10 Ayurvedic Tips to Boost Your Immunity
Ojas: Boosting your Bliss through Seasonal Practices
You know when you feel on the edge of good health, where you are getting by okay, but not feeling completely vibrant and not thriving the way you believe you can? You may be experiencing chronic low immunity. What keeps the immune system strong may be a mystery to you if you eat right, rest well, and keep a regular yoga practice and yet still feel blah. True vitality from an Ayurvedic perspective says that the health of the seven tissue layers or dhatus which make up the human body are responsible for the state of our immunity. These tissue layers are Rasa (lymph), Rakta (blood), Mamsa (muscle), Medha (fat), Asthi (bone), Majja (bone marrow) and Shukra (semen/reproductive tissue). Each layer respectively feeds the next eventually determining our immunity. The final essence of building these seven tissues is called ojas.
Ojas is a Sanskrit word meaning life sap, immunity, radiance, inner vitality, vigor, or life juice. It is the essential substance or essence of the body that protects and sustains us and determines our emotional, physical and mental health and happiness. Excellent ojas comes from a consistent seasonal practice that honors the Ayurvedic principles of sustainable health and longevity. This is not something we can fake, manufacture or buy. It comes from a commitment to inner happiness, consciousness and a balanced healthy lifestyle. We build our ojas by feeding the tissues properly one layer at a time and by mindfully observing these practices.
Winter is the ideal season for nourishing the seven tissue layers of the body and building ojas. The healthy building up of these tissues is crucial to our longevity especially if we have become depleted through the year from disturbed metabolism, depression, mental stress, poor sleep, excessive indulgence and general prajnaparadha or ‘crimes against wisdom’ as well as overuse of pharmaceutical drugs and other intoxicants and general lack of self care. All these factors cause toxins to build in our body and we need proper digestion and rest to get us back on track and to maintain and build our vitality.
In the winter, ojas is boosted as our internal fire increases and nourishes us with a warm glow from within, protecting us from the cold. Because we are set up by Mother Nature to build, strengthen and nourish during this season, following a sound daily practice will go a long way in securing vital immunity for the year ahead. A daily practice for winter brings the sustenance much needed and most essential for thriving with the inert nature of this season. By eating warm, light and nourishing food and avoiding any type of fasting in winter you can sustain your health and build immunity for the coming spring season. By including rejuvenating herbs, and fortifying tonics with the appropriate daily and seasonal routines you can keep colds, coughs and other respiratory ailments at bay and also boost mental and emotional wellbeing. These restorative herbs and foods are known as rasayana or rejuvenating substances.
Wintertime is a beautiful opportunity for self-care. Our immunity is strengthened through rest and increased metabolic activity where we build our ojas. When our ojas is low and depleted we are beginning a cycle of compromised health but when it is strong, juicy and luscious we are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of inner and outer beauty.
Adjusting our diet according to the seasonal routines and needs of the body and following the Ayurvedic treatments for seasonal transitions, can prevent a build up of ama or toxins in the body. These deplete healthy tissues and lead to fatigue, low immunity and can eventually accumulate into more advanced disease states.
By refining our food choices, our practices and our mindset through the winter we can thrive all year round. As we prepare for spring when the snow begins to melt and the toxins in our bodies are ready to be softened and released, we shift our practices to detoxifying and letting go. In Ayurveda there is no one-size-fits-all philosophy. Learning from nature we align ourselves with the wisdom provided and by applying the practices we discover increased resistance to disease, more energy, tranquility, cheerful outlook, mental clarity and emotional balance.
That is the ultimate ojas!
10 Winter Immune Boosting Tips:
1. Eat light, warm foods.
2. Avoid eating or drinking anything cold, because cold foods and drinks will reduce the digestive fire.
3. Avoid heavy, difficult to digest sweets and fried foods. Enjoy sweet root vegetables, broths and soups.
4. Daily self massage in the morning with warm oils such as sesame or sunflower strengthens the skin and muscles and nourishes the tissues. This practice daily enhances a feeling of love and wellbeing.
5. Take warm baths in the evening with epsom salts and warming essential oils such as ginger, cardamom, eucalyptus, rosemary, cinnamon, cedar, pine, juniper, basil.
6. Include warming spices such as cardamom, ginger, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon in your foods.
7. Make sure to get enough sleep and avoid oversleeping.
8. Explore including in your diet, Ayurvedic rejuvenative herbs taken as teas or tonics such as: ashwaghanda, turmeric, triphala, amla (Indian Gooseberry), tulsi (holy basil), chyavanprash (an Ayurvedic formulation of rejuvenating herbs plus honey and ghee). All these are available at your health food store or online at various Ayurvedic herbal suppliers.
9. Enjoy warming and energizing exercise such as active yoga, walking, hiking, and snowshoeing. These enhance circulation and build strength.
10. Allow yourself space and time for meditative reflection, inner contemplation and pranayama practice.
Here’s to your health, a thriving winter and a juicy ojas!
Dinacharya: Your Daily Yogic Routine
Translating to “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit, Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old sister science of yoga that assists practitioners in leading their lives by way of intuitive rituals. In adhering to one’s specific needs, those utilizing the practice of Ayurveda fall into rhythm with the seasons of self, emulating Mother Nature’s transitions and revelations in spring, summer, fall, and winter.
The Ayurveda practice of dinacharya, or “law of nature,” consists of daily self-care routines, which provide structure for instilling balance and establishing cohesiveness in the physical, mental, and emotional bodies.
Dinacharya is based on the philosophy that human beings run on a biological clock dictated by the patterns of the sun and the moon; different times of day adhere to different types of energy. These energies, known as doshas, connect the body and the mind in functionality. Three doshas exist: vata, kapha, and pitta; each dosha is associated with elements found in nature.
The first and early waking hours of the day 2am to 6am, and their afternoon inverse 2pm to 6pm, are identified as vata, which is associated with the elements of air and ether, or a sense of lightness. Movement is incredibly important at these times, as they are both transitional periods. In the early hours of the morning, it is believed that sleep and dreams are most active and that we are most receptive to thought; in the afternoon, many experience the need to mobilize to reenergize, sparking creativity.
From 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm, it is said our kapha energy governs the manner in which we show up in the world. Kapha works in relation with earth and water, countering vata’s airiness with a sense of grounding.
Pitta energy runs its course through our systems during the hours of 10am to 2pm, and 10pm to 2am. Related to fire and water, waking pitta hours are correlated with high productivity. During the wee hours of the evening, typically the mind is resting, but the internal organs are vigorously cleansing the body, preparing us for the next day to come.
A Path to Balance
When the body and mind are in balance with these cycles, we experience a sense of contentment in all areas of our lives. As represented by the changes in even a matter of hours, the human condition is not static. It is not uncommon for one of the doshas to dominate at different points in time, regardless of where the dosha cycles suggest we should be landing on the energetic spectrum. We do not remain in a place of equanimity without putting forth awareness and effort, but it is possible to achieve balance through establishing a dinacharya routine.
Dinacharya practices help to establish congruence in our vata, kapha, and pitta energies.
When instability encroaches into our energetic cyclicality, we may feel noticeably “off” and over time, unbalanced physical, mental, and emotional bodies breed disease and dis-ease. Benefits of dinacharya can be experienced almost immediately, and can serve vitality for decades when adhered to properly.
Components of dinacharya can be incorporated into virtually any time of day, and can be quite extensive; according to Aryuvedic Physician Vasant Lad, there are nineteen steps composing a proper morning awakening of the physical and mental bodies alone. Many traditional dinacharya practices applicable to specific hours of the day can be adapted and become inputs to forming a consistent self-ritual.
Wake Before the Sun
This vata time of day is believed to be one of quiet connection. Once the sun is in the sky, the clock of Ayurveda ticks to kapha, signaling it is time to move and be productive. Waking earlier than you usually may begin the day offers a chance to connect energetically with self, rather than your inbox first thing.
Because the morning boasts fresh energy and serenity, this segment of the day has the potential to serve as an undistracted platform for meditation. Perhaps your sit consists of a few quiet moments, or maybe lasts a bit longer. Returning to a mindfulness practice at the end of the day allows for you to come full circle with your day’s experience, and is effective in supporting more restful sleep.
Finding time to be active throughout the day is important for maintaining balance and focus, as well as setting the stage for fulfilling the day’s requirements with ample energy.
In the morning, support the waking of your body in a way you enjoy, whether it be taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood, working with kriya, hitting the mat for Pilates, or devoting time to your yoga practice to energize or unfold slowly.
The afternoon is a prime time to get the blood flowing. After your largest meal of the day is consumed at lunchtime, give yourself at least 10-15 minutes for a walk or afternoon stretch to promote blood flow, ensuring the body and mind stay fired and inspired. Evening calls for gentler movement, such as a yin yoga practice, so that sleep may be gracefully eased in to.
This practice has been an aspect of dinacharya for thousands of years, and involves swooshing oil, such as sunflower or sesame, around your gums and teeth for 15-20 minutes each day, typically in the morning. Oil pulling is effective in removing toxins and parasites, which reside in the nooks and crannies between teeth, around the tongue, and in the gums.
These organisms not only affect the outer appearance of our pearly whites, but are often the root of inflammation and infection occurring throughout the body.
To reap the benefits of a brighter smile, clearer sinuses and skin, and healthier immune system, simply drink a glass of water upon waking, melt 1-3 tablespoons of an oil of your choice either on the stove or in your mouth, gargle for 20 minutes (this can be done while preparing breakfast or lunch, reading emails, etc.), spit, and rinse with water.
Known as Abhyanga in Ayurveda, self-massaging is often practiced as a component of dinacharya in either or both the morning and the evening. According to Sandhiya Ramaswamy, regarded Ayurvedic chef and educator, abhyanga, when performed daily, enhances balance in the energy bodies and overall longevity, calms the nervous system, softens skin, and tones muscle, amongst other benefits. Using warm oil, start at your scalp and work your way down the body using your fingertips and palms. Once applied, allow for the oil to marinate into your skin for five to ten minutes, and follow with a warm bath or shower.
This Ayurvedic technique requires a very small time investment, but pays greatly in its dividends. Using silk gloves or a dry skin brush, start at the feet and work your way up to the crown of your head. According to Dr. John Doulliard, director of LifeSpa.com, a leading resource in Ayurvedic wellness, brushing toward the direction of your heart drains the lymphatic system, and can help the body move waste more quickly and stimulate the burning of fat. This technique can be practiced preceding self-massage for added benefit.
Morning and evening meals should be light in comparison to your lunchtime consumption. Afternoon is the time of day most appropriate for intake of your heaviest meal, for several reasons. The digestive system has fully awakened, and the body has ample time to break down what has been consumed without interrupting your awakening or your sleep cycle. Agni, or digestive energy, is in full force; in order to keep the fire roaring, it is necessary to fuel adequately.
According to Monica Bloom, author of “In Your Elements: A Blooming Ayurvedic Guide to Creating Your Best Life,” a warm, vegetable-filled plate should be consumed at this time. Acknowledging this may not be ideal for meals eaten at work in terms of preparation, Monica suggests preparing a large batch of healthful dishes at night, eating a small portion for dinner, and bringing the majority on the go with you the next day to save both time and hunger pangs.
Head to Bed Early
It is recommended to begin your evening ritual around 8:30pm to ensure a restful transition into your evening rest. Unwinding with a book or a bath serves as a palate cleanser between the busyness of the day and the tranquility of bedtime. Establishing an early bedtime initiative for your self can also prevent late-night, metabolism-hindering snacking; around 10pm, pitta energy kicks back in which, when awake can spark hunger, when resting allows for full-body restoration.
The above are only a select few options on the full menu of dinacharya offerings. Taste one, taste all offerings; Director of Ayurveda Programs at Shankara Ayurveda Spa Medha Garud notes that the adoption of two dinacharya-inspired changes can make a difference when enveloped into your day-to-day routine. The implementation of a personal dinacharya ritual can serve as powerful and effective insurance for physical, mental, and emotional congruence and observance.