Insights into Immunity

Fall harvest is traditionally a happy time when communities celebrate together. Yet it also heralds the beginning of flu and cold season. For immunity-enhancing advice, we asked two experts from the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center Lancaster — Vaidya Jagdish Vaidya, the Resident Ayurvedic Expert, and Steele Belok, M.D., Medical Director.

Vaidya Jagdish Vaidya served as director of a prestigious ayurvedic hospital in India, and Dr. Belok is a staff physician at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and is a Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Here they discuss how the ayurvedic approach differs from the Western approach, and what we can do to fortify our immune systems against the cold and flu this fall.

Q: Can you explain Maharishi Ayurveda's approach to immunity?

Dr. Belok: Strengthening immunity is the central theme of Maharishi Ayurveda. It is summarized in the recommendation of perhaps the greatest physician who ever lived, Maharishi Patanjali, who distilled the essence of ayurveda into three words: Heyam Duhkham Anagatam. This means: "avert the suffering that has not yet come." In a nutshell, this sutra suggests that if our immunity is strong, we will disallow disease and its attendant suffering.

Q: How is this ayurvedic approach different from the Western medical approach?

Dr. Belok: Modern medicine uses an approach that is directly opposite from ayurveda. In modern medicine, the patient must be sick before we intervene with our therapies. Medicines in this context have a localized effect in addressing a diseased part of mind or body.

In contrast, the therapies of Maharishi Ayurveda are designed to strengthen the whole individual. Extensive research shows, in fact, that people who practice Maharishi Ayurveda approaches such as the Transcendental Meditation® technique have fewer hospitalizations and less medical care usage over time.

Vaidya Vaidya: I would say the main difference is that in Western medicine, immunity is still a relatively unknown factor. Let's say two different people are eating peanut butter, and one has a violent reaction and the other doesn't. Why is this happening? Western medicine can't answer that question.

You can't really see the immune system in the same way that you can see the cardiovascular system. Even though we talk about it as a system, it cannot be detected in the physiology and anatomy. Yet ayurveda contains precise and detailed knowledge about this question of immunity — why there are differences among people and how to improve immunity in everyone.

Q: So what is the reason for these kinds of differences in individual immunity?

Vaidya Vaidya: According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there are three kinds of immunity:

  1. Sahaj — the natural immunity that a person is born with. If a person has high immunity, he or she may not get sick even when others do. This natural immunity can increase or decrease depending on the lifestyle and dietary choices a person makes.
  2. Kalaj — immunity that changes with the time of life and in certain seasons. The autumn season, for instance, is considered the time when the immune system is weakest. Thus, Maharishi Ayurveda offers many ways to strengthen immunity in the fall.
  3. Yuktikrit — immunity that results from therapeutic interventions, such as daily and seasonal diet and routine, aromatherapy, sound therapy, Maharishi Rejuvenation therapy (panchakarma), and herbal supplements and elixirs such as Maharishi Amrit Kalash. These are especially important if you are under stress or have weakened your immunity through exposure to toxins or wrong lifestyle and dietary choices.

Q: What is the ayurvedic way to enhance immunity in the fall?

Vaidya Vaidya: There are three main factors that play a role in immunity. The first is nidan, the virus or cause of disease, which of course should be avoided. The second is the state of balance of the three doshas (mind-body operators), Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The third is the strength of the tissues and organs in the body.

If the doshas are out of balance, they will create imbalance and weakness in the tissues and organs, leaving you susceptible to disease.

The virus, or cause of disease, is everywhere. You cannot avoid that — it may already live in your body. However, by keeping your doshas in balance and by keeping your digestive fire (agni) strong, you can keep your tissues and organs strong. Then the virus cannot grow.

Ten Top Tips for Enhancing Immunity this Fall

Here are ten top tips for revving up digestion and keeping your immunity strong throughout the fall season.

  1. Eat smaller quantities of food. By eating less, the digestive fire becomes stronger. This helps digest impurities and strengthen immunity. Even doing this for a few days in the fall can help give your digestion a rest and increase its strength.
  2. Eat lighter food. This means less cold or heavy food. During autumn the digestion is weaker, so eat less meat and cheese. Avoid leftovers and processed food.
  3. Follow the Pitta-Pacifying Diet. Since Pitta (summer) season lasts until Halloween, follow the cooling Pitta-Pacifying Diet until then. This diet tends to be lighter, so it also helps boost fall immunity. Eat more light, soupy foods and avoid spicy, greasy, or heavy foods.
  4. Take Maharishi Amrit Kalash. This premier ayurvedic rasayana, or elixir, contains amalaki, the richest source of vitamin C. Research shows that this sophisticated blend of 38 herbs is an effective way to enhance immunity, clear away harmful free radicals, and detoxify the body.
  5. Fortify your immunity with herbal food supplements. Bio-Immune is a powerful herbal formula that is specifically designed to enhance immunity. Its combination of 13 herbs clears toxins from the body, improves digestion and cleanses the liver. Cold Weather Defense is specifically designed to fortify immunity during cold weather. By taking it throughout the colder months, it can help in supporting respiratory health.
  6. Drink Organic Vata Tea to calm the mind and aid digestion and elimination. If the digestive fire is especially weak, drink Organic Kapha Tea to help eliminate impurities and power up digestion.
  7. Get extra rest. As the days grow shorter and darkness falls sooner, it's important to be attuned to nature and go to bed earlier during fall. For the best-quality sleep, it's ideal to be in bed before 10 p.m. and rise early.
  8. Eat your meals at the same time every day. Plan to eat your meals at the same time every day. When your meals are on a regular schedule, your digestion runs more smoothly and efficiently, creating less undigested food and toxins.
  9. Eat your main meal at noon. This is when the digestive fire is at its peak and can handle larger quantities of food. Make breakfast and supper lighter meals.
  10. Use Calming (Vata) Aroma Oil to balance the doshas. Aromatherapy is especially important in preventing airborne diseases.

If you do start feeling symptoms, try these herbal formulas for a more immediate effect.

Sniffle Free herbal tablets and Sniffle Free Tea help free the sinuses of obstruction so you can breathe easily again — without drying them out or creating drowsiness or other side effects as antihistamines do. And with the first tickle in the throat, take a teaspoon of Clear Throat. This fast-acting, sweet-tasting syrup helps clear the throat of mucus and clears clogged sinuses. Follow with Throat Ease lozenges to keep the throat lubricated and clear. These are also great products if you have to talk a lot or strain your throat during the Fall months.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.