An Ayurvedic guide to building your immunity for Vata season

We’re only in the first few weeks of fall, but the leaves are starting to change, the temperatures are getting a little chilly, and the days are getting shorter. Do you know what that means?! Vata season is right around the corner!

What the heck is Vata season? Well, in Ayurveda, rather than dividing the year into the four typical seasons (winter, spring, summer, and fall), it divides it into three: Vata season, which lasts from late fall into early winter; Kapha season, which starts during the coldest, darkest part of winter and lasts well into spring; and pitta season, the hottest time of year that goes from late spring to early fall.

We’re about to enter into Vata season. Vata, by nature, is cold, dry, light, windy, irregular, subtle, and rough — qualities that are associated with the elements ether and air, which are the elements that rule Vata (hence the name Vata season). This is also what fall looks like in nature and within our mind-body complex.

Now, if you remember, one of the main principles of Ayurveda is “Like increases like, and opposites bring balance.” Generally, Vata goes out of balance during autumn. And that’s because there is an excess of Vata energy, which can easily lead to a Vata imbalance. Vata imbalances can cause poor circulation, dryness, feeling constantly cold, aches and pains, constipation, bloating, allergies, restlessness, reduced focus, anxiety and sleep issues, and reduced immunity.

According to Ayurveda, changes in season tend to have a weakening effect on our body, which makes us more susceptible to infections. Not only has a new season just started, but we’re also in the middle of a pandemic and about to enter flu season. Which means that building up your immunity is one of the most important things you can do right now.

According to Ayurveda, strong immunity is a product of good digestion, strong agni (the metabolic fire), quality liver functioning, and a balanced endocrine system. Immunity is also very much connected to a substance called ojas, which is the product of complete and balanced digestion. It is said that the strength of one’s ojas determines which factors and influences  (internal and external) cause disease in each individual.

If your body is out of balance, and full of ama – the toxic byproducts that result from incomplete digestion – viruses and harmful bacteria will find a place to take hold and thrive. But if your digestion is strong, your ojas will predominate in your body. Unlike ama, ojas has a strengthening effect on your immune system and when they rule the body, infections and diseases are much easier to fight off.

As the days grow darker and colder, we naturally begin to do the things that mitigate the excess Vata, like turning on the fireplace, baking more, and eating cooked foods like casseroles, soups, and stews. It’s a time of year for you to focus on really restoring your body. After all, there is a reason why bears hibernate in winter. But there are many other things you can do to boost your immunity. Here are 5 ways to build your immunity through Ayurveda in preparation for the upcoming Vata season.

Boost Your Immunity with Your Diet

Tending to your agni is the best way to promote optimal health throughout your bodily system, which in turn, protects your ojas. You should eat light, warm foods that are cooked with resistance-enhancing spices, like turmeric, chyawanprash, sitopaladi, talisadi, ginger, and tulsi.  These herbs often have an affinity for specific tissues and systems in the body, and, each in their own way, help to encourage proper immune function and optimal health.

You also want to make sure to avoid eating or drinking anything cold. Cold foods and drinks fill your body with the cold guna or “quality.” Eating cold foods during cold weather will reduce your bodily heat and your agni, leading to a build-up of ama.

According to Ayurvedic principles, it’s the best time of year to eat animal protein. And along with that, you’ll want to eat Vata-balancing foods, including grains, sweet, juicy fruits, squashes, courgettes, asparagus, light, easily digestible proteins, and vegetable proteins.

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep 

Getting a good night’s sleep is always important, but especially so during the Vata season, as it balances the fast, lively, moving qualities of Vata. Sleep is essential because it supports immunity and resistance to disease.  In humans, sleep deprivation severely compromises immunity. You should try to go to bed and get up at about the same time each day, and aim to sleep for about eight hours each night.

Find Ways to Cope with Stress 

Excess stress can be detrimental to our immune system because stress hormones can reallocate vital resources to ensure our immediate survival, which ends up suppressing the immune system. Therefore, reducing your exposure to stressful situations, or finding ways to cope with your current stress levels, will help to preserve your ojas and bolster your immune system.

Creating a routine for yourself can be a particularly potent means of preserving immunity and protecting ojas. Over time, this context of predictability and safety encourages the nervous system to relax, reduces stress, encourages rejuvenation, and helps to preserve immune function.

You can also find if there are other activities that help you relieve stress, like exercising, reading a book, taking a bath, journaling, or listening to some calming music.

Engage in Mindfulness Practices

If you want to supplement any of your own stress-releasing practices, Ayurveda has a few mindfulness practices that help to cultivate presence, cleanse the nadis (subtle channels of the body), digest ama, relieve stress, and support you ojas, ultimately boosting immunity.

Pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) restores fluidity and vitality to the nadis, releases tension, and supports the nervous system as a whole while digesting and eliminating blockages and ama.

Yoga is another practice that also moves prana in the body, helps to alleviate tension, clears blockages, and encourages fluidity throughout the tissues, the nadis, and the mental and emotional spheres.

Meditation supports us in cultivating passive awareness, which in turn, calms the nervous system, decreases stress, and encourages a healthier response to stressful situations—all of which help to protect our ojas and promote immunity.

Get Appropriate Exercise

Exercise is another one of those practices that we should do year-round, but especially so during the times, we need to boost our immunity. Exercise is important because it helps to release tension, release stagnant mental and emotional energy, and improve circulation. It also ignites your Agni, improves digestion, aids in detoxifying the body, promotes relaxation, and supports sound sleep—all of which benefit our immune system.

However, improper exercise can actually be quite damaging and can compromise immunity. The type, duration, and intensity of exercise that is most supportive varies from person to person, and heavily depends on who we are as individuals. For some, the right exercise might be an intense HIIT workout and for others, a simple 20-minute walk will do. Try to experiment with various forms of exercise and listen to what your body tells you is right.

The key takeaway here is to improve your balance, your dietary, seasonal, and lifestyle balance that is. Your body will become prone to infection and disease when something is out of balance. So in order to boost your immunity, you must focus on the things that will become equalizers and promote immunity from within.