You’ve probably read the warnings to wash your hands, avoid shaking hands with others, and cough into your sleeve during colder weather or when you are not feeling well.
Yet taking precautions can go much farther. For instance, have you taken steps to boost your immunity? After all, a healthy immune system is your best defense.
“Strengthening and maintaining immunity is a vital part of any wellness program or approach,” says Chris Clark, M.D., former Director of the Raj Ayurveda Health Center, and author of Ayurvedic Healing. “You want to give yourself the best opportunity for health, and for that you want to optimize your immune system.”
According to Dr. Clark, immunity is weaker during the seasonal transition from winter to spring. As temperatures fluctuate, so does our gut health, causing toxins to overwhelm the digestive system. At the same time, sleep cycles and other biorhythms are disrupted in the days after Daylight Saving Time begins.
“So there are two factors happening at the same time: the change of seasons and the disruption of normal circadian rhythms due to Daylight Saving Time,” Dr. Clark says.
Fortunately, Maharishi Ayurveda offers a wealth of health tips to fortify immunity no matter what your age. Here are five simple ways to shore up your immune power.
1. Fire Up Your Digestive Strength
The first step to better immunity is restoring your gut health. Ayurvedic texts explain that immunity is directly linked to digestion. When your digestion is weak, a sticky, byproduct of undigested food, called ama, can spread to other parts of the body, impacting the efficiency of every aspect of our metabolic processes, from cell reproduction to the ability to convert foods into energy. In fact, it's weak digestion and the accumulation of ama that increase susceptibility to seasonal imbalances.
Agni, the fire of digestion, burns away ama. Because agni is weaker in these spring months, when outdoor temperatures are fluctuating and your biorhythms are adjusting to a new season, it’s especially important to pay attention to gut health in spring.
“Anything that strengthens agni enhances immunity,” says Dr. Clark. “Anything that weakens agni decreases immunity. That’s why it’s important not to overeat, or to eat foods that are too heavy to digest, or to eat before the previous meal is digested, particularly when the seasons are changing.”
It is natural that during the winter when our bodies are working harder to stay warm, we may tend to eat more, and sometimes we can overeat. As we transition to spring, the need to eat may lessen, but we may maintain our normal food routine, thus overwhelming our digestion and leading to ama. Also there may be some ama accumulation from the winter months when we tend to eat more.
Eating light, warm, more digestible foods is the ticket. Season your food with spices such as fresh ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel, and black pepper to perk up digestion. Try eating your main meal at lunchtime and eat lighter at night, as digestive strength wanes as the sun sets. Vegetable soup, lightly spiced rice and dhal (kitchari), and cooked veggies are good choices for light evening fare. Try to stay away from heavy sweets.
Because spring weather is cool, damp, and heavy, Ayurveda recommends drinking hot water throughout the day to keep digestive strength high. Avoid ice-cold drinks and foods, such as ice cream, as these can douse agni and make it hard for your gut to do its job. For some people, periodic fasting (such as eating warm, cooked, liquefied meals one day a week) can be helpful in maintaining a strong immune system.
Learn more about our easy home detox programs that are ideal for removing toxins and improving digestion during these transitional months.
2. Exercise daily.
Light daily exercise (or heavier if that is your routine) is a great way to keep your digestion toned and your elimination moving waste products out of your system. Walking 30 minutes a day at a brisk pace can stimulate digestion and improve your immunity. While walking is a good exercise to do directly after a meal, you’ll want to wait until your meal is completely digested before engaging in more vigorous exercise.
3. Get More Rest.
Sleep is a great healer, allowing your immune system to repair itself and detoxify. One interesting point from Ayurveda: it’s not only the amount of sleep that matters, but when. Sleeping late in the morning, especially in springtime, can slow your digestion and make you feel sluggish and dull. As recent research on body rhythms has shown, the Ayurvedic maxim of going to bed before ten at night and waking up at first light, around six, keeps your energy and immunity levels in top form. This routine translates into seven to eight hours of rest at the optimal time of night.
4. Tamp Down Stress. While you can’t do anything about nail-biting world events, you can do something about the way you handle life’s challenges. Managing stress is not a luxury item—it’s necessary to keep your immunity healthy. When you’re stressed, science has shown that your resistance to antigens is lower, making you more susceptible to infection.
Meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises can cut down on stress and help you stay positive and calm. The Transcendental Meditation technique, for instance, is widely known as an effective stress-reduction technique and has been associated with 50 percent lower hospital admissions for a wide range of diseases. It also is associated with a significant reduction in harmful stress coping strategies such as cigarette, alcohol, and drug usage, all of which can compromise immunity.
“Reducing stress is one of the key ways to improve immunity,” says Dr. Clark. “States of heightened stress are related to a heightened immune response.”
Social support is also important to immunity. “Engaging in activities that give you joy and happiness on a daily basis, such as spending time in nature, or with your family and friends, helps reduce stress,” says Dr. Clark.
5. Take Immune-Boosting Supplements
For those times when your immunity needs help, such as when you are traveling, feeling stressed, or for some reason can’t follow your normal diet and routine, Ayurveda recommends taking herbal supplements to shore up your digestion, remove toxins, and revitalize immunity.
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