Ayurveda Life: Immunity Boosting With Ayurveda
We are excited to bring you another post in a comprehensive series on the practice of Ayurveda. ‘Ayurveda Life’ is a weekly series of posts from some of the most influential Ayurvedic authors and organizations. We are proud to partner with Banyan Botanicals and hope that you enjoy and share these posts with your communities.
Immunity-Boosting Across the Globe with Ayurveda
The flight attendant shoots me a look of displeasure after serving me a third cup of hot water since takeoff from Auckland. I smile at her appreciatively, then unashamedly steep some homegrown tulsi tea, knowing that preventing dehydration is the first step to navigating air travel in good health. Boosting immunity has been my priority on this unexpected nine-day international journey, so in addition to my usual yoga practices, I’ve been leaning heavily on Ayurveda’s trustworthy approach to self-care. My current mantra: Stay warm and hydrated.
Ten days ago, I dropped everything and flew to New Zealand to support my best friend through an invasive operation and difficult recovery week. Changing multiple time zones, traveling from summer to winter, and taking over her busy household responsibilities was a big adjustment for me. Caring for her also meant changing bandages, emptying drainage tubes, logging stats, managing medication, meeting with surgeons, caring for her family, providing positive encouragement, and sharing tears, prayers, and much more. Although the effects of the operation were far more drastic for her, we were both drained and weary.
According to Ayurveda, both surgery and travel can disturb the vata dosha; the shock and upheaval aggravate vata, leaving someone vulnerable to feeling ungrounded, scattered, constipated, sleepless, or fearful. Furthermore, when vata is increased, it tends to deplete ojas, the nectar of immunity.
To balance vata, protect immunity, and restore well-being:
1. Acknowledge two important rules of Ayurveda:
- Like increases like.
Example: If you have dry bowels or constipation, and eat foods with a similar dry quality—such as rice cakes—dryness and constipation increase.
- Opposites decrease.
Example: If you have dry bowels or constipation, and eat foods with an opposite moist quality—such as warm milk with ghee—dryness and constipation decrease.
2. Recognize the qualities of vata:
- Vata qualities: cold, dry, light, mobile, rough, hard
- Opposite qualities to balance: warm, wet, heavy, slow, smooth, soft
3. Favor vata-pacifying foods:
- I prepared warm, moist foods such as soups, steamed veggies, spiced milk, hot cereal, and warm teas: cozy, healthy, nourishing comfort food. Delicious during New Zealand’s winter!
4. Create a vata-pacifying environment and routine:
- I kept my friend’s house clean, quiet, warm, peaceful, and full of love. Adhering to regular meals and sleep/wake times established a nourishing routine. Tucking my friend in at night with a gentle head massage, sharing our daily gratitude lists, and joining our voices in prayer deepened our 35-year friendship in profound ways.
As the primary caregiver, I also beefed up my daily self-care routine, to ensure that I wouldn’t crumble under such intense circumstances. Here are eight immunity-boosting tools that worked for me:
1. Reducing sensory stimulation
- According to Ayurveda, a main cause of imbalance is asaatmyendriyaartha samyoga, or improper use of the sense organs. Vata governs movement and the intake of information through the sense organs. When the sense organs are overused (e.g., too many hours on the computer) or misused (e.g., watching violent movies), then vata gets aggravated. The remedy: Rest the sense organs. Turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone. Shut off the radio while driving. Cease the constant stimulation. Enjoy quietude.
2. Breathing deeply
- As a pranayama enthusiast, I rely heavily on the healing power of prana. Gentle, deep breathing is extremely useful for circulating prana and removing toxins. Sit comfortably with a long spine to explore the Three-Part Breath (Dirgha Pranayama). Gently fill the belly, rib cage, and collarbones during each long, smooth inhalation. Relax completely during each long, soothing exhalation. Never strain or force the breath. Continue for one to threee minutes. When complete, return to a natural breath and scan the body, noticing the afterglow of the breath—perhaps you feel relaxed, energized, and purified. Repeat three to five times a day.
3. Drinking spiced milk with dates and almonds
- Milk, dates, and almonds are extremely nourishing and grounding—great for balancing vata and supporting ojas. Try this delicious drink two to three times a week. (Avoid if suffering from cold, flu, or congestion.)
- 1 cup organic milk (or rice, almond, or coconut milk)
- 4–6 soaked and peeled organic raw almonds
- 2–4 pitted Medjool dates
- 1 pinch each:
- cinnamon powder
- ginger powder
- cardamom powder
- 4–6 hairs of saffron (added after heating)
- In a medium saucepan, mix all ingredients, except saffron. Simmer for five to six minutes on medium-high heat, stirring regularly.
- Pour into large mug and sprinkle saffron on top.
- Sit quietly, relax, and enjoy! (I like to scoop out the dates and almonds with a spoon; it’s so satisfying to chew on those big, gooey chunks!)
4. Taking daily walks in nature
- Nothing makes me feel more vibrant than being in nature. Brisk walks along the gorgeous Auckland waterfront strengthened my body, invigorated my life-force, and provided tranquil opportunities to process emotions. Get outside daily!
5. Gargling with warm salt-water
- Easier than using the neti pot, salt-water gargle helps remove toxins from the throat—preventing germs from penetrating into the bloodstream and compromising immunity. This is absolutely one of my favorite tools for immunity protection.
6. Sipping tulsi tea
- Antibacterial and antiseptic, tulsi tea is extremely purifying. Known for reducing headache, fever, lung congestion, and stress, it’s great for protecting immunity. My top pick for traveling! Try one to two cups a day, as needed.
7. Self-massaging with warm oil
- Nothing’s more vata-balancing for me than a self-massage with warm oil at the end of the day. In the colder months, use a warm oil, such as sesame. In the warmer months, use a cool oil, such as coconut. Soothing, relaxing, and nourishing.
- Try my immunity-boosting yoga flow to stoke agni, the fire of digestion andmetabolism, and to circulate prana.
Back on the plane home, sipping my tulsi tea, I observe the scene. It looks as though every television screen is set to some action-packed, vata-deranging channel. On my first flight to New Zealand in 2004—before studying Ayurveda—I remember voraciously packing in five movies! But now, knowing that overstimulation might leave me exhausted, frazzled, and vulnerable to sickness, I choose instead the yogic practice of pratyahara, sense withdrawal: warm blanket, earplugs, eye pillow. Cozy and quiet, with my vata in check, I settle in for a long nap.
After this voyage to the other side of the world, I return home feeling surprisingly grounded, integrated, and invigorated. Grateful for Ayurveda’s simple, safe, and invaluable practices, I humbly reflect on my journey. Yoga and Ayurveda have given me the greatest lessons of my life: safe travels, strong immunity, and the precious gift of deep friendships.
~Larissa Hall Carlson
Larissa, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, is an Ayurvedic Health Counselor and a Kripalu Yoga teacher dedicated to adventure and lifelong learning. When not on the road directing trainings and guiding retreats, you can find her writing, teaching, and consulting at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Find out more at larissacarlson.com and kripalu.org.