Sail through winter by
BY MADHURIMA RAO, MD
When we think of winter, we typically think of
the so-called cold and flu season, when people
succumb to contagious diseases. According to
Ayurveda, winter doesn’t have to be this way; it
simply has gotten a bad rap.
We perceive that our immune systems weaken
in the winter because people seem to fall sick often. In reality, our appetite increases in the winter months because the digestive fire is stronger.
Since the fire is stoked, people may choose widely
available junk foods and packaged foods that are
heavy and hard to digest. These unhealthy nutrition habits are what in truth weaken the immune
system. It’s vital to know that we are creating this
bad immunity; nature is not to blame.
Since the digestive fire (agni) is stronger in the
winter, it is actually the best season for improving immunity in the Ayurvedic tradition. In order
to benefit from this, Ayurveda suggests eating
immune-system boosting foods and following an
Ayurvedic daily routine. Simple choices to nourish
the mind and body by getting more rest and eating well can nip a cold winter in the bud.
OJAS AND AMA
One cannot address immunity without mentioning ojas and ama. The vitality of ojas is considered to be the benefactor of the immune system
and excessive ama is considered to be the culprit
of low immunity.
Ojas is the end product of perfect digestion and
metabolism. It is said to nourish and sustain the
various tissues (dhatus). According to the
Chara-ka Samhita, (the oldest and considered to be the
most authoritative written text of Ayurveda), life
itself is threatened when ojas is reduced too much.
When ojas is plentiful, it leads to good immune
strength, contentment, and good digestion.
Ama, on the other hand, is the end product of
poorly digested food. The channels in the body
(shrotas) can become clogged by ama; when this
happens, this can give rise to disease. This clogging of the channels can cause heaviness, dullness,
and lethargy, and even be a precursor to poor
immunity and illness. Although it is not yet clear
what ama’s equivalent is in modern medicine, it
is widely accepted in Western medicine that circulating toxins usually originate in the digestive
system. Ayurveda considers reducing ama to be a
crucial concern for boosting immunity.
In Ayurveda, immunity is connected with digestion. When digestion is good and appetite is good,
then immunity is strengthened. Simply speaking,
whatever weakens digestion weakens immunity.
IMMUNITY – BOOSTING FOODS
Fresh. Organic. Easy to digest foods such as grains,
lentils, and white meats (for non-vegetarians).
– Fresh organic milk.
– Fresh organic vegetables, whole grains, fruits,
and ghee (clarified butter).
– Home-cooked, warm, and unctuous.
– Easy to digest oils such as ghee and olive oil.
– Strengthening spices such as turmeric, cumin,
coriander, and dry ginger.
Tastes that nourish the body in the winter vata
(air/ether) season are sweet, sour, salty (use these
in higher proportion). We still need all six tastes in
any season, but in the winter, use smaller proportions of the vata-increasing tastes of bitter, astringent, and pungent (astringent can be drying, so it
raises vata when eaten in excess).
IMMUNITY – WEAKENING FOODS
Processed foods, canned, packaged, old, and
frozen foods are difficult to digest and therefore
weaken immunity. >>