Natural Ways to Enhance Immunity During Cold and Flu Season

"The trees say ‘yes' to every season. When spring comes, they say "yes" and flower. When summer comes, they say ‘yes' and become dry and thirsty. When fall comes, they say ‘yes' and are ready to drop their leaves. To say ‘yes' means to surrender to every thought, feeling, emotion. It means to let go and letting go is a journey toward the heart."

- Dr. Vasant Lad, from ASP notes, Winter 2001


Ayurveda is the science of life, and as such it has studied how the life-span of living things, especially human beings, can be increased. Through the application of its wisdom we can restore, maintain, and enhance our functioning. The goal of Ayurveda, in this and every season, is balance, which is experienced as well-being and longevity. Ayurveda is not a system of healing in which everyone does the same practices. In fact, rarely are two programs exactly alike. Ayurveda sees each person as an individual with a different internal balance of energy called one's constitution. It focuses on the physiology of the individual and attempts to make it perfect. This is the essence of natural healing.

The ultimate goal of Ayurveda is to assist us in attaining and maintaining perfect health so that our minds and bodies eventually disallow disease without intervention. For most mortals, this is a lofty goal, and even if we are disciplined and brave enough to strive for it, the assistance of herbs, diet advice, and lifestyle tips is most helpful along the way to its attainment.

To achieve or restore balance, Ayurvedic medicine suggests that we focus on the body rather than the disease. When devising a treatment plan our individual state of health, rather than a generic disease, is most heavily considered. So, for example, rather than recommending that one receives a cold or flu shot, Ayurvedic practitioners are likely to suggest that you take natural preventative measures such as formulated herbs, yoga postures, proper diet and lifestyle regimens, and massage and breathing techniques. This enhances your natural resistance (known as Ojas) and supports the body in discouraging unwanted bacteria, viruses, and other predators from manifesting into common seasonal afflictions like colds, flu, fever, congestion, muscle soreness, etc.

While it is recommended that you solicit the advice of an Ayurvedic practitioner, there are some simple steps that you can follow to help stay healthy this fall and early winter season. Here are just a few ideas:

  • If you enjoy hiking, the allure of deciduous trees as they proudly boast their final display of bright Autumn hues can be quite difficult to resist. So, as you brave the chilled air to enjoy the fall foliage, please take proper precautions to stay protected from the seasonal temperatures. Be sure to cover your head and hands and don't forget to bring a thermos filled with warm herbal tea (cumin-coriander-fennel is ideal) if you take an extended trek.
  • It is common to move into a heavy and more grounding diet at this time of year, one that is rich in root vegetables and hearty soups and stews. This is a healthy diet option, but may cause digestion and elimination to be impaired. If you support for constipation or gas, consider herbal formulas like Triphala and Vata Digest. Triphala promotes regularity while Vata Digest is beneficial for healthy digestion.
  • Limit stressful activities. If you are habitually subjected to stress, consider daily use of herbal adaptogens, like Ashwagandha to combat stress. This class of herbs is known for possessing "universal defense actions" that increase all-around resistance and strengthen the entire body's defense mechanism.
  • When under stress, choose light, well-cooked food and warm liquids; being sure to eat slowly and consciously.
  • If you habitually juggle too many tasks, this usually results in depletion of natural energy. This commonly contributes to cravings and overuse of coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, nicotine, and other stimulants. Observe your patterns and try to make room in your day for healthier alternatives like deep breaths, relaxation, and rest. Over time, this can significantly support your immunity while simultaneously reducing your dependency on stimulants.
  • Never underestimate the power of daily self-massage. Take some time every day to treat yourself to a heated oil massage. It takes just minutes, but is an effective way to combat physical and mental stress, decrease the effects of aging and improve overall wellness. Our website has specific instructions for the application of warm oil to your skin.
  • Meditate. Spending five minutes a day in meditation is better than none at all. So, if you can, spend some time sitting quietly. Ideal times to sit are either when you first wake up or just before bed.
  • Enjoy a daily dose of Chyavanprash. This herbal jam is a rich source of anti-oxidants that nourishes, strengthens and provides energy and vitality.
  • Practice Surya Namaskara, the sun salutation, or other warming yoga routines. Plough, elevated lotus, yoga mudra, headstand and locust are some postures that you may want to consider adding to your routine.
  • Do not skimp on sleep. Getting adequate sleep can make you better equipped to deal with the demands of stressful times and keep your immunity strong. If you are having trouble sleeping, you may want to consider Tranquil Mind, which promotes sound, restful sleep without creating dullness or lethargy. A warm cup of spiced milk (you can try cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom) may also do the trick.

These are just a few of the many things that you can do to give your immunity a natural boost. If you are familiar with the Ayurvedic tenet of "like increases like," using it to guide you through the season is an ideal way to achieve perfect health.

Here's an example of putting this tenet into practice: because both vata and the fall season share the qualities of coldness, lightness, mobility, and roughness, vata is the dosha most likely to become imbalanced during the fall and vata conditions such as dry, cracking joints; constipation; fear and anxiety; lack of direction; and muscle and joint pain are more common. To foster greater balance, indulge in activities, foods, and herbs that provide opposite qualities. If possible, avoid dry climates and foods, prolonged fasting, insufficient food intake, flying, rough foods such as dry toast or most beans, too much movement, high altitude, raw vegetables, leftovers, dry uncooked foods, and exposure to wind.

These simple measures will help to keep you in balance throughout the season. For more specifics, you can visit our Balancing Vata page. November is an ideal time to strive to attain balance because the approaching seasonal transition into winter is typically a more challenging time for maintaining health. If you achieve balance now, chances are you will be strong enough to resist illness throughout the winter as well.

I hope this finds you happily and healthfully enjoying the richness and abundance of the harvest season while looking forward to playing in the snows of winter.