Guest post graciously contributed by Heidi Audet.*
If you live in a cold climate during the winter months, staying healthy can have its challenges. Since roughly 80% of our immunity comes from our intestinal health, it’s important that we nourish and support our digestion in ways that honor us. Thankfully, the science of Ayurveda recognizes this. It teaches us how to support our health with good digestion and assimilation of nutrients to keep our immune system strong. I think about my grandfather and his generation who used old time remedies based upon observation and sworn family testimony that helped keep a generation of grandchildren on the road to recovery from colds and flu. As I began to study Ayurveda, I was amazed at how many of my grandfather and grandmother’s folk remedies bore a striking resemblance to the suggested Ayurvedic treatments. After living and surviving many cold winters in the Adirondacks, they knew how to maintain their health. I can count on less than one hand the number of times in the 36 years knowing him that my grandfather had been sick with a cold or flu virus.
The one thing my grandparents never gave me when I was feeling the ill effects of the flu or a nasty fever was a cold drink. “Puts a chill in your bones,” my grandfather, Harold, would say. Like increases like, and he knew it, even though he never studied Ayurveda. My grandmother, Libby, would make me a homemade chicken bone broth when I lacked appetite, and my grandfather would brew me a nice hot cup of ginger tea, and many more to drink throughout the day while I was huddled under a mountain of covers resting. The concept was simple. Nourish, support, rest.
Tips for Building Immunity
Winter time is Vata time – air and ether dominant. When you look at the qualities that are present in this season – cold, light, dry, irregular, rough, moving, quick and changeable, and knowing that like increase like, the opposite qualities will help to mitigate the qualities of excess Vata. We need to slow down and create moisture, warmth, smoothness, stability and constancy.
Rest is vitally important. Follow a routine of bed by 10pm with 8 hours of sleep to recharge your immune battery. Winter activities can be refreshing and exhilarating, but as the body works to maintain warmth your energy can be depleted. Proper rest will help keep you healthy and aid in recovery from those illnesses that sneak up on you.
Another one of the keys to building a strong immune system is largely by paying attention to what you put in your body. In Ayurveda, a strong agni (digestive fire) is needed to help with digestion. Warming foods, especially when the season is cold, helps to kindle the fire. Cold foods and drinks act as dampers and diminish the firepower of your digestive function.
Ayurveda utilizes the Six Tastes – Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent and Astringent – to create balance in our immune and digestive systems. Each taste can have a therapeutic effect if done in moderation. Sweet has a nourishing effect on the body and supports tissue building; it helps to ground. This taste has a pacifying effect on Vata. Sour has an invigorating effect on the body, encourages the eliminatory response, and helps improve digestion while stimulating appetite. Salty taste encourages warmth, moisture and adds heat to the digestive process; in the cold, dry season of Vata, this proves beneficial. Pungency, in moderation, brings a heating quality. Use sparingly, though, as its other qualities of light and dry can increase Vata aggravation. Combined with the heavier taste of Sweet can help anchor Pungency. Bitter and Astringent’s drying nature can help clear out inflammation in the body, and congestion in the lungs and sinuses. In very limited quantities, these can help to thwart the congestive mucosal effect colds and flu has on the head and chest.
Below are a few remedies to bring balancing qualities to Vata and support winter wellness.
Turmeric Milk Drink
This recipe combines the sweet tastes of warmed milk, cardamom, ghee and cinnamon with the pungency of ginger and black pepper. Turmeric’s heating quality and bitter taste alleviates Vata.
1 cup fresh raw whole milk
1/2 inch minced ginger
2 whole cardamom pods, cracked
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cinnamon1 tsp of ghee
Add jaggery, maple syrup or turbinado sugar to sweeten spiced milk at end of cooking.
Bring the milk to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Add the ginger, black peppercorns and cardamom pods. Bring to a quick boil then reduce to simmer; add the turmeric, cinnamon and ghee. Heat for 3-4 minutes. Strain, add sweetener (optional) and drink.
My dear friend, Navita, shared this family recipe with me. Her mother used to make this for her when she was a little girl growing up in Punjab, India. Chickpeas are rich in zinc and contain the astringent quality; this helps with colds and bronchitis. Navita’s recipe was used to clear congestion in the chest, help with coughs and support the immune system during bouts of respiratory and digestive illness.) (Serves 7)
1 ½ cups of chickpea flour
2 cups of water
2-4 tbsp Jaggery or raw sugar (turbinado)
3 Tbsp of ghee
Saute ghee in saucepan. Add chickpea flour and when it turns brown (under 3 minutes), remove from heat and add the jaggery (or turbinado sugar) and water. Stir for 5-6 seconds. This sweet pudding can be used in place of a kichari during detox or cleanse.
My grandfather’s recipe was strong but effective. You may adjust the amount of ginger based upon your tolerance.
1-2 Tbsp of dried ginger
1 Cup of boiling hot water
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
Sweeten to your liking
Steep the dried ginger and lemon juice in the boiling water for 5 minutes. You may strain, or add more hot water once you drink down to the grounds. Once tea is cooled to warm, add honey or brown sugar to taste.
With warm, moist food and drink, proper balance of Ayurveda’s 6 Tastes and supportive rest, Vata season can be managed in a way to help bring about winter wellness and an enjoyment to winter. Happy Holidays!
*Heidi L. Audet is an ERYT, RYT 500 and AYS Torchbearer graduate.