Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Health Arsenal

Keeping healthy during the winter can be difficult. We tend spend more time not moving which is imperative in moving lymph (fluid in the bodies immune system) through the body. Though cold is not an actual cause of illness, what can happen to the body when excessively exposed to outdoor chill, is that the immune function drops making us more prone to viruses and harmful bacterias. On top of that, there's more time in close quarters with friends and family indulging in foods that don't necessarily contribute to overall health. Not that winter is not a lovely time, and especially for the close company we share while entertaining indoors. And I can't complain about the food either! But as we cover our bodies in heavy clothing and the flesh-baring health focus of summer fades, so we shift our activities and thinking to things that nurture quiet restfulness.

It is easy to care for yourself during the winter though! In fact, winter time is the time I consider the best ways to revitalize my health and return to internal calmness. Over the last several years and through the many illnesses of my poor lil' kids (who, as children can't seem to avoid it at any cost), I have skirted contracting most of the viruses and infections they bring home from school (and share at school as well!).

Many of these remedies are based on Ayurveda ( Say "i- yur-vay-duh"), an ancient healing and lifestyle system that dates back about 5000 years from India. Yep, Indians were probably the first health gurus. And the system works, because it is based not only on each persons highly individual needs (everyone has a constitution that an Ayurvedic practitioner can analyze), but also on living in harmony with your surroundings and the seasons. There are a few basic things that seem to work quite well for all people regardless of individual constitutions. Below I have shared some of the remedies that have kept me feeling vibrant and well during winter and all year long.

Try one or all remedies and see how you feel after a week of committing to well-being. When it seems like work to take care of yourself just remember that it's way more work to feel bad and have to catch up on the things that get neglected when you are tired and under the weather.

Cheers to your health!

The Remedy Routine:

Outdoor Pranayama

One of the best possible remedies for anything, ever, is a breath of fresh air outside! You cannot go wrong with this one and can easily make it your habit each time you walk out side.
  • Inhaling deeply, spread your arms wide, lift your heart skyward and look at the sky. As you exhale allow your arms to slowly drop and bring your gaze back to looking forward. Repeat this several times, slowly incorporating the practice of inhaling as deeply as possible and holding for just a moment while smiling (yes, you need to smile. It is good for you!), then exhaling as completely as possible...still smiling! Now how do you feel? This of course can b done inside as well, but even (and especially when I feel un-well) A little out-doors are well received by the body and the psyche.
Simple Yoga for Lymph Function

These are some moves I learned in a class specifically created for lymph function. You will notice the general benefits of the poses right away, but keep going and the immune benefits will be obvious.
  • Cat-Cow: Come to hands and knees position (like you are about to crawl). As you inhale slowly dip the spine toward the floor while looking up. As you exhale round the spine up and let your head hang down. Do this as many times as you want, but I recommend about 10 rounds.
  • Shoulder opener: Stand with feet wider than hips. Spread your arms wide, then bring them behind your back and interlace your fingers. If possible, straighten the elbows. As you breath in, lift your chest and look up pulling the hands and shoulders back. Take a full in and out breath here. On the next exhale, bend your knees and fold forward lifting your arms and hand up as you do so. This can be intense for tight shoulders, it is up to you to take care and not overdo it.
  • Lunge pump: With feet together and hands on hips (starting position), step your left foot back into a lunge so the right knee is bent. Slowly lower the left knee toward the floor, touching it down gently then straightening the left leg again (right knee stays bent). Repeat 5 to 10 times, switching sides.
  • Seated twist: Sit up very tall in a chair. Grab the back of the chair with your left hand and press your right hand to the outside of your left thigh. Inhale deeply and keeping the chin very gently angled toward the chest twist to the left. Take five full breaths here, twisting a little more deeply with each exhale. Switch sides.

Neti is a technique used to cleanse the sinuses. You can buy a neti pot (nasal irrigation pot) at every drugstore in America now. Yay for recognition of good old fashioned natural remedies. You may have to ask the pharmacist for it. They are also available from any Ayurvedic practitioner (Blue Oak Ayurveda is recommended) and the health food store. You will need to refer to instructions that come with your pot, but it is very simple. The passage of warmish saline through the sinuses unclogs and draws out all sorts of crazy snot and boogers as well as removing any allergens that make their way up there. With regular use, your breathing will be full and clear, but be patient if your are stuffed up when you first try it and the liquid doesn't flow. It can be a slow process that works wonders.

Turmeric Remedy

Turmeric black pepper and ginger are all known for digestive, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting and warming properties to name just a few. This amazing blend has become a daily staple for me. I have found that it is best to take after a meal and prefer to drink it morning or afternoon.

Turmeric Remedy blend:
All measurements are approximate. No need to be exact.
1 cup ground turmeric (bright yellow spice common in Indian cooking)
1/4 cup ground dried ginger
2 tbs finely ground black pepper
Blend these ingredients well and store in a sealed jar.

To make the remedy beverage:
Remedy beverage does not taste good, but it's not bad either. Rather it is very earthy and a bit spicy. It make take a little getting used to, but again the benefits are well worth it.
Mix @ 6oz warm water with a heaping tablespoon remedy powder and mix well. Drink the mixture after a meal. If the flavor is too disagreeable, mix a heaping spoonful of raw honey in the water before adding the powder.

Simple dietary Guidelines

Easy to follow "rules" to live by and why
  1. Skip the dairy, non-fermented soy products and refined sugar. These all contribute to congestion. If you've ever had a stuffy nose then drank a glass of milk you'll see why right away. The refined sugar is a bit sneakier, creating mucoids (yep, it's a real word) less quickly. Non-fermented soy includes soy milk, soy yogurts (it is cultured, not fermented) and most soy-based snacks. Tofu and soy sauce are fermented and less mucoid forming. For the record, Ayurveda does not often discourage dairy, but it is actually considered to be one of the most valuable foods. Given the current context of processed, hormonally altered milk products from cows that do not eat what cows are supposed to, most milk is in blacklisted from my diet. I have also found that even raw organic milk can be a culprit of congestive issues. Raw fresh goats milk may be the best choice if you really want milk. It actually closely resembles human milk...but don't let that turn you off! ;)
  2. Eat fresh food and un-processed foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide valuable nutrients and enzymes. This does not mean not to cook them. Ayurveda (thankfully!) encourages eating lots of cooked food during the winter as it is easier to digest than raw foods. Grains such as rice and quinoa are not fresh, but they are do not contain synthetic additives, sodium or sugar. The same can be said for dried beans (and some canned) and pasta. Eating eggs and meats that are free-range and organic greatly increases the nutritive value of the animal protein, while lessening the impact of toxic waste produced by factory farms. Though vegetarian diet seems traditional to Indian and Ayurvedic practice, this is not totally true. It depends on your constitution and beliefs.
  3. Eat three meals a day, making your breakfast light and simple (starches and fruit), lunch the heaviest meal (animal proteins, larger portions) and dinner lighter (vegetable soup and bread). This one feels like a toughie for most of us. We have been trained to eat a huge breakfast, a light lunch and a big dinner. While that may actually work on a whole, this method actually supports your natural digestive cycles. For instance, when you wake up, your digestive system is too. And just like most of us need to gently make our way into the morning, so does the belly. By mid-day, granted you treat your tummy right in the morning, your are hungry and need extra fat and protein for brain function (fat is essential in brain function) and energy to complete the days tasks. As for dinner, the time for your belly to rest along with you has come. If your body has to work to assimilate food while you sleep, you may not rest as well. There are exceptions to all of these rules of course, but if after a few weeks it is still difficult to follow, it may be that your constitution is experiencing an "imbalance" and illness follows closely behind imbalances.
  4. Sip only room temperature or warm beverages during your meals. The stomach is a warm place and needs that warmth to digest and assimilate. Cold things only slow the process down.
Special thanks to Eliza Kerr who introduced me to Ayurveda and taught me about my constitution and Ayurvedic self-care.

Have a thought, question or opinion? I bet you do, and I want to hear it!


  1. I just learned so much. Thanks for sharing this helpful wellness info Jen. In the cold/flu season do you incorporate more of the Lymph Function poses into your classes?

  2. Thanks Bridget,
    I don't make an extra effort to do so, but these moves are typically a part of our classes as is. I do think there is something to say for isolating these moves as a brief practice and doing them upon waking up in the morning or mid-day after sitting down (or standing) for a long period of time. I would like to learn more about creating a sequence that would specifically target immune system and base a class around it!