Getting Back to Traditional Medicine: Trading in the Cough Syrup for Herbs
By Christina Pasternak More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the FOOD-A-MINS Blog Series
Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, is one of the oldest surviving herbal healing systems in the world. The modern American health care system has shifted our focus to treating symptoms as they arise rather than understanding and preventing the cause. We spend too much of our life cleaning up our dietary and lifestyle messes when we could actually be living - smooching our pets, loving our loved ones, re-organizing our closet, whatever. We like what we like! The concept of self-care and prevention is a gift. It’s our key to health freedom. Our passage to vitality.
The core concept of Ayurvedic principles is achieving balance and staying well for life. The treatment techniques are geared toward the idea of never having symptoms, and, if you do, bringing your body back into balance quickly and effectively with food, spices, and herbs. Many people think natural healing is mystifying and vague, but Ayurveda is actually very systematic, organized, and straight-forward. Once I learned the basic body-balancing concepts, my view of health, disease, medicine, and healing completely changed - food is my medicine of choice now.
Balancing the Three Doshas
According to Ayurveda, there are three metabolic forces, called doshas, that are responsible for creating and sustaining balance in our daily and lifelong health.
Kapha Dosha: Maintains body structure and lubrication. The presence of Kapha in the body creates wet/oily, cold, heavy, slow, and stable internal qualities.
Pitta Dosha: Maintains digestive and glandular secretions, body heat, and metabolism. It also creates wet/oily, hot, light, and intense qualities in the body.
Vata Dosha: Maintains movement in the body, such as joint functions. Responsible for immune system. It has a dry, cold, light, and irregular presence in the body.
The three doshas are responsible for all bodily functions, and every single action affects their presence - food, medication, drugs, exercise, sleep, elimination, sex, stress, emotions. The three doshas are always working towards achieving equilibrium, which ultimately leads to optimum health. Conversely, imbalances of the doshas creates imbalances in the body.
When we experience abnormalities, our body is providing us with some insight into what’s going on in there and how our doshas are getting along. Symptoms can be interpreted into excess energy of certain doshas.
Excess Vata: Pain (sharp, prickling), dryness, stiffness, tension, immobility, cracking, hoarseness, gas, constipation, worry, fatigue, emaciation, insomnia
Excess Pitta: Inflammation, burning, redness, blisters, bruises, heartburn, diarrhea, bad breath, sour taste in mouth, night sweats, bloodshot eyes, angry, argumentative
Excess Kapha: Mucus, phlegm, dull pain, itching, heaviness, cold, greasiness, drowsiness, indigestion, obesity, edema
The Importance of Food and Diet
According to Ayurveda, improper diet is the main underlying factor that causes dosha imbalances and disease. The good news is that, when we have a better understanding of the energetic qualities of our food, it can be the most effective approach to rebalancing our bodies and treating disease. When we are experiencing problems associated with a dominating dosha, it’s important to eat a diet with opposite characteristics of that particular dosha.
- Excess Vata can be treated with warm, moist, heavier foods
- Excess Pitta can be balanced with cool, dry, heavier foods
- Excess Kapha should include warm, dry, lighter foods
Ayurvedic Cold Remedy
During the winter months, colds are a common problem (and a major bummer). According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the common cold occurs when there is an imbalance of the Kapha and Vata doshas. Vata is responsible for our immune system, while Kapha is responsible for the respiratory system and lungs.
When there is congestion/build-up of Kapha, an individual may experience symptoms such as sneezing, cough, and drainage. We all know when a cold is coming on - snotty nose! In order to boost your immune system and prevent getting super sick, try the following regimen to rebalance your body:
Immune Boosting Tea
- Juice of 1 whole lemon
- 2-3 inches of fresh ginger, minced or grated
- 1-2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp clove, powder
- 2 tbsp raw honey
- Pinch of cayenne
Steep all ingredients in 16 oz. of hot water; drink while hot two times per day. Warm foods and drinks are important to keep both Kapha and Vata balanced.
- Ginger: Restores balance to Kapha and stimulates circulation; warms the body
- Turmeric: Assists with clearing the lungs of phlegm and activates the liver; warms the body
- Cayenne: Increases blood flow; stimulates secretions that help clear mucus membranes lining the nasal passages, helping to relieve congestion and stuffiness; warms the body
- Cloves: Expectorates mucous, warms and energizes the body, and stimulates the lungs
- Cinnamon: Strengthens the immune system; contains anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties; warms the body
- Honey: Helps clear sinuses; contains anti-bacterial properties; strengthens immune system; expectorate mucous, associated with the common cold, cough, and sore throat
- Lemon: Stimulates the liver; cleansing; fights germs
In addition to the immune-boosting and cold-fighting tea, it is equally important to avoid the following:
- Dairy Products: Considered mucus-forming in Ayurveda and can exacerbate congestion symptoms, especially when the body is fighting a cold
- Sugar: Creates heaviness and is mucus-forming
- Heavy and Cold Foods: Includes bread, pasta, cheese, yogurt, cold drinks, meat, and raw foods
Start Playing with Your Food
The concepts of Ayurveda can be a fun new way of looking more closely at the food you’re eating and using it to enjoy better health. The first time I kicked my cold’s ass with my immune boosting tea, I felt pretty empowered. And that’s how it should be - our food should empower us. Not break us down. Not make us feel guilty. Not make us sick. So start listening to your body - your doshas are talking to you! They want you to be happy, healthy, and, of course, balanced.
Khalsa, K.P., & Tierra, M. (2008). The way of ayurvedic herbs: The most complete guide to natural healing and health with traditional ayurvedic herbalism. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.