How's your ojas these days?
That's the Sanskrit word for the immune system, and we all can use a little boost in that department.
I am a big fan of ayurveda, which often is called the sister science to yoga. It's the traditional system of medicine in India, used for thousands of years, that seeks to balance the body through diet, herbs and lifestyle choices. Food and spices are considered medicine in ayurveda.
Ojas is a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, said Carly Beaudin, clinical ayurvedic specialist and owner and founder of Ancient Heart Ayurveda.
"A good metaphor for understanding ojas is it's the honey of the body," she said. "The bee goes out, collects pieces of flowers, brings it back and makes it into amazing honey. Ojas is like sap."
When we make those good health choices, our immune systems naturally strengthen and we can fight off the germs that enter our systems on a daily basis. Beaudin has a number of suggestions to work into your daily routine. Imagine each one as a deposit in the bank of your future good health.
1. During periods of cold, wet weather, eat warm, cooked and spiced foods, such as soups and root vegetables. Beaudin recommends spices such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and fennel. They're all considered warming to the digestive system.
"Ayurveda is opposing the qualities that create issues in our body," she said. "The cold is our problem right now in winter so we counteract that by being warm. As we shift into different seasons, we shift what we give our body."
2. Healthy, strong digestion is the golden fleece in ayurveda. Take an honest look at the foods and beverages you consume. Pay attention to those that give you gas, constipation, indigestion or a heaviness in your body.
You want to get to a point where you are able to digest everything. For now, avoid the substances that make your body unhappy, and work on improving digestion by adding spices to foods you know work well in your system.
3. Avoid cold liquids and foods during cold months. This is a blanket statement, Beaudin said. While each person's constitution is different and requires different practices, every person will benefit from forgoing cold items.
"Iced beverages for the immune system are tragic," she said. They can dampen agni - the internal fire that helps fight pathogens and viruses. You want that fire to burn as strongly as possible in winter.
4. Take more herbs. Two that build ojas in everyone are amalaki and ashwaganda.
Amalaki has the highest concentrated form of vitamin C in any plant life. You can order it online or find it at herbal apothecaries. Ashwaganda traditionally has been prescribed to help strengthen the immune system after an illness, reports the website Chopra.com. You can take them in capsule form or place a teaspoon of the whole herb in a cup of warm water.
A third excellent ojas builder is ghee, which is clarified butter. You can buy it at most grocery or natural food stores.
5. Use essential oils. There are hundreds of oils, such as tea tree and eucalyptus, to choose from, Beaudin said, and they're all anti-fungal and anti-bacterial by nature. Anytime you use them, you help kill bacteria and boost the immune system.
To use: Take warm baths and add essential oils. Make room sprays by putting filtered water into a bottle and adding drops of oil to it. Spray counters, hands, yoga mats - anything that might carry germs.
To help fight the flu, Beaudin recommends eucalyptus, lemon, rosemary, ginger, cardamom and clove.
6. Move your body and your breath. Yoga and meditation always are recommended, Beaudin said.
"It's really important to keep moving during this season and get the heart to pump. Whatever it takes to get off the couch, do it," she said.
7. Rest and rejuvenation. Summer and its longer, light-filled days are coming, so it's good to prepare now for the sunshine and activity.
But take note - too much sleep can be as bad for the immune system as too little sleep, Beaudin said.
"Oversleeping we can get away with in the summer," she said. "A good rule of thumb is eight hours, but between seven to nine is a good window."
Contact Jennifer Mulson: 636-0270