Preventative Health & Immunity
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
When we look at health from an Ayurvedic perspective, what are we seeing? Good health (swastya) according to Ayurveda is derived of the mind, the body and soul (manas,sharira,atma) and Ayurveda believes that each is interconnected i.e. emotional health/mental health and physical health. When all three substances present in the body (doshas) are in equilibrium (samdosha) and the person is happy, peaceful and disease-free (or 'at ease') this is said to constitute a healthy person. To understand this on a greater level and how to fully attain our best health possible bringing our immunity and well-being to a maximum level is something we may now wish to begin to acknowledge, unlock and begin to put into practice.
In uncertain times, it is undoubtedly the basics that we will find ourselves returning to. The original staple way of life, what matters and what doesn't matter and what works and what does not. If we look at our immunity at a deeper level we will begin to understand that it is not just one thing as simple as taking a multivitamin or consuming the latest 'superfood' that will strengthen our immune system, but more so a combined effort of several different factors. For example, such substances that we take into our bodies like alcohol, cigarette smoke, fast food, leftover foods, heavy and hard to digest foods often lower our immunity (ojas) because the digestive system has to work harder to absorb and digest and this makes it more difficult to get a good level of nutrition to the tissues as they instead build toxins. This combined with external factors such as stress and unhealthy lifestyle all chip away at our internal reserve ultimately lowering our body's defense system.
Continued and chronic stressors in our life also play a big part. Most of us have stressors of some kind or another and to differing levels, but it is the way in which we manage them that is the key. We all handle stress differently and different activities can help in alleviating these for each individual. For example, taking a therapy massage, playing a sport, dancing, meditation, yoga, swimming, a walk in the park, talking to friends, swimming etc. When stress gets too much and we are not able to cope we often turn to other things such as drugs or alcohol, which acts as a distraction from the reality of the problem for a while. It enables us to behave in a way so as to be able to release our emotions through angry outburst or crying etc, becoming overly emotive or reactive to such a level which we couldn't do in a normal state and such a display would generally not be acceptable in the society. We tend to want to dull the pain we are facing or engage in such that will help us temporarily forget things or block them out. However, if this is resorted to frequently and we keep pushing things back as a coping mechanism then it could very well play havoc with our long-term health and may even cause addiction. The answer is that we actually need to learn to acknowledge our true emotions, our feelings , our true heart and to realize we can often be attached to fear or unhealthy situations for too long unless we find a way to detach, distract or deal with them before they take their toll on our physical health as well as mental health. As it is, it is not uncommon for continued mental and emotional disturbances to have a direct affect on the physical body, there being, it is said that mental health stands as initially as more important than physical health. If we continue to not address these long-term 'issues' then we will begin to see the various pre-signs and symptoms (purva-rupa) of illness and this where the pathogenic process begins.
When we are in in a continuous 'flight or fight mode' it can begin to cause inflammation and internal conflict and quite possibly the system will end up fighting itself (becoming chronic inflammation) and end up manifesting itself as an auto-immune disorder at the fifth stage (vyadhi). Ayurveda classifies the progression of a disease in six steps which are accumulation, provocation, spread, localization, and manifestation, destruction. It is the progression of this process that can cause a change in cellular intelligence, and abnormal changes in the tissues (dhatu) and organs and channels (srotas) leading to the prognosis of a disorder.
So, what is there on offer to help us cope in the long-term with issues such as stress, anxiety and depression? Well, Ayurveda is very helpful in treating such imbalances and treatment is combined with specific therapies using medicated herbal oils, herbs and Ayurvedic formula medicines as well as encouraging diet and lifestyle improvements.
Ayurveda believes that disease is also caused by or within the mind, the elements of the mind (maha-gunas) being disturbed by its own doshas (rajas and tamas) and causing derangement. So it is fair to say, mental toxins or blockages can occur as well as physical toxins. Whilst most can understand the basic concept of physical toxins ie. in the gut or in the channels of the body, not a lot is understood or acknowledged about toxins of the mind (manasa). If we consider the detoxification of the body, then we can also consider detoxification of the mind. Therefore, it is equally important to avoid the build up of the these in either form in order not to progress to the spreading stage so we can avoid the onset of psychosomatic problems or mental faculty issues.
If we now go back to discuss gut health, then it is not so obvious to many that we often have a false knowledge of foods, products etc that are supposedly 'good for us'. We seem to believe everything we read or are told in the newspaper or top health magazines and there is seemingly an element of considerable brain washing in the media. "What is medicine for one man is another's poison". Considering this, then how can everything simply be good for everyone? As practitioners, we are to take careful consideration of a person's background, current geological climate, genetic background and medical history before prescribing. If for any reason we are in even a slight state of imbalance, then we must be extremely careful of what we are consuming to avoid going to the greater imbalance and process of becoming more sick. This is where a recommended and balanced Ayurvedic diet can be helpful for you. There is a great proverb in Ayurveda : "When diet is wrong medicine is of no use, when diet is right medicine is of no need". Therefore, as practitioners it is not uncommon for us to recommend food as a medicine before we would introduce any herbs. In Ayurveda, we look at the person as a whole; the mind, body and the soul are inherently inter-connected and no one person is the same, this is the reason why treatment is always very individualized.
With this in mind, it is not just about what food we are consuming, it is the way and the time we are consuming and in which combinations as well as the method of cooking or who is cooking the food which also affects our mood. The energy we create when cooking is very important and the partaking of 'soul' food is most beneficial. Apart from this, we are often suffering from gas, bloating and indigestion, mostly contributed to by our wrong diet, but instead of addressing or taking notice of these pre-signs that the body gives, we prefer to pop a pill when the answer/cure is actually right in front of us. When will we face up to things? When will we start to look at the causative factor (nidhana)?. We are doing these things often with our full knowledge and thereby knowingly committing a crime against knowledge/wisdom and ourselves.
So again coming back to immunity, if our gut health is impaired in any way then it will effect our immunity power, it will clog up our system with toxins (ama) forming and obstruct the flow or life force (prana) through the channels of the body (srotas). Therefore, it is very important that we are eliminating our wastes regularly and effectively. Immunity begins with gut health and if gut health is affected then immunity is definitely compromised and at that stage it will not matter what we take to appease it , ie. probiotics or vitamins, supplements, health smoothies/juices etc, because the system will not be able to absorb the extra nutrients we are giving it and there will be no absorption or nutrient benefit because anything ingested at this stage will tend to become impaired or go straight through the system. Fundamentally, this means that our cells will not be able to function at an optimum level or required level of immunity, neither enable damage repair to cells, tissues etc. Therefore, first and foremost, we need to take care of our gut fire (agni) as Ayurveda states that all disease originate from an imbalance in the gut.
After initial basic treatment which involves strengthening the digestive fire and elimination of toxins (deepana, pachana), we can begin to add some rejuvenative and restorative herbs and immunity boosters to your program. These along with some basic techniques and tonics and the practice of correct eating habits will soon be absorbed and welcomed into your body tissues (dhatus) to the very last tissue level (shukra) which will in turn increase your immunity power, overall strength and happiness.
So, how is it that some peoples immunity seems to be stronger than others? Some people tend to come down with everything going whilst others do not seem to become ill at all or very rarely. Immunity is inherited to some extent from our parents and passed on, but it is also dependent on yourself and your inherent constitution (pakruti) ie. vata, pitta and kapha. Given this, there is still much we can do to improve our immunity. To have full immunity according to Ayurveda is considered to be having eight drops of essence (ojas) in the body. Whilst immunity and health can obviously differ in people of different ages according to strength of constitution and other etiological factors, Ayurveda believes a person's natural life cycle is of 100 years old without disease. Ayurveda believes that the the body has an innate ability to balance and heal itself and by using ancient wisdom to support these functions is a step towards true health recognition and long life.
In the current modern era (kalyug), we are all feeling perhaps a bit vulnerable to some extent and looking for ways to increase our immunity and strengthen our resilience. There is no other time better than this current time to take stock and delve deeper into our health and well-being, not just now, but for the future!
Stay positive, keep good thoughts. Eat well, sleep well and let's try to take great care of ourselves !
If you would like to have further information about treatment or specific information about how Ayurveda could work for you, please contact us directly or book your consultation appointment online.
Author : Lara-Jane Sinha, Ayurvedic Practitioner & Wellness Consultant