The Ayurveda Advantage
Ayurveda and yoga therapy techniques for boosting immunity and easing anxiety. By Dr Milind Jani
During the Covid lockdown, isolation, anxiety and uncertainty caused untold emotional and mental turmoil for many of us. Social distancing, hand sanitising and masks are all now mandatory in many settings to prevent the spread. We are still not out of the woods!
What can we do to preserve our health and sanity naturally? As always, yoga and ayurveda come to our rescue — the eternal philosophy of union of the self with the divine.
While we have all realised the importance of our wonderful NHS, and its doctors, nurses, carers and workers in treating the sick, the single most important truth that has dawned on us all is that life is precious. Sometimes it seems that nature has pressed the reset button to pull us out of the rat race and to try and help us look after ourselves and our planet better.
This is the core message of ayurveda and yoga: being aware of our divine self in union with nature helps us to be strong, fearless, with self-confidence and clarity of thought — to help ourselves and others to survive and savour life’s joys. Ayurveda says ‘a happy soul is a healthy body’ — so let us start there. Even the government’s own advice was that such things as exercise, yoga and breathing can help foster good mental and physical health.
Personal survival kit
How did we deal with our own personal health, anxiety and isolation as we shielded, or stayed inside at home within four walls? For me, meditation, yoga and a daily Pranayama (breathing) routine brought strength, while ayurvedic herbs and rejuvenating herbal tea drinks generated warmth and immunity to fight back any infection. Talking to others helped a lot too.
On a personal note, I returned from holiday in Asia in February and by March was feeling separation, isolation and fear, with my family stranded in India. Over several months, I went through all the emotional and mental pressures that many of us felt. While I was feeling unwell or depressed, I turned to ayurveda and yoga (mainly Surya Namaskar and Savasana), plus meditation and breathing exercises. I also used ayurvedic herbal therapy and self-massage with Vata-balancing, stress-relieving oils (Vata is the stress factor caused by nervous energy, influenced by the air and ether elements).
Self-motivation was perhaps the most difficult quality to revive but I gained strength from talking to friends and family in addition to meditation and spiritual work, and listening to music. This is known as Saṃyoga, a synergy of association and union with other kindlymotivating souls and the divine.
Charity was also important. As I wasn’t able to work, I joined friends in making ‘curry for the homeless’ at weekends, which occupied my mind as I chanted powerful mantras as I cooked. I have now become a master chef in making aubergine, potato and carrot curry with rejuvenating herbs and spices such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander, asafoetida, mustard and cumin! Ayurveda recommends we eat delicious mouth-watering fresh, hot food which helps us build our seven Dhatus, or tissue elements. If we cook food with the six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent — it will provide us with all the nutrients we need to maintain a healthy body and immunity.
Food as medicine
Ayurveda says, ‘Ahar Eva Aushdham’ — our food is our medicine. Along with the three Dosha balance — Vata , Pitta, Kapha — it is important to maintain Ojas, the immunity power of the body by enjoying nutritious food, plus Rasayan, or rejuvenating herbs. According to ayurveda, Ama Pachan (detox and digestion) are the fundamentals of therapy and a healthy body. A simple way of detoxing ourselves regularly is to eat easily-digestible foods cooked with herbs and spices like turmeric, cumin, ginger and garlic.
Do regular fasts, take herbs like Trifala and drink herbal teas with organic ginger, green tea, Amla (Indian gooseberry), black pepper and dandelion.
So which ayurvedic herbs did I use for my lockdown immunity and anxiety relief? I made a blend of the most powerful Rasayanas rejuvenator herbs recommended by ayurvedic medicine: Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera), Brahmi (Centella Asiatica/ bacopa monieri), turmeric (curcuminoids), Shatavari (asparagus racemosus), Amla (Indian gooseberry), and Tulsi (Indian Holy Basil), and added ginger and long pepper (Pipli) for respiratory support.
Turmeric is now established scientifically as the most powerful natural anti-viral, also providing inner gut and blood cleansing and digestive support; it is an anti-inflammatory due to the curcuminoids. Ashwagandha is also known worldwide as a powerful immunity booster and stress adaptogen. It helps us to cope better with stress, anxiety and depression and calm the mind. Research shows it exerts its positive health effects by acting on neurotransmitters and serotoninlike ‘happy’ molecules. It has been shown to increase our T and B lymphocyte cell functions, which help fight infection in the body.
Similarly, Brahmi (Gotu Kola/Bacopa/Centella) is a powerful mind rejuvenator that helps relieve anxiety, and aids peaceful sleep. It also promotes concentration, clarity of thought and a feeling of inner wellbeing. Shatavari likewise has a cooling, soothing and nourishing effect on the body.
Another recommendation is taking Tulsi Holy Basil as a tea drink — Tulsi ginger and Pipli, which I have been drinking throughout for anti-viral respiratory support. This has been a home remedy for coughs, colds and flu in India for centuries, recommended in ayurvedic medicine. In our yoga practice, Indian Holy Basil is essential for emotional and spiritual support within the chakras, our neurological centres. Tulsi not only helps with clearing airways, nasal and throat passages, but also improves our general immunity.
One of the daily tonics people take in India is Chyawanprash, a multi-herb tonic vital for healthy immunity and vitality. It is made from fresh Amla fruit, an Indian gooseberry with 26 rejuvenating herbs and spices preserved in natural cane sugar. Research has shown this to improve T-Cell lymphocyte function; it is prescribed as an important natural medicine for respiratory infections.
Finally, a good head and body self-massage with Brahmi oil, or a Vata-balancing oil made from Ashwagandha, basil, lavender and patchouli in sesame seed oil, works wonders. Another great ayurvedic oil I have found to be effective in releasing stiff muscles and boosting energy is the multi-purpose rejuvenating Mahanarayan oil. It’s made with camphorated sesame seed oil infused with 37 herbs and spices like Ashwagandha, Neem, turmeric, liquorice, cinnamon, vetiver, ginger and clove among other ingredients.
Heat about 30ml of Mahanarayan oil (or Vata balance oil, plain sesame seed oil) in a small bowl over a burner or microwave for 20 seconds. Take some in your palm and rub hands together. Now start massaging the scalp as if doing a ‘shampoo’ with your finger tips. Massage the temples, forehead, jaws and neck, then all joints and the lower back, the heart area and around the belly button. Massage the soles of the feet and the toes and between the toes. Now do a Surya Namaskar or stretch, rest for 10 minutes, then take a hot shower. This will revive you and ease tensions in the muscles and joints and make your skin glow. Remember: a happy soul is a healthy body.