonal colds and flu with herbs such as tumeric and lifestyle advice such as resting and staying warm during the winter months, to a comprehensive philosophy of life, Ayurveda offers a wealth of wisdom.
"Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere."
Nature is what we are here to discover. The nature that is us, inside and apparently outside of us. There is no separation. There is God. We are it. There is innate organizing power operating in nature. We see it everywhere, we know of it even in the unseen.
We are in and of nature. As we come to know ourselves more fully, we come to know the beauty and limitless abundance of nature. As we come to revere and honor nature, we discover our place within the wheel of life. We start to act in harmony with nature, with people, with all that is. Separation dissolves. There is no longer nature and us, or even you and I. We know and honor the connectedness that we are.
In the practice of Ayurveda we observe nature to learn about ourselves. If we look to nature for clues and are able to let go of the social or unconscious patterns that run us, we will learn to open our senses and wake up to what we can do to live in harmony throughout the year. In this time of the year we can minimize the colds, flu, and respiratory ailments that many have come to regard as “normal” in the winter season.
In Ayurveda we don’t treat “a cold”, rather we look to discover the nature of the person, the nature of the ailment, and the nature of the remedy.
For example we may have 3 different people complain about a cough.
VATA: The first has a dry spasmodic cough without much mucous. She is a busy mother and artist. We notice she can hardly sit still because of all the demands on her time and attention. Her space is filled with different projects, mostly unfinished. You ask about one which she enthusiastically tells you about, so willing to extend her precious energy. You notice she has dry chapped lips and her thin frame wracks when she coughs. This woman is a vata (air) type, with a vata (dry) cough.
She would benefit most from rest. She needs support to be able to rest. Demulcent food and herbs (flax seeds, slippery elm, or licorice (an anti-microbial, soothing, stimulating expectorant) to balance the dryness in her system, antispasmodics bringing respite from the coughing, which will allow a deeper rest, and mildly laxative foods to keep her elimination moving are indicated. Her diet should be moist, warming, and easy to digest. Lots of ginger, lemon and honey.
PITTA: Your second friend has more of a fiery or pitta nature. She is normally a super together business woman, definitely type “A!” Her cough is accompanied by a fever and greenish-yellow mucous. This indicates infection and excess heat in the blood. Cooling bitters that aid liver function are indicated. Put some burdock and kale in a soup with some spices that promote digestion without increasing the heat in the system; cumin, coriander, and fennel all serve this purpose. Turmeric is an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory liver tonic. Echinacea is a specific antibiotic herb and a diaphoretic (increases perspiration) used to detoxify the blood in infectious conditions. Cool cloths on the forehead and a foot massage with coconut oil, which is cooling, will help to reduce pitta fever and inspire some much needed rest as well.
KAPHA: Your third friend is a big kapha guy. Usually warm and embracing, he is totally out of it. He is very lethargic and has a deep cough with purulent white mucous. His needs are very different than your other friends. He needs some stimulating and drying foods and herbs. Things that will dry up mucous (ginger, elecampane, sage) and increase circulation (ginger, clove, cayenne). The concern with this type of cough is the tendency to settle into the lungs turning into pneumonia. So, perhaps some hot towels with eucalyptus or camphor essential oil over the chest area along with some percussive massage to break up mucous and get it moving out of the body. Foods should be spicy! Yoga asana to open the chest, anything that stretches the ribs is very good.
The three scenarios above illustrate the very individual way Ayurveda looks at people to determine lifestyle recommendations to promote healing and balancing. There are also some broad strokes in an Ayurvedic approach, which include simple things like balancing the qualities that are predominant in the season. Use your senses to seek balance. This will be the greatest preventative any time of year.
Winter is the time of year for us to retreat. There is less light and more reason to snuggle up by a warm fire and take more time for deep rest. If we look at nature, we will see this pattern over and over. Many animals go into hibernation for the entire winter, many plants and trees go dormant. They aren’t dead...they are resting, gathering strength and deep nourishment from the earth.
During this season it is time to build up our immunity with the use of tonic foods and herbs. The springtime will emerge soon enough, and that will be an ideal time to cleanse. For now, lots of warm nourishing soups with winter vegetables, beets, carrots, yams, winter squash, shiitake mushrooms, onions and garlic. Whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, seasonal fruits, and high quality oils should predominate in the winter months.
You will also benefit from warming herbs and spices. Warm spices help to burn up excess mucous in the system. Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, mustard seeds are all warming spices that will delight your senses and increase warmth.
Ginger and turmeric are both considered universal medicines in Ayurveda. Ginger is warming and clearing, helping to open the tissues and allow better circulation both for nourishment and for detoxification. Brew a pot of ginger tea by grating fresh ginger into spring or filtered water and simmer, after removing from the heat add juice of a lemon, some honey and drink throughout the day to increase metabolism and circulation and prevent or address colds, coughs, or sore throats. A gargle with some warm water and turmeric is soothing at the first sign of a sore throat too.
An article on winter care would not be complete without mentioning a few more allies; hawthorn berry, elderberry and vitamin C. Both hawthorn and elderberries are high in certain flavenoids making them anti-viral and antioxidant. Taking syrups or extracts of these are beneficial in a multitude of ways. In Ayurveda we like our vitamins to come from plant sources rather than vitamin pills. If you notice, right as the cold weather starts, the citrus comes into season! Nature is glorious! Receive the gifts she offers you!
Other preventative lifestyle practices for the winter are keeping the sinuses open with the use of warm water with a pinch of salt using a neti pot, being sure to oil the nasal passages with a little sesame oil on your finger afterwards, or by using herbal nasya drops following the neti. This keeps the mucous membranes lubricated allowing the free flow of prana that we receive on the breath. This practice done regularly during the winter may reduce asthma or allergy symptoms in the spring.
One of the most important factors in staying healthy and vibrant is peace of mind. What are the things you do to release stress? Enjoy a sauna, hot baths with herbs or essential oils, and getting enough exercise regularly to promote sound sleep. I love to take a hot water bottle to bed, or wrap up a hot stone and put it at the foot of the bed, both very good for vata. Fully receive the beauty of wintertime
The cause of all dis-ease can be found in how we live our lives everyday. The remedy for all dis-ease can also be found in how we live our lives everyday. It’s all part of the same circle, the circle of life.
Much love to you in this beautiful season, Myrica
"Myrica Morningstar, CAS, (Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist) /Ayurvedic Sadhaka, is an Ayurvedic Practitioner offering a full range of Ayurvedic care
"Sadhaka" refers to one who practices sadhana, our everyday activities done with heightened presence as a spiritual path. Myrica can be contacted at (541) 840-5272 -Kauai firstname.lastname@example.org