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Ayurveda and Immunity in the Time of Covid

Five people are exposed to the common cold coronavirus. Two remain symptom free, two develop a cold and for one, the cold triggers an asthma attack. Is the virus responsible, or is it the body’s immune response?

As we go into the third year of the pandemic, there is unprecedented loss, grief, stress, and uncertainty. Immunity remains the buzz word … What can Ayurveda offer to the world at this time?

Ayurveda and Prevention

The 5,000+ year old science of life, Ayurveda has sound concepts modern medicine considers as the new frontier—lifestyle, preventive, and personalized medicine, with a focus on holistic and mental health, chronobiology, epigenetics, immunity, acknowledging the gut-brain connection, sustainability, and consciousness-based medicine.

Ayurveda is to quantum physics what modern medicine is to classical science. It also has a detailed protocol for epidemics (Janapadodhwamsa Vyadhi). Combining Ayurveda’s preventive protocol with modern medicine in an integrative approach would be very helpful at this time.

When India was hit by a devastating second wave, the founder of Art of Living, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar called for a heroic response, “From availing of vaccinations, which is a must, it is necessary to cultivate hygienic habits and a disciplined lifestyle to stem the spread of this highly contagious virus. Our foremost responsibility is to strictly follow all prescribed protocols to keep ourselves and those we come in contact with, safe. There is no vacation from wisdom. Bringing the pandemic under control requires collective action. Everyone must do their bit. The escalating global health crisis has reinforced the need for equipping our inner self-defense mechanisms too. Make sure you sleep enough, work out and meditate. Stress and anxiety weaken your immune system. Making asanas, pranayama, and meditation an integral part of daily life can change not just one’s physical chemistry but also make the mind peaceful and resilient. A strong mind can pull a weak body, but a weak mind will mess up even a strong body. ”

Ayurveda’s Theory of Immunity—Salutogenesis

The uncertainty of progression of COVID19 or for that matter any disease such as dengue fever or Tuberculosis make the Ayurvedic theory of immunity truly relevant; a focus on (strengthening) the host rather than the pathogen.

The Ministry of Ayush (which governs Ayurveda in India where it is a form of mainstream medicine) has used the term salutogenesis in the context of host-defense in COVID-19, which is not a new concept. The aim is to focus on individual healing and health creation, a reverse process to pathogenesis, the process of disease and illness generation. In Ayurveda, immunity is Vyadhikshamatva or Bala (strength), a comprehensive approach mentioned in the root text, Charaka Samhita, as managing both health and disease. It is the resistance of the body-mind complex by either

  • Vyadhi-Utpada-Pratibandhakatvam—Preventing the manifestation of a disease, or
  • Vyadhi-Bala-Virodhitvam—Withstanding the severity or progression of the disease.

The objective would thus be to stay healthy; to strengthen the individual, so they do not fall sick or recover faster (without complications) if they do. Ayurveda classifies immunity into three types, Sahaja, correlated to natural or genetic immunity, Kalaja, related to time, season, or age and Yuktikruta immunity, acquired through consistently improving nutrition and lifestyle (Pathya Aahar Vihar). It also emphasizes managing comorbidities like chronic diseases, obesity and their underlying causes which impair immune function and render us vulnerable to infection.

Healthy immunity is correlated with good Ojas; a dynamic process involving resilience, and vitality. Ojas is the end process of digestion, metabolism, and creation of tissues or Dhatus. A healthy Agni (digestive and metabolic fire) is therefore key in determining our Ojas. When our Agni is impacted, Ama or toxins accumulate and make us susceptible to diseases.

Five Ways to Boost Your Immunity During the Pandemic

These guidelines include Ministry of Ayush recommendations for prophylaxis based on research, evidence, clinical experience and classical texts. They are updated to incorporate lessons learnt and while they may seem simple, they have a scientific rationale, for instance Nasya therapy ‘cleanses, purifies and strengthens the nasal passages, likely to act as a ‘physiological mask’ and may prevent virus fatty acid layer adherence to the moist mucosa of the nasal or oral cavity (Tillu et al. 2020).

1. The Three pillars (trayopstambh), Nutrition, Sleep and Lifestyle

Nutrition. Eat easy to digest, fresh and nutritious food. Junk, polyunsaturated fats, fried and processed or cold food, sodas, white sugar, white flour or too much alcohol inhibit phagocytosis (destruction of pathogens by white blood cells) and suppress immunity.

Stay hydrated, drink lukewarm water.

Have Ayush Kwath Herbal Tea once or twice a day.

Have golden milk (1/2 tsp turmeric in 150 ml milk once or twice a day).

Spices like turmeric, cumin, coriander, dry ginger, and garlic are recommended for cooking.

Sleep.  Get at least 7-8 hours and avoid daytime sleep. According to CDC, 1 in 3 people are not getting adequate sleep, the most healing mechanism of the body. In a UCSF sleep study where the common cold virus was injected in the nostrils of healthy people, it was found that people who slept seven hours were significantly less likely to fall sick than people who slept five or six hours.

A balanced lifestyle. Brahmacharya is the third pillar of health that one focuses on restoring during a pandemic. It does not mean being celibate; it implies connecting with the Brahman or a higher purpose and encourages living in harmony with nature, with yourself, your community, being engaged in service and cultivating a positive frame of mind or Sattva Bal.

2. Daily routine (Dinacharya) and Seasonal Regimen (Ritucharya)

Oil pulling.  Swish 1 tsp–1 tbsp of sesame or coconut oil in your mouth for two to three minutes, spit it out and follow with a warm water rinse. 

Pratimarsha Nasya or daily Nasya. Nasal application of sesame or coconut oil or ghee in both nostrils, morning or evening.

Yoga and pranayama. Practice yoga and yogic breathing for at least 30 minutes daily. These practices can significantly reduce inflammation, enhance immunity, and help you attend to your mental health. Break a sweat, exercise, and try and get outdoor exercise where possible to enhance Vitamin D production which bolsters functional immunity.

Dhoopana Karma (fumigation) with herbs like Turmeric, Haritaki and Jatamansi.

Attend to your mental health. Read more about the Ayurvedic approach here.

Follow Protocols. Frequently wash and sanitize your hands, wear masks, and socially distance where advised. As Gurudev says, “ Interestingly, our traditional ways such as joining hands in greeting and the emphasis of Patanjali Yoga Sutra on shaucha (purity and cleanliness) show that these practices have been around for thousands of years. By being responsible you will protect not only yourself but also many more people and reduce the burden on already overwhelmed medical facilities and frontline workers.”

Dry cough and sore throat. Gargle with warm water and a pinch of turmeric and salt. Try steam inhalation with plain water or fresh mint leaves or ajwain seeds once a day. Have cloves/Yashtimadhu powder mixed with natural sugar/honey two to three times a day. Do consult your primary care doctor or an Ayurvedic clinician.

Adopt Ritucharya guidelines. Adapt your regimen based on seasonal guidelines. Here are guidelines for balancing Kapha in late winter and spring which are Kapha (allergy) seasons.

3. Cleansing or Shodhana (including Panchakarma). Cleansing is considered a superior form of prophylaxis during pandemics. Seasonal transitions are considered a good time to cleanse, and, in the US, spring is the best time to cleanse but you could try one of our home cleansing programs at any time that is convenient for you.

4. Immune boosting herbs and formulations. Sri Sri Tattva’s Immunity Kit with Kabasura Kudineer for prophylaxis (recommended by Ministry of Ayush for COVID-19 management) and its proprietary Shakti Drops is your shield during the pandemic. Rasayana or rejuvenation is a concept of immunity and longevity in Ayurveda using immunomodulatory herbs and formulations that are researched for their SARS-CoV2 potential of phytoconstituents using network pharmacology and docking (like Amruth, Kabasura Kudineer, Chyawanprash, etc.). Another facet of Rasayana is Achara Rasayana; staying positive, volunteering, aligning with human values and meditating which is like the concept of psychoneuroimmunology in modern medicine. For an individualized regimen or before taking any formulations, please consult one of our Ayurvedic Practitioners.

5. Meditation. WHO classifies stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century and the pandemic has only exacerbated it. While ‘fight/flight’ is an adaptive and healthy response, chronic stress leads to production of stress hormones that reduce the lymphocytes in the body and suppress the immune system. Slow down, connect with nature, indulge in creative pursuits, and meditate daily. Meditation is one of the most powerful ways to enhance immunity.

A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin showed that meditation may be more effective than exercise at preventing a cold and flu. They also found that if you do get sick, meditation effectively reduces symptom severity. Another study found that compared to non-meditators, those with an established meditation practice had higher levels of B lymphocytes and natural killer cells—cells the body uses to protect itself from foreign invaders. Even new meditators experienced similar benefits. A large-scale genomic study recently found that intense meditation uses a coordinated network of core genes and regulators including interferon-signaling which shows promise in antiviral and anti-cancer responses.

As we navigate the Omicron wave, we cannot predict the trajectory of the virus. There could be new variants with mutations that provide selective advantage, though one hopes mutations make SARS-CoV-2 less virulent. Unlike smallpox or polio, for now it doesn’t look like COVID-19 will get eradicated anytime soon and (while it could become politicized) we are all talking about the pandemic eventually becoming endemic. Take heart, we are in this together.

To quote Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, “Various epidemics, wars, pandemics, and natural disasters have challenged the human race before and they will keep coming, testing our ability to survive. Such times, as the one we are going through now, bring out qualities of the human spirit – its ability to endure and prevail and emerge stronger, kinder, and wiser. This is the time to invoke the valor in us, stand together and overcome once more. I pray for the safety and good health of all beings.”

A major takeaway from this is that one of the best ways to build immunity and resilience is meditation. We invite you to experience one of our powerful meditation retreats. There are multiple independent, peer reviewed studies about the efficacy of SKY breath meditation taught at the Art of Living Retreat Center in improving vagal tone and enhancing immunity. 

Signature Meditation Retreats

Whether you are new to meditation and mindfulness, or refreshing an existing practice, there are far-reaching benefits to going on a retreat.

Disclaimer This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment or Ayurveda advice, assessment or management. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and seek the advice of your Ayurvedic practitioner for any disease management related queries using the Ayurvedic process. Any links to third-party websites are provided as a convenience only and neither the author nor AOLRC is responsible for their content.

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