Academic Notes: What does Ayurveda have to say about the Common Cold?

Lots of people are sniffling and sneezing and coughing right now, which is common at this time of year. In Ayurveda, the common cold is called pratysyaya. Traditionally, Ayurveda treats the unique set of symptoms associated with a cold as they are expressed within each individual, while bolstering ojas (immunity). Colds indicate a general weakening of ojas. They occur as a result of living out of harmony with our nature. A cold (as with all symptoms) can be looked at as an attempt made by the body to communicate the disharmony in the hope that we will listen and create change. 

While viruses cause colds, a weakness of the immune system creates an opportunity for the pathogen to take hold. In essence, the body becomes an attractive host. The immune system is governed by ojas, the subtle form of kapha. Activities that imbalance vata and pitta doshas quickly weaken ojas. This opens the door for viruses to grow and reproduce. Activities that imbalance kapha dosha can also weaken ojas, though this takes longer.

Ayurveda always understands disease and disharmony in terms of the unique nature of the patient, the nature of the disease, and the nature of the treatment. As a result, there are vata, pitta and kapha forms of most disease. Ailments are treated accordingly. This applies to colds; colds with lots of mucous indicate kapha. Mucous is the end result of a low digestive agni (digestive fire). Drier colds are vata. Colds with an infection and/or fever indicate pitta dosha.  

For all colds, the moment you feel any symptoms, if you begin caring for yourself right away you stand a better chance of either warding it off or diminishing it’s affect. The first step: rest. This helps to rebuild ojas. Avoid stress. Drink fluids. Herbs and supplements that can be beneficial include turmeric, vitamin C, echinacea, zinc, and Tulsi tea. Perform neti to cleanse the nasal passageways. Eat a light diet; kitcheri is often a perfect choice. 

For sore throats, sip a tea made of the juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 tsp of honey in a cup of hot water. You may add 1/4 tsp of slippery elm or licorice if desired. This will soothe the mucous membranes of the throat.  For the excess mucous associated with kapha type colds, sip hot water with the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp of old honey, 1/4 tsp black pepper and a pinch of dry ginger. 

When you get a cold, your body is telling you something about your lifestyle. So slow down, calm down, and listen to your body. We tend to push right through and ignore our bodies, and this only leads to more problems down the line. Take a look at your lifestyle. Are you living out of harmony? Do you tend to overindulge? Do you operate full steam ahead all the time? Are your days filled with stress? 

Just what is your cold trying to tell you ~ and how can you learn from the experience, creating better health and harmony in your life?

By Marisa Laursen, CAS, PKS, AYT. Excerpts from “Textbook of Clinical Ayurvedic Medicine” by Dr. Marc Halpern, Founder and Director of the California College of Ayurveda