It’s autumn, and in many places that means it’s the windy season. It’s also cold and flu season, and the two are not coincidental. According to Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, we are all most susceptible to catching a wind at the change of seasons. Wait, you might say, did I hear that right? Catching a wind? Yes, you heard that right. The ancient traditional medical systems call getting sick this time of year a “wind invasion!” Here are some tips to help you avoid this windy attack.
We all probably laughed at our grandmother’s insistence that we wear a scarf around our necks when we ran outside to play while she babysat. But in fact she was imparting genuine words of wisdom, probably passed down from her grandmother and from hers before that. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that external pathogens are carried on the wind and that they enter our bodies at the back of our necks. The acupuncture points that are located at the base of our skull and along the spine down our neck and upper back are all used to “expel wind” – in other words, to treat a cold. So protecting that area when you’re out in the wind is actually a very effective measure to take to prevent catching a cold!
How the wind caught me
When I was a student in my first year of Ayurveda school, this far out concept proved itself to me. I was walking my dog in the park wearing only a light sweater even though it was January. The day had been pretty mild, and I was studying on the grass. All of a sudden, huge gusts of wind started roaring through the trees. I got up to head home, my hair blowing in the wind. Within two minutes, my nose and throat started itching. By the time I returned home, I was sneezing. By the time I went to bed, I had a fever, sore throat, and a runny nose. I was amazed. I had just been introduced to the concept of catching a wind, and now I’d caught one! I never doubted the wisdom of that idea after that.
Autumn is Vata season
From an Ayurvedic perspective, autumn is Vata season. Vata is air + space, otherwise known as “wind.” During the windy season we’re more susceptible to wind disorders. Furthermore, wind is the principle of movement. So things are changing in the environment and for our bodies as well. Our bodies are transitioning from the warm weather of summer to the cold climate of winter, and this profound change leaves us more vulnerable to getting sick. The sometimes drastic variation in temperature in a single day can really throw off our system. It produces erratic movement, a windy energy, in our bodies that can weaken our immune system.
Besides wearing a scarf, there are other preventative measures we can take so the “evil wind” doesn’t cause us any trouble. One of the most effective Chinese herbal remedies for warding off colds is appropriately called “Jade Windscreen.” It is composed of two herbs that strongly tonify, or strengthen, our immune system and one herb that “expels wind.” Taken regularly this time of year, it can help to avoid getting sick.
Oily and warm
It is important to balance the Vata qualities of the season with foods and therapies that have the opposite qualities of Vata. Foods that are warm, oily, and slightly heavier help to counteract the drying, rough, cold quality of wind. It is essential not to let our digestion get cold as we head into fall and winter. Our digestion is the key to our immune system, so we need to keep it happy and warm. Think winter squash, soups, whole grains, all those great root vegetables being harvested. The Ayurvedic herbal jam, Chyavanprash, is chock full of digestion-enhancing herbs that keep our inner fire roaring and our immune system strong. Taken everyday, we can rest assured that our digestion is getting the boost it needs during the cold and flu season.
Another very helpful Ayurvedic therapy to calm Vata is to apply warm raw sesame oil to the skin before taking a bath or shower. In Sanskrit this is called abhyanga, and it not only feels great for our skin but for our stiff joints as well. Also, squeeze a few drops of herbal oil in each nostril twice a day to reduce inflammation and congestion in the sinuses. This is one of the most incredible things you can do to prevent sinus infections, congestion, and headaches.
There are a lot of effective herbal and nutritional supplements that strengthen the immune system, but it’s important to look at the whole system beginning with our digestion. Preventative medicine means living in balance with nature, which means discerning which elements are predominant in the season, and eating and living accordingly. When the wind is raging outside, we can take measures to calm the wind on the inside. This helps us to make us impermeable so it doesn’t “invade!” The good news is scarves never go out of style, they’re easy to pack in the bag, and they’re cute. So respect the wisdom of your elders, and Bundle Up!