Though it’s common for someone who’s coming down with a cold to think that theyare getting sick over the course of a day or two, those that are unfortunate enough to get the flu will know right away. When someone gets the flu, the associated symptoms hit them immediately—and hard.
Like the common cold, the flu is a series of symptoms associated with the upper respiratory tract and is the result of an infection from the influenza virus. Before getting the respiratory symptoms such as nasal congestion and a cough, flu sufferers will experience a fever—sometimes as high as 106 degrees—as well as feelings of achiness and chills throughout the body.
The flu is a highly infectious disease, in that it can be easily transferred from one person to another through coughs and sneezes from infected individuals. Like the common cold, the flu can usually resolve most of its symptoms within a week or two in otherwise healthy individuals. If the flu sufferer is elderly, a young child, or someone who has other significant health problems (like diabetes or heart disease) they may be more vulnerable to the virus and therefore require more substantial medical attention by trained professionals.
Also similar to the common cold, the flu can leave the body vulnerable to other diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and sinusitis.
As it has been cited that a specific virus triggers the flu, Western medicine has produced a vaccination to be taken as a preventative measure against contracting it when flu season comes around from winter until early spring. This, however, is only a preventative measure, and the primary Western response to the disease itself is to recommend rest, fluids, medication that is claimed to help relieve symptoms, and even an antiviral medicine that is supposed to shorten the duration of symptoms by a day.
Like with the common cold, 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. Also as with the common cold, it is not recommended for flu sufferers to use antibiotics, as it is a viral, and not a bacterial infection.
There isn’t a huge difference in how Ayurveda defines the significance of the flu relative to how it defines the common cold. Both are responded to in relation to the symptoms the sufferer endures, though the presence of a fever in this case suggests a stronger imbalance of the heat associated with Pitta energy.
The Western viewpoint considers all of the various symptoms one has to be the result of a viral infection, and the regimen then responds to the specific symptoms as needed. Ayurveda doesn’t categorize symptoms exclusively by where in the body the symptoms occur (nose, throat, etc.), but rather the nature of the symptoms themselves.
The flu usually happens in stages, and each of these stages relates to each of these different natures. When there is a high fever and yellow or green mucus, the flu is in a Pitta stage. When there is a lot of mucus and it is white or clear, the flu is in a Kapha stage. When the flu is starting to dry up and there is a dry, hacking cough with little or no mucus at all, the illness is in a Vata stage. When the patient or practitioner determines which of the doshas are imbalanced as defined by the nature of the symptoms, the regimen is then administered accordingly. One way to know if a patient has the flu or just a cold is that the influenza virus causes a lot of achiness in the body, but cold symptoms do not.
Ayurvedic remedies for the flu are defined by the nature of its symptoms. If the symptoms are Pitta in nature, then specific foods and herbs are taken to reduce the Pitta imbalance. This also holds true for Kapha or Vata symptoms. Given the self-limiting nature of the disease, treatment is intended to lessen and perhaps shorten the incidence of symptoms,
but aren’t likely to instantaneously resolve them. If the flu doesn’t mutate into another, more serious disease like bronchitis or pneumonia, and if the sufferer isn’t already suffering from weakness associated with another disease or old age, the body will ultimately resolve the condition in response to proper rest, a balanced diet, and other lifestyle modifications.
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 flu, 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. The following remedies and lifestyle changes are consistent with those of resolving influenza:
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:
Rice (white basmati)
Rice (white basmati)
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 flu:
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
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. For influenza, it is helpful to consume, warm, soothing beverages to help resolve symptoms.
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.
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 the flu:
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.
The Vata phase of the flu can be treated with basil, camphor, cedar, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lily, lotus, musk, myrrh, patchouli, sandalwood, or cinnamon oil.
The Pitta phase of the flu can be treated with sandalwood, tea tree, rose, honeysuckle, gardenia, lily, iris, mint, lavender, or lotus oil.
The Kapha phase of the flu can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, cedar, frankincense, or musk oil.
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 the Vata phase of the flu, 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 the Pitta phase of the flu, 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 the Kapha phase of the flu, 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. Like with the yoga postures above, breathing exercises are likely to be of significant benefit to those who suffer from considerable amounts of stress.
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