How Ayurveda Strengthens Our Immune System
By Samantha Case
The prevalence of Coronavirus is reminding many of us just how grateful we are for our immune systems, the self-regulatory system in the body that protects us from outside threats. Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine and healing, acknowledges that our bodies are inherently wise and want to take care of us, which is most prevalent in the way the immune system operates. In order for it to do its best job, we must properly support it.
However, many of us in Western society often neglect our immune systems until we experience what happens when they’re compromised–whether it’s a cold, the flu, or something more serious. The tendency then is to grab for a cure and suppress our symptoms with medications or other solutions.
On the other hand, the core teaching of Ayurveda is to address the root cause of our bodily issues rather than suppress their symptoms. Ayurveda encourages each of us to establish balance in our bodies and contribute to our health and wellbeing long-term so that the body is always capable of doing its best work. Like a farmer who tills the land, plants seeds, and waters those seeds until they grow into nourishment for the farmer, we must put in the effort and care to reap robust health and a strong immune system.
Ayurveda invites us to care for our bodies in the same way, and there’s no better time than now to accept that invitation and make decisions that support our immune systems. Below are three ways you can build your immunity right now and for the future.
Strengthen your digestion
To really understand the importance of digestion as it relates to the immune system, it’s important to have a basic understanding of Ayurveda. If this is the first time you’ve heard that mysterious word, then no need to worry, just stay with me and try not to get hung up on the new terms. Ayurveda is a complex system that takes time to fully understand.
A hardy immune system is dependent on the strength of our agni, or digestive fire. A healthy digestive system allows the body to properly absorb nutrients, distribute those nutrients to the appropriate parts of the body, and eliminate waste effectively and quickly. When the digestive system has the tools it needs to do its best job, it has a domino effect on the entire bodily system because each piece works together in magnificent harmony.
However, when the digestive system is neglected, it weakens and is unable to contribute effectively to the entire system (much like what happens at work when we haven’t gotten enough sleep). A weakened digestive system causes a backup of toxins in the system as a whole. These toxins are also referred to as ama (think of that icky, gooey tar between asphalt cracks), and it makes our immune systems more susceptible to outside invaders
When we have strong digestion, we build healthy tissues, have healthy bowel habits, feel lighter and better in general, and build ojas, the sanskrit word for immunity.
To strengthen your digestive system, build ojas, and build a resilient immunity army, practice these things:
- Eat at regular meal times.
- Eat foods that are easy to digest.
- Consume bitters to aid digestion (ZVeda produces several delicious and health-promoting bitters you can try.)
- Eat fresh foods that are locally produced.
- Avoid snacks between meals to give the digestive system time to properly absorb each meal.
Integrate a healthy diet
When there is balance between vata, pitta, and kapha doshas, there is proper functioning of the digestive system. One of the most effective ways to balance our doshas and therefore care for our digestive systems is to integrate a healthy diet into our lives.
If the body is like a vehicle (the most intelligent and beautiful vehicle you’ve ever seen), then the food we put into our bodies is like the oil we choose to power the vehicle. The higher quality the oil and the more specific it is to our personal make and model (our unique balance of vata, pitta, and kapha doshas), the more equipped our bodies are to work at their optimum.
There are many factors that contribute to a healthy diet, but here are a few primary suggestions according to Ayurveda:
- Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods.
- Take time to eat your meals slowly and mindfully.
- Embrace a variety of flavors and include spices.
Another efficient way to steer your diet in a healthy direction is to incorporate herbs into your daily meals. Some of Ayurveda’s top immune-boosting herbs include:
Relax, Release Stress and Get Enough Rest
At the beginning of this article we discussed building a strong digestive fire and balancing our doshas, and two key contributors to the high functionality of our fire and the balance of our doshas is relieving stress and receiving rest.
Just like the body digests food, it also digests our stress. High levels of stress throw off the digestive system, lead to increased toxins or ama in the body, and hinder the functionality of the immune system.
To properly process and eliminate stress in the same way the body processes food, it’s important to make adjustments to our lifestyles and incorporate habits into our lives that either reduce or support us in working through the stress. Here are a few powerful strategies to incorporate more ease into your life:
- Self-massage. Abhyanga, or self massage, is the practice of massaging your own body with oil. At ZVeda you’ll find a range of CBD infused herbal body oils that are dosha specific and are best used for self massage. For a more in-depth explanation of abhyanga, check out this brief explanation from our friends at The Ayurveda Experience. Massaging your body before bed is a great way to promote rest as it relaxes your body and creates a sense of heaviness before lying down for sleep.
- Meditation. Our bodies and minds respond immediately when we take time to tune into the breath and slow its pace, sharing both short term and long term benefits. When stressed, we enter flight or fight mode where our bodies believe there is an immediate threat in need of an immediate reaction. But more often than not, that’s not the case. By breathing slowly and deeply, we send our bodies a different message that everything is okay, and we give our minds an opportunity to slow down.
- Eating Healthy. Is this beginning to feel repetitive? That’s because your entire physical body, including your immune system, works in tandem with all your bodily systems so that when one aspect is weakened, it impacts the strength of everything else. Likewise, when one system is strengthened, it lifts the others. If your digestive system is overloaded or is not receiving proper nutrients, it influences your stress levels. To reduce stress through diet immediately, eat more whole foods and stay away from processed foods.
The Coronavirus is turning our attention toward the immune system and is encouraging us to support it too, not only in these times but for our long-term health and wellbeing. Thankfully, it is never too late to change our habits. By strengthening our digestion, incorporating a healthy diet into our lives, and relieving stress, we are well on our way to having an excellent immune system that will protect us now and in the future.
When we show gratitude for the immune system by giving it what it needs, it rewards us by keeping our bodies safe and healthy. Ayurveda gently and kindly reminds us that our bodies have a built-in intelligence that desires to take care of us, and all it asks in return is that we take care of it, too.