• Erin Easterly

Ayurvedic Tips for Cold/Flu Season

During winter months the cool, dark environmental influences combined with a tendency to spend more time indoors can lead to an accumulation of earth and water elements. In practical terms, this accumulation may express as fatigue, depression, weight gain, colds, or flus. However, by integrating the following Ayurvedic tips into your winter routine, you can stave off the flurry of winter’s maladies while remaining healthy and vibrant all season long.

Use a neti pot

The neti pot has a long history of use in the Ayurvedic tradition. It is a method of nasal irrigation that thins mucous and cleans out the sinuses. It also improves the function of the cilia (the hair like structures on the inside of the nose), helping them to more efficiently filter bacteria and other irritants.

To use a neti pot, simply fill the pot with pure, warm water and approximately 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. While leaning over a sink, insert the spout into your left nostril and lean your head to the right. Keep your chin tucked slightly into your chest. Breath through your mouth and allow the salt water to flow out the right nostril for several seconds (about 20). Repeat on the opposite side. Follow the neti cleanse with some Ayurnas oil to rehydrate the nasal tissues.

The ideal time to perform a neti cleanse is upon awakening. In the morning hours, the Kapha dosha tends to run high, contributing to sluggishness and congestion. Using the neti pot in the morning can balance kapha energies, clear congestion, and help you to breathe more easily.

Eat fermented foods

In cultures around the world, fermented foods are served alongside each meal. Not only do fermented foods add taste but they may also form the foundation for proper digestion and immunity. Fermented foods are full of probiotics which have been found to increase your body’s ability to fight off infections. In fact, according to recent studies, up to 80 percent of your immune system is located in your microbiome (the collection of bacteria found in your gut). This finding is significant in that it confirms what Ayurveda has known for centuries: The strength of one’s agni (digestive fire) determines one’s level of health.

You can bolster your agni and your immunity by including a few tablespoons of raw fermented foods with every meal. Sauerkraut, kefir, fermented vegetables, lassi, and other cultured foods can increase the variety of healthy bacterial cultures in your micorbiome. A healthy mircobiome equities to strong agni and as the old Ayurvedic proverb goes, “A strong agni can turn poison into nectar.” Viruses beware!

Drink Ginger Tea

Ginger is something of a star in Vedic wisdom. From increasing agni and digestive power to decreasing stomach ailments and joint pain, ginger has long been touted as a powerhouse of health benefits. Fresh ginger tea integrates all of ginger’s benefits with the addition of hot fluids. The combination is warming and soothing. Its warmth counteracts the coolness of the earth element (known to increase this time of year). Its spiciness thins mucous and helps to alleviate congestion. In addition, fresh ginger has recently been found to have anti-viral activity. Try slicing fresh ginger into thin strips and steeping in hot water. Strain the ginger and enjoy sipping fresh ginger tea throughout the day.


Viruses and bacteria have a narrow range of temperatures in which they can live. By lightly exercising, the body’s temperature can be sufficiently raised to create an unfavorable environment for those unwanted inhabitants. In addition, sweat itself contains potent germ fighting agents. Breaking a light sweat can also help to clear excess kapha that may rise in tandem with a cold. The heavy, dull, lethargic energy of excess kapha can be dissolved through movement. While you will want to refrain from heavy exercise when you are fighting off a cold, light exercise can be just what the naturopath ordered.

Turn up the heat

Another way to reduce the earth and water elements that tend to increase when the sniffles set in is to enjoy a dry sauna. The warmth of the sauna raises body temperature to an even greater degree than exercise while the dry heat helps to dissipate excess moisture. Not only can a sauna session help to mitigate cold symptoms, it may actually prevent a cold in the first place. A group of Australian researchers found that regularly sitting in a sauna was effective at preventing common colds.

Reduce sugar consumption

White blood cells are the body’s first line of defense when viruses or bacteria invade. These cells envelop unwanted intruders and destroy them. In order for white blood cells to do their job, they need Vitamin C. Most people have heard that taking Vitamin C when you have a cold is good for you. While this is true, it is important to understand that reducing sugar intake is the flip side of this coin. Glucose, the simplest form of sugar, is structurally similar to Vitamin C and can be absorbed by white blood cells instead of Vitamin C. Since glucose does not fuel the white blood cells these cells lose their ability to perform effectively. In other words, your immune system’s ability to do its job decreases concurrently with sugar intake. When you are beginning to feel a little under the weather, skip the dessert and get some extra rest instead.

Diffuse Warm, Grounding Essential Oils

Using nature’s gifts to heal and balance the body is a fundamental premise of Ayurveda. Diffusing or topically applying essential oils makes full use of nature’s gifts. To purify the environment try diffusing tea tree or peppermint oil. To open the sinuses eucalyptus is a tried and true remedy. For clearing congestion in the lungs mix a few drops of cinnamon oil into a tablespoon of almond oil and apply to chest and sternum. Not only will this open your lungs and clear congestion, it will smell amazing!

Sniffles and sneezes are a part of life but they do not have to turn into full blown colds. By following the Ayurvedic lifestyle, you can expect to stay healthy all through the year. When you bring greater awareness to your body, listen to its cues, and take preventive measures you will find that health is your constant companion.