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Common Cold

What is the Common Cold?

There are a billion of them in the United States every year.  Adults usually contract up to four of them per year.  Children contract up to a dozen.

There are reasons why it’s called “common.”

The common cold is a series of symptoms associated with the upper respiratory tract.  These symptoms are the result of an infection by one or more of as many as 200 different types of viruses and include a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, nasal congestion with mucus discharge, a cough, a mild fever, and headaches.

The common cold is considered to be a self-limiting disease in that the infection and associated symptoms generally resolve themselves within a week or two of contraction.  However, it can leave the body vulnerable to other diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and sinusitis.

Though Western medicine doesn’t claim to have a cure for the common cold, it offers advice on how to prevent contraction of the condition and also offers a variety of remedies to relieve symptoms. To avoid infection, it is recommended to wash your hands, get adequate amounts of sleep, drink adequate amounts of water, and use anti-germ devices such as hand sanitizers. Popular remedies used throughout Western culture include consuming Vitamin C, drinking a lot of fluids, getting plenty of sleep and rest, and using over-the-counter medication such as a pseudoephedrine to relieve the severity of symptoms. More recently, it has become popular to use herbal remedies such as Echinacea to relieve symptoms and expedite the resolution of the infection. It is not recommended for cold sufferers to use antibiotics, as the common cold is a viral, and not a bacterial, infection.

How Does Ayurveda View the Common Cold?

Much like the Western approach to medicine, Ayurveda defines the severity of the common cold by the symptoms the sufferer endures.  The Western viewpoint considers all of the various symptoms one has to be the result of a central viral infection, and then responds to themas needed.  In a similar way, the Ayurvedic viewpoint considers the onset of a common cold to be the result of one or more of the doshas being irritated , and the nature of the symptoms defines the medicinal response.

One major difference between these two viewpoints, however, is that Ayurveda doesn’t categorize symptoms exclusively by where they occur in the body (i.e. nose, throat, etc.), but rather the nature of the symptoms themselves.  For example, when determining what sort of treatment one must administer for nasal congestion, it is important to observe whether there is a lot of mucus and if it is white or clear (a Kapha symptom), if the mucus is yellow or green (a Pitta symptom), or if there is very little mucus at all (a Vata symptom).  When the patient or practitioner determines which of the doshas are imbalanced as defined by the properties of the symptoms, the regimen is then administered accordingly.

Given how most of the symptoms of the common cold are in the head and chest, there are many indications as related to the Kapha dosha. One experiences a Kapha-related cold if there is a lot of mucus, the mucus is white or clear, and if coughs are consistently filled with phlegm and are productive.

Sometimes, there is a lot of heat associated with the cold in the form of a fever and an inflamed (sore) throat. This heat is associated with a Pitta-based cold, and Pitta colds have yellow or green mucus.

Often, a Kapha- or Pitta-based cold dries up to the point that there can be days or weeks of a dry, hacking cough that produces none or little phlegm as well as dry nasal passages. This indicates that the imbalance has moved up to the Vata location of the head and has dried up the system. Symptoms associated with a Vata imbalance also include hoarseness and insomnia.


How Does Ayurveda Treat the Common Cold?

Ayurvedic remedies for the common cold are defined by the nature of the cold’s symptoms. If the symptoms are Kapha in nature, then specific foods and herbs are taken to reduce the Kapha imbalance. This also holds true for Pitta or Vata symptoms. Given the self-limiting nature of the disease,

treatment is intended to lessen and perhaps shorten the incidence of symptoms, but isn’t likely to instantaneously resolve them. If the cold doesn’t mutate into another, more serious disease like bronchitis or pneumonia, the body will ultimately resolve the condition in response to proper rest and a balanced diet.

Lifestyle Changes for the Common Cold

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.  Regardless of the doshic imbalances associated with the cold, it is important to get plenty of rest, eat lighter foods like cooked vegetables and broths, avoid cold in the form of room temperature and drinks, and avoid sweets, meat products, and heavy foods like cheese.


  • Chew a piece of peeled fresh ginger with salt on it to help relieve a dry cough.
  • When the nose is dry, apply three drops of sesame oil to the nostril and rub along the inside. Repeat for other nostril.
  • Gargle with a tablespoon of warm sesame oil and a pinch of licorice and turmeric.


  • Gargle with salt water several times a day to relieve a sore throat.
  • Avoid eating late at night so as to prevent weak digestion.
  • Avoid talking and thinking in excess.
  • Avoid violent TV shows, as this creates heat in the body.


  • Avoid breads baked with yeast and white bleached wheat.
  • Fast for one day to burn off toxic matter in the body and help drain the excess mucus.
  • Sleep under several blankets to promote sweating during the night and help break up the cold.
  • Take an herbal concoction of senna or castor oil at night one hour before bed for one to two days to aid the colon in cleansing itself. The prepared concoction should be mild, and the castor oil can be one tablespoon to half cup of warm water.


Better Foods For the Common Cold

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 following foods are recommended for symptoms related to imbalances for each of the three doshas:

Sweet Potatoes
Oats (cooked)
Rice (white basmati)

Rice (white basmati)

Brussels Sprouts

Foods To AVOID In Response to the Common Cold

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.

Each of the below lists suggests foods to avoid in response to the three types of doshic symptoms of the common cold:


Oats (dry)
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Raw and cold foods

Rice (brown)
Corn oil
Almond oil
Spicy foods
Sour foods (like yogurt, sour cream, and pickles)

Sweet potatoes
Sweets and candies
Allergy-causing foods
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
Unnatural sugar
Cold foods
Leftover foods

Beverages for the Common Cold

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. For the common cold, it is helpful to consume, warm, soothing beverages to help resolve symptoms.

Take half a cup of warm water with one teaspoon of lemon juice and one teaspoon of honey several times a day.
Mix one teaspoon of warm water with half a teaspoon of ginger juice and half a teaspoon of honey and take several times a day.

Avoid cold and frozen drinks.
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.


Herbs for the Common Cold

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.




Yoga Postures for the Common Cold

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.  The following postures can be used to facilitate breathing and foster greater health while suffering from symptoms of a cold.


Shoulder stand











Aromatherapy For the Common Cold

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 cold 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 cold can be treated with sandalwood, tea tree, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lily, iris, mint, lavender, or lotus oil.

  • Use a coconut or sunflower oil base.
  • Apply oil in the center of the chest in front of the heart.

A Kapha-like cold can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, cedar, frankincense, or musk oil.

  • Use a canola or mustard oil base.
  • Apply oil on the skin between the navel and pubic bone.

Mantra Therapy for the Common Cold

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 cold, 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 cold, 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 cold, 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.


Breathing Practices the Common Cold

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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