The number one reason for doctor visits in the United States is that a cough is present. It is a persistent and often difficult symptom associated with one or more of many different causes. When a person coughs, they are clearing out the respiratory passages of foreign substances and mucus. This action can either be voluntary or involuntary. A cough can be a symptom of many conditions or diseases including a respiratory infection such as a cold, the flu, pneumonia, asthma, chronic bronchitis, allergies, smoking, as a side-effect of medication, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or other conditions.
Western medicine categorizes coughs as either acute (lasting under three weeks), subacute (between three and eight weeks), or chronic (more than eight weeks) and is addressed by doctors by citing its cause and treating it accordingly. Medications for treating coughs as a symptom include using cough suppressants and sometimes using anti-inflammatory agents that settle inflammation of the patient’s airways.
Like its Western counterpart, and consistent with other aspects of its traditional practices, Ayurveda considers the possible causes of a cough when diagnosing and treating it. What is of great significance when treating a cough with Ayurvedic methods, is the nature of the symptoms. For example, Ayurveda treats a phlegmy cough based on a Kapha imbalance (like that of bronchitis), differently than a Vata-like cough that is dry and follows the resolution of a cold. Ayurveda identifies five different types of cough, including Vata, Pitta, Kapha, coughs that are a result of injury to the lungs, and an emaciation or wasting cough associated with diseases like pulmonary tuberculosis.
A Vata cough will be dry and produce little or no phlegm and mucus. This type of cough can lead to a general feeling of dryness and pain, and can lead to agitation, anxiety, and insomnia.
A Pitta cough will produce yellow or green mucus, and can be accompanied by a fever, thirst, a bitter or acidic taste in the mouth, and sometimes even the vomiting of blood.
A Kapha cough will produce thick, white, or clear mucus, and can be accompanied by a slight pain in the chest, a coating of the throat, and a feeling of heaviness.
Injury-based and wasting coughs require aggressive treatment and are ideally addressed under the guidance of a trained medical practitioner.
Along with treating the root-cause of the cough, an Ayurvedic practitioner will administer therapies as based on the nature of the cough itself.
Vata coughs will be treated with foods and herbs that nourish the body and reverse the excessive dryness in the airways and other related body parts.
Pitta coughs will be treated with emetic remedies that cleanse the body of toxins and settle the buildup of heat in the body.
Kapha coughs will be treated with remedies that will purge the body of obstructive elements like mucus and other manifestations of thickness and heaviness.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. In tandem with identifying the root cause of a cough, the following actions can help resolve the symptoms.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. The general intention of responding to a cough with food is to eat items that help to reduce the aggravation of whatever dosha is manifesting in the cough (dry cough for Vata, etc.).
Whole wheat (unbleached)
Rice (white basmati)
Avoid raw and cold foods
Rice (white basmati)
Avoid nuts, lentils, and sour foods
Avoid nuts, seeds, and sweets
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha. Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha. Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods are organized by dosha and should be avoided in response to whichever type of symptoms manifest in the cough.
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Avoid raw and cold foods
Sour foods (like yogurt, sour cream, and pickles)
Sweets and candies
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Hot water with ginger, licorice, and/or black salt. This can be mixed with raw honey, cane sugar, or molasses.
Take hot milk with honey before going to bed.
Hot water with licorice, fresh ginger, dry ginger, and sandalwood (white). This can be mixed with raw honey and cane sugar.
Take grape juice mixed with milk, sugar cane, and sugar cane water, as noted above.
Sour drinks after meals, including lassi (it should be very light and diluted well).
Hot water with ginger, sandalwood (white variety), calamus, and/or black pepper, as noted above
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon . Drink these in half cup of hot water.
Aloe vera with a pinch of turmeric
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Knee to chest
Knee to chest
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
A Vata-like cough can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, or cinnamon oil.
• Use a sesame oil base.
• Apply oil on the forehead or on the back of the neck.
A Pitta-like cough can be treated with sandalwood, tea tree, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lily, iris, mint, or lavender oil.
• Use a coconut or sunflower oil base.
• Apply oil in the chest center in front of the heart.
A Kapha-like cough can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, musk, cedar, frankincense, or myrrh oil.
• Use a canola or mustard oil base.
• Apply oil on the skin between the navel and pubic bone.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
For a Vata-like cough, repeat the syllable “Lam” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
• As a Vata-related disorder, it is helpful to inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For a Pitta-like cough, repeat the syllable “Aum” (pronounced ohm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
• As a Pitta-related disorder, it is helpful to both outwardly chant and inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
For a Kapha-like cough, repeat the syllable “Ham” (pronounced hahm) for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
• As a Kapha-related disorder, it is helpful to outwardly chant this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
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