On Keeping Well
On Staying Well…
The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.
- Thomas Edison
The temperatures have dropped here in Munich, an undeniable sign of the cold months ahead. Around the yoga studio, I am starting to hear the first sniffles and coughs of what may be for some a long season of either fighting off or recovering from one cold/flu/infection or another. For those of you who work in offices with tight quarters, closed windows and poor air circulation, getting sick at least 2-3 times per year may be expected. But is it? What if what you did now, while you are still feeling well, could prevent you from getting sick this fall and winter season?
As a freelancer who relies on my body for work, self-care practices to maintain my immune system are key to feeling fit and energetic ALL year. Before I learned about self-care in Ayurveda, I expected to get sick at least twice during the fall and winter. This resulted in days off work, money lost, and lots of expensive trips to the pharmacy and doctors office. Not only do we need time to recover physically from sickness, but also mentally and energetically, which can leave us steps behind whatever project we are working on, new ideas on the back burner or health and fitness goals we may have. I, for one, don’t have that kind of time to waste. I have a dharma to follow.. don't you?
So how do we maintain good health? According to Ayurveda, it is quite easy if we understand the 3 doshas, or primary energies contained in all living entities (including us) - Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth). The doshas control our own mind-body system, and nature at large. When these three doshas are in their individual balance within us, we feel healthy and happy in body and mind. When the doshas get out of balance through things like our diet, daily routine, or seasonal changes, sickness and disease can occur.
As fall is the season of vata (the air energy), if we want to stay healthy this “flu season”, we should focus on keeping her energy balanced. Here are my top tips to stay in balance over the next cold months, so you have maximum time living your purpose-filled life:
Eat for the Season
Cold weather increases digestive power, which we call Agni in Ayurveda. This means you can eat a little more and a little heavier than you would in spring or summer. If you eat too lightly, agni begins to break down body tissue and puts vata out of balance. Like increases like in Ayurveda and since vata is air, outside wind and cold increase its qualities . What counters this? Warm and nourishing foods like soups and stews, root vegetables and warm grains, warm teas and water with lemon. Add warm spices to your dishes such as cinnamon, fennel, anise, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, licorice, cloves, fresh ginger, parsley and basil. Favor "sweet", "sour" and "salty" foods. Avoid eating too much raw food like salads, raw vegetables and soups or dry foods like cold cereals, breads and grains and cold drinks.
Since vata has the properties of "cold" and "dry”, it can be pacified by heat and moisture. A great winter (and all year) practice is to massage your whole body with sesame or almond oil. Oil draws out bacteria and toxins like a moth to a flame.
Before you shower, cover your body with warm oil and leave it on the skin for a few minutes to let it penetrate. This will increase circulation and assist in the removal of toxins from the tissues of the body. Your skin will also stay moist all winter and look and feel awesome to the touch! Make sure to use old towels and make sure to scrub your bath or shower after.
Does your nose feel dry at the end of a work day? Or are you worried about that cold the coworker next to you seems to be fighting off, or about getting on a germ-filled plane? Oil your nose! Admittedly, this felt a bit strange to me at first too, but I do love being able to breathe through both nostrils, so this was enough of an incentive for me. It’s a simple 3-second habit you can stack on top of your current bathroom habits. Dip your finger in sesame oil and make a few rotations in each nostril or for deeper lubrication, get a small bottle and pour in.
Starting to get a sore throat? Swish coconut oil in your mouth for 5-10 minutes and then spit it into your trash can. “Oil pulling” pulls bacteria and toxins up that may have
otherwise made you sick. You can do this while checking email, making your morning tea, or getting changed. It doesn’t require your full concentration. J Added bonus is your teeth get cleaner naturally and whiter without the cost of nasty toxic bleaching strips.
Up your daily self-care game
Move your body. Our metabolism and vigor are stronger in fall and winter, which means we are physically more capable. Move every day for at least 20 minutes. Bike to work, take a brisk walk or run.
Eat at regular times. Regularity balances the air/movement-oriented nature of vata. Most people need 3 meals per day, spaced 5 hours between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner.
Get to bed early, at around the same time every night, and sleep 7-8 hours. Sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function. The more late-nighters you pull, the lower your body's ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections. The highest quality of rest is before 12pm, so get to bed early!
Meditate. Recent scientific research shows that meditation can activate parts of the brain that control positive emotions, awareness, and anxiety. These are also the areas of the brain that act as a command center for your immune system. When stimulated, they make the immune system function better. Meditation is also shown to reduce pro-inflammatory genes and increase antibodies that fight of strains of the flu. Sitting on your cushion for a few minutes each day pays off in a happier mind AND healthier body. Pretty cool.
Act today for how you want to feel tomorrow. :)