Unfortunately, it also gets in our sinuses, chest and lungs! It seems like the springtime cold is inevitable. But is it really? According to the ancient health practices of Ayurveda, illness like the springtime cold is due to imbalances in the doshas – the three energies that control functioning of the body and mind. In particular, sinus congestion and respiratory issues are related to kapha dosha. Kapha is responsible for structure and lubrication in the body – too much phlegm is caused when the signal to lubricate the sinuses goes too far. Kapha is also associated with mental stability and generosity of spirit. When out of balance, kapha dosha can manifest as lethargy, possessiveness, and depression.
Late winter and springtime are the seasons associated with kapha dosha. This explains why seasonal depression hits the hardest after the holidays (late winter) and why those springtime colds seem so inevitable. Luckily, once you are aware of the natural increase in kapha during this time of year, you can take steps to minimize the buildup and imbalance of kapha through diet, exercise and lifestyle.
- Emphasize light, spicy foods / minimize heavy, oily or sweet foods (think broth soups with lots of veggies, or spicy stir-fry’s – Thai food anyone???)
- Get plenty of vigorous exercise – this is the time of year to work up a sweat
- Tackle a task you’ve been putting off (Spring cleaning those messy closets?)
But sometimes, that isn’t quite enough and you may still find yourself with a spring cold. Never fear – Ayurvedic therapies can help you kick that cold in time to smell the apple blossoms. At the first sign of sinus congestion, start using a neti pot to cleanse the sinus cavity(1) – (see the notes below for more information on neti pot). This helps avoid phlegm build up and gets things moving. You can also add a pinch of the spice turmeric to the saltwater rinse. Turmeric is a natural antibiotic and anti-inflammatory agent – it’s an ingredient in both curry and mustard and gives them the traditional yellow-gold color. If you have a sore throat, gargle with a turmeric-salt water solution and the anti-inflammatory properties are immediately apparent (2). But be careful – this healing spice stains cloth and countertops.
To cure a cold, stick with light, easy to digest foods – such as broth-based soups (What do you know? Grandma was right – chicken noodle soup does help cure your cold – though veggie-based will work, too). But to really help get kapha balanced, add some spice. In particular, heating spices like ginger, clove, and pepper balance kapha. So grab that ginger tea or make a pot of spicy Chai – but leave out the kapha-aggravating sugar and milk. If you have to add sweetener, stevia is least kapha aggravating.
As you learn more about living peacefully within the cycles of nature, the springtime cold will no longer be inevitable. But until then, these easy tools can help you get back to optimum health in no time at all.
Heather Anastos, Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner
(1) For more infomation on neti pots, see the links below. The first link is to a WebMD discussion of the benefits of neti. The second is a how-to video. Personally, I’ve never done the exercises afterward, but the video gives a good demonstration. (Though it isn’t as easy or comfortable as they make it look!)
(2) For more information on turmeric, and other healing spices, I recommend the following reading:
Simon, David and Deepak Chopra. The Chopra Center Herbal Handbook – Forty Natural Prescriptions for Perfect Health. New York: Random House, 2000.
Frawley, David and Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs, 2nd Edition. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2001.