Ayurveda: An Ancient Approach to Modern Illness
Categories: Health & Healing
Guest post by Dr. L. Eduardo Cardona-Sanclemente, PhD, author of the forthcoming Ayurveda for Depression.
Coronavirus – an unwelcome new visitor or an old foe?
How are you doing? I hope you are holding up well. These are challenging times for many of us, having to live our lives in a completely different way from what we considered normal. By now, you’ve undoubtedly received a lot of information about this novel coronavirus Covid-19—and you have probably been bombarded by theories, technical information—and in some cases misinformation—about its origins, genetic material, how it manages to invade cells and proliferate, and, importantly, about how to protect yourself.
For some additional support, here are recommendations from Ayurvedic medicine that are both practical and applicable when dealing with such an ambivalent, powerful-weak invader: Powerful by its lethal actions but weak from its inability to proliferate by itself.
Let me start by telling you that Ayurveda is not only preventive, but curative. In terms of prevention, Ayurveda addresses infections by harmful microorganisms like viruses, but also with the environment receiving them (yes, you). For that reason, here, I’ll address ways you can prevent or reduce your chances of becoming infected—and all this through the support of a variety of enjoyable daily activities that you can integrate into your daily routines.
More than three thousand years ago, Charaka, considered the father of Ayurveda, described worldwide epidemics and even recommended keeping in quarantine at home. Ayurvedic scholars described microbes under the term krimi. Other than inborn conditions (sahaja, or microbiome or intestinal flora), there are more than twenty types of krimis including the congenital microbiome. Ayurveda also considers our congenital microbiome as part of our physiological nature, having an important role in keeping us in a state of balance. Among the descriptions of krimi, we have what we know today as viruses. Of course, due to lack of the biomedical technology we have today, the first Ayurvedic scholars were not able to visualize them. But they were able to describe their effects, as in the case of smallpox (masurika) or other conditions like leprosy (kustha).
Very recent studies (March 2020) show that susceptibility to Covid-19 is higher among people who have underlying medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Ayurveda teaches us that the best strategies to control these kinds of chronic conditions—and even to reverse them—are healthy diets and lifestyle adjustments individually tailored to you. If you want to do your bit to defeat the spread of Covid-19 in this period of quarantine, this is the ideal time to address issues in your diet, lifestyle, and daily habits. So let’s look at the various ways preventive Ayurvedic medicine can support us in this task.
So, let’s get directly to my suggestions—and remember that for any changes to your medical activities, you should consult your physician.
In Ayurveda, daily routines are an integral component of maintaining balance, and set the stage for good health. Let’s take care of our bodies by following a daily routine (called dinacharya) consisting of:
- Wake up early; brush your teeth and scrape your tongue (using a tongue scraper); rinse your mouth and drink hot or warm water.
- Practice breathing exercises (pranayama) daily: described below in more detail.
- Yoga: asanas or postures such as camel pose, cobra pose, cow pose, boat, bow, and bridge pose, locust, lotus, lion, and Surya Namaskar are recommended.
- Meditation: sit quietly, connect with the rhythm of your breath and feel your presence. Your acceptance is awareness.
- Food, diet and herbal remedies: essential to keep a strong digestive fire (agni).
- Warm tea: ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, holy basil, mint to boost your digestion and energy. Similarly, hot water alone or with some bits of ginger—you can sip it throughout the day, or when having your meal.
- Avoid cold drinks. No ice-cold water or beverage.
- Warm foods are recommended. By having cold foods, you will suppress your digestive fire (agni). Also, exposure to cold reduces your natural resistance.
- Reduce the intake of animal products, particularly meat. Meat is heavy to digest, especially later in the day or at dinner time. Instead, enjoy combinations like rice with vegetables and interesting spices. I recommend lots of raw garlic and culinary herbs and spices in cooking, particularly ginger, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, turmeric, and cloves.
- Avoid dairy products, especially cheese, yogurt, or ice cream.
Here are some simple herbs and preparations that have been recommended for more than three thousand years by Ayurvedic doctors to address respiratory conditions:
- Neem leaves (Azadirachta indica) support a healthy epithelial (skin) barrier in both the abdominal and respiratory tracts. At the abdominal level, it plays an important role keeping the body’s microbiome in balance.
- Talisadi: an herbal powder containing long pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and sugar.
- Sitopaladi powder can be used preventatively and for the treatment of respiratory conditions. It contains spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and black pepper.
Calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety.
In Ayurveda, breathing is the physical part of thinking, and thinking is the psychological part of breathing. Tenets of Ayurvedic medicine explain that the practice of breath control, even for only a few minutes, calms the mind and reduces stress and anxiety.
There are many studies that describe the physiological basis of these exercises, but here I’ll give you three—all are important for cleansing our lungs.
Ayurveda describes practices that will help you maintain the balance of your vital life force (prana), immunity, strength (ojas), and digestive processes (tejas) to help support your body systems against viral aggressors.
1) Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Pranayama)
2) Bhastrika Pranayama (The Bellows Breath)
3) Bhramari Pranayama (The Humming Breath)
Pranayamas are most effective with instruction and practice. You can find many examples on the internet (I recommend those freely available from Dr. Vasant Lad at the Ayurvedic Institute).
Finally, I invite you to navigate this difficult time together, to keep distancing six feet from others for now. We all share the same ocean of life in our small boats—and this requires a certain distance among us if we’re to avoid any crashes. For that reason, the Indian gesture of Namaste, your two hands together at the level of your heart, is a “virus-respecting” way to greet others—and a beautiful gesture.
Wishing that Ayurveda supports and inspires you during this period of confinement.
Dr L. Eduardo Cardona-Sanclemente
Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA, USA)
Disclaimer: all content within North Atlantic Books titles and the NAB website is intended for informational purposes only, and neither constitutes nor replaces medical advice. If you have a medical question or condition, please contact your doctor or healthcare provider.