Ayurvedic Practices

4 Tricks to Stay Well During Cold Season

Keep cold and flu bugs at bay with these simple yet effective health tips.

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By Shannon Sexton

Keep cold and flu bugs at bay with these simple yet effective health tips.

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Keep cold and flu bugs at bay this fall by adding time-tested treatments from India’s ancient holistic science, Ayurveda, to your arsenal of preventative measures and remedies. According to this 5,000-year-old healing system, we all carry a balance of three different types of energies, or doshas—fiery pitta, airy vata, and earthy kapha. With the cold, dry air and erratic winds of fall, we tend to accumulate an excess of vata, which can weaken our immunity and leave us vulnerable to viruses. Ayurveda expert John Douillard explains: “As the mucous membranes dry out, the body produces reactive mucus (the stuff of runny noses), which disturbs the nasal environment for good respiratory microbes and becomes the breeding ground for colds and flus.”

See also 7 Tricks to Nip Allergies in the Bud

Soothe Your Sinuses 

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To keep excess vata from drying out your nasal passages and fostering bad bugs, lubricate the nasal passages with an Ayurvedic technique called nasya, or the application of oil. Larissa Hall Carlson, the dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, offers these instructions: On mornings and evenings when you feel a cold coming on, warm sesame oil, known to calm vata dosha in Ayurveda, by running the oil in the bottle under hot water. Lie down, tilt your head back, and apply three to five drops of the sesame oil into each of your nostrils. Or dip your finger into the oil and gently massage the insides of your nostrils with it.

Clear Your Lungs 

Practice gentle, complete yogic breathing, either when you start to feel sick or are already stuffed up, recommend Hall Carlson and Douillard. This form of deep breathing can loosen even heavy congestion from the lungs, according to Hall Carlson. And by deactivating the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces stress hormones, gentle, complete breathing can help you stay relaxed so you can get restorative rest. Breathing through the mouth, as you normally would when you have a cold, spurs stress and restlessness, explains Douillard. The complete breath goes like this: Take a slow, soft inhale through your nostrils, letting the air first fill the bottom of your lungs near your belly. Then let your lower ribs expand; finally, expand your chest. Without pausing, exhale through the nostrils in reverse: The air leaves your chest, your ribs contract, and your navel center pulls in.

Boost Your Immunity

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Drink one cup of tulsi (a.k.a. holy basil) tea daily for cold and flu prevention, and up to three cups when you’re coughing, sneezing, or fighting a fever, says Hall Carlson. This herb, widely used by Ayurvedic practitioners to treat colds and flus, reduces vata and removes excess kapha, which can manifest as mucus, from the lungs and nasal passages. Studies have found that tulsi also has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that can fight germs and reduce stress.

Limit Screen Time 

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Another time-tested Ayurvedic tip is to give your sensory organs a rest when you have a cold. “One of the mistakes people make is that they do movie marathons, bombarding the senses, which are governed by vata, and the mind with information that needs to be digested,” says Hall Carlson. “That takes your energy away from fighting a bug.” Instead, limit your screen time, spend time in silence, and do a relaxation practice such as yoga nidra, or restorative yoga, she suggests.