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Flu season is upon us once again, exacerbated by the fact many places are still dealing COVID. Are there things you can do at home as preventive remedies to keep these viral infections at bay? Yes!
A stuffy nose accompanied by a headache can bring you to a grinding halt. Apart from the loss of work, the constant dull pain in the head and discomfort in breathing through the nose can also affect your mood in undesirable ways. When you catch a cold or the flu, your first instinct is to grab a day- or night-based decongestant cough syrup, spray, capsule, or an inhaler. While they may work temporarily, they simply cover up the symptoms without really eliminating excess mucus from the system. The result is congestion shifting from nasal passages to congestion in the lungs, with wheezy breathing and phlegm that lingers for another few days. Some of the oral decongestants are also known to have side effects like anxiety, restlessness, and may even affect circadian rhythms. Experts also suggest that people with heart problems, kidney disorders, diabetes, thyroid disorders, prostate problems, and depression, be careful about using these meditations.
A healthy alternative comes in the form of simple and useful Indian home remedies found in timeless healing systems such as Ayurveda—promising total relief, elimination of the root cause of the discomfort, and faster recovery without the fear of lingering side effects. They also boost your immunity, which can be the most effective panacea to deal with this onslaught of seasonal and novel viral infections.
Ayurveda and Common Cold or Flu
Nasal disorders in Ayurveda are called Pratishyaya. Prati translates to the opposite direction— i.e., the direction in which it should not be headed in—and Shyaya refers to the flow of secretions.
Based on symptoms and constitution of the individual, you can determine if the common cold is caused by one or more imbalances in the doshas. The cold caused by vata vitiation will have a dry cough, hoarseness in the voice, and runny nose. When cold is due to pitta imbalance, patients may also have a fever, sore throat, nasal blockage, and dark yellow discharge. When it is caused by kapha imbalance, the mucus discharge is likely to be thick. Patients may also experience gnawing headaches.
Ayurvedic texts mention that the imbalance, and eventually the ailment, manifests primarily due to mismanagement of Ahar (diet) and Vihar (lifestyle). Other factors like environment, change in seasons, psychological or mental state of the person, and not attending to natural urges and genetic factors also play a role in why people catch a cold.
Ahar or Dietary Causes
Key dietary factors which may cause common cold or flu are
- Drinking too much water
- Drinking water that is too cold or too hot
- Consuming hot and cold food alternatively
- Consuming food that is unfavorable for the season or ritucharya and one’s dosha constitution.
Vihar or Lifestyle Causes
- Living in places with air below the room temperature
- Excessive or too little sleep
- Taking baths immediately after heavy meals
- Exposing the body to extreme temperatures alternatively.
Low Immunity or Ojas
Dosha imbalances, poor lifestyle choices, and a diet that does not support your dosha constitution, also affect agni or digestive fire. Weak digestive fire leads to sluggish metabolism and accumulation of toxins in the form of ama. When ama accumulates, microchannels in the body get blocked which generates a kapha imbalance that combined with ama creates mucus. This condition overworks the immune system, making it weaker. It creates a conducive atmosphere inside the body for viruses and bacteria to thrive.
When the immunity is strong, then viruses are fought back by the body’s fighter cells, even if they enter the body. A strong immune system is directly dependent on good digestion. Negative emotions like stress, anger, anxiety also cause the digestion and immune system to become weaker—making the body more prone to fever, cough, and cold.
Remedies for Cold and Flu
Despite taking all the precautions, if you still catch a cold and flu, Ayurveda has plenty of easy and natural remedies to help.
Toxin Flushing Through Hydration
It is important to eliminate the bedrock of toxins which makes your body a thriving ground for viruses and bacteria. Ayurveda recommends drinking warm water frequently when you have a cold or flu. This helps keep the body stay hydrated and flushes the toxins out of the system. The water should be tepid. Tepid water helps mobilize the mucus for effective elimination from the body. It also dissolves excess kapha. Experts also recommend sipping on hot water. Drinking too fast may bruise the esophageal lining.
Pranayama for Blocked Noses
Though you may have a nasal blockage, you can still practice pranayama techniques like Kapalbhati, Bhastrika, and Suryabhedi that can clear the nasal tract. Just do not overdo it. If cold is accompanied with fever then do not practice these techniques. Instead, with permission from your Ayurvedic physician, do a few rounds of simple deep breathing exercises.
Your body may not be very willing to get to the yoga mat when you have a stuffy nose and headache, but specific yogasanas will not only strengthen your immune system, but will also help you recover from cold symptoms like nasal discharge, sore throat, sneezing, coughing, and headaches. In fact, if you can somehow convince yourself to continue with your yoga practices during a cold, the benefits and speed of recovery may surprise you. These asanas can help you heal cold symptoms:
- Headstand (Sirsasana)
- Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)
- Standing forward bend (Uttanasana)
- Seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana)
- Tortoise pose (Kurmasana)
You can follow it up with our 20-minute guided Yoga Nidra.
Gargling with hot water is an age-old technique to loosen the mucus produced during a bout of cold. You can also mix turmeric and rock salt in it. The hot water apart from loosening the congestion also helps heal the sore throat. Turmeric’s antibiotic properties will help heal the infection.
Jal Neti (Nasal Lavage)
One of the six purification procedures mentioned in ancient yogic texts, jal neti is a nasal cleanse or nasal irrigation where saline water is poured into the nostrils with the help of a neti pot to clear out the nasal cavity off excess mucus, phlegm. » Here’s how it is done. Saline nasal irrigation is now even recommended by modern medicine for decongestion in cases of upper respiratory tract infections including chronic rhinosinusitis. Some of its benefits include
- Reduces headaches caused by sinus bouts
- Good replacement for nasal steroids for managing inflamed sinuses
- Improves wellness by increasing the flow of prana in the body.
Immunity Boosting Herbs
Herbal preparations that can increase the immunity are holy basil, ashwagandha, amla or gooseberry, amruth, or tinospora cordifolia. Consult an Ayurvedic physician to take the right dosage and combination suitable for your body.
Some safe herbal preparations which can be made with ingredients easily available at home are
- Blend ½ to 1 teaspoonful of Sitopaladi Churna (a classical Ayurvedic medicinal formation) with 1 teaspoonful of honey and have it twice daily.
- Make a herbal concoction in your own kitchen. You will need 5 leaves of holy basil, few black pepper kernels, ginger, cinnamon, black cardamom, green cardamom, liquorice, and turmeric. Coarsely grind these together except the holy basil. Mix half a spoon of the ground powder and basil leaves in 1 glass of water. Boil it till it is reduced to half the quantity. You can also mix honey with this. Relish it in sips.
- Drink amla (gooseberry) juice with little honey. Or, mix 1 grated amla with honey and consume it twice a day.
Teas for Cold
Herbal teas have curative and relaxing properties that provide your body just the right amount of warmth, and reduce the imbalances in vata and kapha dosha. Adding honey to herbal teas helps soothe throat pain and reduces coughing. It also has warming properties that provide comfort to an irritated throat and loosens the mucus.
Echinacea Herbal Tea
Echinacea extracts are rich in compounds that support immunity with strong antiviral properties. It is also known to shorten the duration of a flu infection.
Lemon is loaded with infection-fighting vitamin c compounds.
Chamomile and Peppermint
The antispasmodic action of chamomile tea can help mitigate cough symptoms and sore throat. It is also rich in antioxidants.
Peppermint contains compounds that have pain-relieving properties and is known to be particularly helpful with healing headaches. It is an effective remedy for fighting clogged sinuses due to its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Also, menthol present in peppermint clears up the nasal cavity for easier breathing.
Ginger is nature’s blessing for flared sinuses. Ginger has antimicrobial, anti-cancerous, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic properties. Ginger’s antimicrobial action makes it a powerful tool for fighting infections, including bacterial infections like strep throat. It also reduces flatulence and helps you deal with indigestion, another key reason for kapha imbalance and accumulation of ama in the body. (» Here’s more about the health benefits of ginger.)
RECIPE: Herbal Tea
Tea with spices and herbs can be consumed with the onset of fall, when the seasons are changing, or in conditions when the body is susceptible to viral infections.
4-5 basil leaves
5 black pepper kernels
1 piece of ginger
1/4 teaspoon of organic turmeric powder
2 C water
Pound these together in a mortar and pestle. Boil the mix in the water until it becomes one third in quantity. You can add honey or organic jaggery to it.
A Diet for Your Body Type
Eat light and easily digested food to give rest to digestion especially when seasons change. If the digestion feels heavy then switching to a light diet is important. It is important to consult an Ayurvedic physician to understand your body’s constitution and follow a diet conducive for your body type. Avoid stale, rancid, packaged food which can bring the immunity down. Avoid extremely cold or hot food or drinks. Cold food can vitiate vata and kapha.
Ayurveda recommends consuming seasonal fruits and vegetables as much as possible. This helps you digest food well and also avoids the buildup of ama. Non-seasonal food is usually grown and preserved with the help of a host of chemicals and preservatives that can add to toxicity in the body.
Eat food rich in vitamin-c like bell peppers, tomatoes, berries, pineapple, kiwi, and green vegetables. These foods come loaded with antioxidants that have disease- and infection-fighting properties to keep viruses at bay. Onions also contain specific phytochemicals that fight with bronchitis causing foreign bodies.
You can also try chili peppers or mustard, if you have some spice resistance. They help loosen up the mucus collected in the upper respiratory tract.
Practice Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY)
A particularly helpful deep breathing technique to practice can be the SKY technique, a powerful rhythmic breathing practice that eliminates physiological as well as mental and emotional toxins from every cell in the body. Research shows it increases the count of immune cells in the body, in health-compromised individuals. With practice, it also improves respiratory function by reducing the respiratory rate by 15% and increases lung capacity.
Usually, a cold does not last beyond a few days. As disconcerting as they can be, if you can tolerate some coughing and mild fever without jumping to grab an antibiotic at that very moment, you can actually help your body fight infections better. Cold and fever are also the body’s way of healing itself and protecting itself from infection and attacks from foreign bodies. When they occur infrequently, they may actually help detoxify your system and strengthen immunity.
If symptoms do not relent after two to three weeks, seek medical attention.
Food is Medicine