Photo: Nataša Mandić

This has been quite the flu season. Hospitals are reporting the highest number of flu cases in nearly a decade, resulting in some school districts closing and long-term care facilities restricting visitors since kids and the elderly are most at risk for complications due to the flu.

Ayurveda, the thousands-of-years-old system of medicine from India, has long known that the very young and the very old have the most delicate immune systems and are more susceptible to the perils of disease. Like modern medicine, ayurveda also would agree that the best medicine in prevention, so along with the CDC recommendations of coughing into a tissue and throwing it away, sneezing into your arm, keeping your hands clean, and avoiding touching your eyes and mouth—ayurveda has a few other action items to help in prevention of flu.

Look at the flu from an ayurvedic perspective.

Ayurveda links all disease back to a condition called ama. One of my teachers from India, Dr. Partap Chauhan, would say that ama is the mama of all disease. Ama is the by-product of poorly digested food, caused by eating when not hungry, eating too much, eating if upset, eating on the run, excessive processed foods, and eating foods that are not in season. The result is a sticky, clogging, half-digested food that enters the circulatory system and clogs the channels. The short-term symptoms may be lack of appetite, constipation or diarrhea, lassitude, and a foggy mind, but the ultimate result of ama is a weakened immune system. We become what we eat, so if we are eating "junk food" or are not mindful of what, when, and how we are eating, we weaken our entire system. This has long been a central concept in ayurveda, and modern science has more evidence to back this concept up with research every single day.

Prevent the flu according to ayurveda.

In the classical texts of ayurveda, there isn’t a mention of "flu," but there is mention of ama, which includes a fever and resembles the flu. So first we want to prevent the ama. Here are some ways to boost your digestion, which will help in proper assimilation of foods to support a strong immune system:

1. Eat foods in season.

It’s winter. So eat foods that are cooked and easy to digest. Soups, stews, cooked vegetables, beans, and rice. Avoid anything raw, cold, and iced. Leave the salads for summer; ditch the smoothies for hot soup; favor tea and hot water over iced beverages.

2. Don't eat over capacity.

Your body can hold only so much. It's helpful to think of your stomach as a shopping bag: It can hold only so much before the items slip out or the bag breaks. The same is true for your stomach. Don’t fill it up too much, and listen to your body when it sends you signs that you're no longer hungry. One example? Burping. A burp is the stomach sending a message to the brain to stop eating.

3. Eat only when you are hungry.

Ayurveda describes hunger as a fire, and the stomach is like a wood-burning stove that holds the fire element. When the fire is ready, just like a wood-burning stove, you feed it. If you're not hungry, it means there's not enough fire (digestive enzymes and acid) to properly transform the food into nutrients your body can use. This will leave you with an undigested substance that the body cannot really do anything with, except eliminate.

4. Don't eat processed junk food.

Dr. Mark Hyman says there's no such thing as junk food. There’s just junk—and there’s food. I love this, and ayurveda would agree! Processed food does not promote health. Eat foods that are fresh, the same as when they came out of the earth, cooked, and easy for you to digest.

5. Eat in a relaxed manner.

The nervous system lives in the gut, so if we eat when we are angry, grieving, or stressed out, we won’t properly digest our food. Take a few breaths; relax the body; turn off the computer, TV, or phone; and eat in a peaceful environment. How we eat is as important as what we eat.

Want to learn more about ayurveda? Here are some ayurvedic oils that unlock your body's natural healing potential.

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