Flu season is in full force this year, and for many it’s too late to talk about prevention. But Ayurveda has some time-tested tips and tricks to get you well sooner. Here, Larissa Hall Carlson and John Douillard, co-leaders of our Ayurveda 101 course, share their best advice for combating the virus.
Tulsi is considered one of the most purifying Ayurvedic herbs. When it comes to colds and flus, tulsi can help reduce headaches and fevers, relieve congestion, and support digestion. “Mildly warming, tulsi is known for soothing the nerves, supporting healthy emotions, and enhancing mental clarity,” Carlson says. “It’s also a great tea when going through rough times in life.” Carlson recommends that people fighting the flu try drinking one or two cups of tulsi a day, and that the original flavor is the best at helping fight a cold. Note: Carlson says to avoid tulsi during pregnancy or high-pitta conditions like acid reflux or hot flashes.
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Turmeric is an immune-boosting spice. “There may not be a better herb to amp up the immunity needed fight off a flu, as it boasts natural anti-viral properties as well as energy-, mood-, and digestion-boosting properties,” Douillard says. At the first sign of the flu, simply mix together equally parts raw honey and turmeric powder. Take 1 teaspoon of the paste every few hours. “To make the formula more potent, mix 16 parts turmeric to 1 part black pepper and make a paste with raw honey, and you’ve got a pretty amazing remedy,” Douillard says.
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Ginger tea is good for more than your digestion—it is also a powerful expectorant and helps get rid of phlegm (kapha dosha). “Try a cup of this pungent, warming tea to expel congestion, reduce gas and bloating and support good circulation,” Carlson says. Its robust kick makes it a great caffeine-free choice for burning off mental fog, enhancing alertness, and sharpening focus while bogged down with the flu.” To make your own ginger tea, Carlson recommends steeping three to five slices of fresh ginger in hot water. Note: Anyone with ulcers, inflammatory skin conditions, or bleeding disorders should avoid ginger tea.
See also Fresh Ginger Tea Recipe
This adaptogenic herb has been shown to reduce stress and boost the immune system. “An adaptogen, it helps restore the endurance, energy, and stamina we need to fight the flu,” Douillard says. “It is, however, not a stimulant. It is an herb with overall nervine tonic benefits—energizing the body when it needs it during the day and calming overactive nerves for easy and restful sleep at night.” To help fight the flu, take 500 milligrams of the whole root after meals. Note that it’s always wise to check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
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Gentle yoga can help when you’re feeling under the weather. Carlson says that vigorous pranayama is often too irritating when you’re sick, but practicing mindful breathing can clear congestion, enhance circulation, and restore a balanced energy flow throughout your body. Carlson recommends completing one to three minutes of Complete Yogic Breath, or Three-Part Breath (dirgha pranayama) several times per day. Here’s how: “Sit up or lie down with a long, straight spine,” Carlson says. “Direct the inhalation down toward the belly, then take in more breath to flare the ribcage, and finally take in a bit more breath for the upper chest (never force or strain), exhale thoroughly and begin again. The breath may feel heavy and resistant at first, but with mindful repetition, this simple practice can help clear, purify, and lighten the body and mind when most needed.” Once you feel up to it, Carlson says that “gentle, rolling-around- the-floor stretching” can help open up your chest, relieve stiffness, and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
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The skin is the largest organ of your body, and it can have up to 1 billion microbes per square centimeter. Not only that, but the sensory neurons on the skin can be aggravated by many different environmental factors, such as weather, stress, travel, clothing, and more. “Applying oil to the skin can calm these neurons and as a result the central nervous system, which needs a full tank of fuel when fighting the flu,” Douillard says. “Oiling the skin can keep the skin microbiome healthy, which in turn supports our immunity and the active communication between the skin microbes, the environmental microbes, the gut microbes and the function of the whole body.”
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Sun exposure can do wonders for your immune system. “People who get less sun exposure are twice as likely to get a cough and three times as likely to get a runny nose, compared to those with the most sun exposure,” Douillard says. The reason behind this is vitamin D3, which activates immune-boosting proteins. To make sure you are getting an adequate amount of vitamin D3, spend some time outside or supplement with 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day.
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This trick is a simple and effective Ayurvedic favorite. Gargling warm salt water not only helps loosen any stubborn mucus in the throat, it also cleans out bacteria and germs. “Dissolve a half teaspoon of high-quality Himalayan salt or sea salt into a half cup of warm water,” Carlson says. “Gargle for at least 30 seconds and repeat twice a day while sick, and at least once a day throughout the week after sickness has cleared up.” Note:Carlson recommends doing this rinse on an empty stomach and checking with your doctor if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. Make sure to clean the cup you use in between rinses to avoid bacteria building up.
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The flu can really run you down and compromise your immune system, making it harder to fight back against the virus. “The ability to employ your own immunity can be enhanced by delivering the immune-boosting nutrition we need by ingesting one of Ayurveda’s most famous rejuvenating formulas called Chyawanprash,” Douillard says. Chyawanprash has over 40 different herbs and is full of vitamin C and antioxidants needed to help fight off the flu.
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Combat the flu with healthy food. “Ayurveda treats symptoms with opposite qualities, so when bogged down with thick, heavy, sticky congestion, Ayurveda recommends eating light, clear foods,” Carlson says. Seek out clear broths, clear liquids, and vegetables that take on a translucent quality once they’re cooked, like bitter leeks, bok choy, celery, kale, and asparagus. Avoid foods that might be harder to digest, like meat, dairy, and sticky breads.
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