The coronavirus has turned the world upside down, impacting all of us. Are there measures you can use from Ayurveda that positively strengthen yourself and your community? In the face of COVID-19 Ayurveda responses weigh in on the side of health.
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old East Indian complementary medical system utilizing healing methods from nature. Its strengths are in the creation of vital health, the prevention of disease, the ability to tailor methods to suit individual circumstances, and its improvement of chronic conditions. Working with Ayurveda over the past four decades, my role is as a health educator and writer, not a physician. I do not, and cannot legally, diagnose disease. My focus in these blogs is to assess health and support others in maximizing their healing circumstances, through self care and informed choices.
MOST RECENT NEWS: BLACKS AND HISPANICS DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACTED BY CORONAVIRUS
A virus impacts the most vulnerable in society. As Charles M. Blow wrote in a recent column for the New York Times “Social Distancing is a Privilege” “What the vulnerable portion of society looks like varies from country to country, but in America, that vulnerability is highly intersected with race and poverty.” In Milwaukee county, Wisconsin, a shocking 81% of deaths from COVID-19 were black people, while they make up only 26% of the county’s population. Likewise in Chicago, Illinois, an equally disturbing 70% of mortalities were black people, while they are 30% of the population. Statistics from Southern states mirror these figures. Only 20% of black workers are able to work from home, compared to 30% of white people.
In a recent Twitter feed, Blow also highlights ethnicity. In preliminary figures on COVID-19, 34% of fatalities are Hispanic people, while they make up 29% of the population. In a related move, working skillfully with the practical reality of risk, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today by executive order that all illegal aliens in the city would legally be able to access coronavirus relief funds. Protecting the most vulnerable among us helps everyone.
MULTI-CULTURAL COMPLEMENTARY APPROACHES TO PREVENTION
Canadian naturopathic physician Dr. Iva Lloyd and I have often brainstormed approaches to wellness and disease from contrasting Ayurveda and Naturopathy perspectives. Last week I was fortunate to catch Iva, president of the World Naturopathic Federation, fresh out of an online conference call with the World Health Organization on Complementary Medical Approaches to COVID-19 from 11 different nongovernmental organizations and 10 countries, many from Asia. In Asia, moxa as well as herbs were used to improve outcomes in COVID-19 and protect health care workers. As one Chinese researcher wrote, “ Prevention before illness is better than treatment after getting diseased.”
The mainstream media has focused very little on this point: how to improve outcomes for all of us, especially those of us who are most vulnerable. How do we ensure that more of us are among the “mild to moderate” manifestations of the virus, rather than experiencing the worst outcomes? We can be doing more than staying at home to contain this disease.
COVID-19 AYURVEDA APPROACHES
While Ayurveda was not at the table in the WHO panel (and hopefully will be in the future), the perspectives Iva shared color this blog and helped organize my thinking about how in COVID-19 Ayurveda responses could be valuable for many of us. Iva described a three-prong naturopathic approach highlighting immune strength, anti-virals, and anti-inflammatory measures. She was especially adamant about the need to strengthen ourselves and work with nature rather than against it. This is so in line with COVID-19 Ayurveda responses as well.
PREVENTION: SIDESTEP THE VIRUS, FOR YOURSELF & EVERYONE ELSE
In Ayurveda, we’re not looking for the one magic silver bullet that will take down all COVID -19. Ayurveda’s approach is to accumulate many factors on the side of health and resiliency, and to reduce those factors that harm us. While practical, this can sometimes come off as boring or obvious. Bear with me.
PREVENTION: CLEAN WATER
Clean water nourishes healthy plasma, lymph, and blood. In Ayurveda adequate hydration is considered essential for healthy immunity. When you consider how many communities across the US have had to struggle for cleaner water, you can see one of our challenges as a nation for better immune strength.
What constitutes clean water in your area may be a judgment call. On the most basic level, you’re looking for the highest quality fluid you can find. This is hopefully not the most expensive fluid available. Not including sugar in your fluid or minimizing it improves white blood cell response to germs. In dark field microscopy, white sugar slows the ability of white blood cells to attack microbes. As a healthy minimal exception, I think of something like a little raw honey or coconut sugar in herbal teas, warm or cool.
Since it’s an important part of healthy immunity, it’s worth bothering to hydrate well. At the end of this blog is a recipe for Essential Rasa Tea for These Times that I’ve specially adapted for use in recovery as well as prevention of illness. It’s reviving. You can see how to make the original Essential Rasa Tea here. It’s from Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda.
PREVENTION: FRESH FOOD
In COVID-19 Ayurveda responses, fresh food is a high priority. Fresh food is food that has been recently harvested with minimal processing, examples: vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh dairy. Corn flakes would not be considered a fresh food, even though it’s reputed to have been the Dalai Lama’s regular breakfast for years! Fresh food can be cooked or raw. In COVID-19 Ayurveda responses, cooking food is optimal for high-risk people, as it kills the virus. No need to boil a food to death, three minutes or more for veggies will do it. Cook until whatever veggie you’ve chosen is as tender as you like it.
With spring, food choices normally expand in the produce section. Fortunately (for me at least) in my area, people have been choosing toilet paper over fresh fruits and vegetables. That is, there’s been a good amount of choices still left, and fresh produce is safe.
Eating foods that you know suit you and keep you healthy is an important first step. In COVID-19 Ayurveda responses take into account our individual differences. We will not all eat the same foods to stay healthy. At the most basic level, my first concern is that people get nourished adequately.
Eating close to nature, as Ayurveda recommends, gives us the opportunity to improve our nutritional status. You can start simple. Enjoy a piece of fresh fruit as a snack. Toast up some little yams in the toaster oven. Try an Easy Healing Drink.
Whether it’s the traditional Ayurvedic healing stew of kichadi, a favorite soup, a giant salad (for the more solid among us), a cool quick fruit tapioca, or a comforting made-from-scratch dish, these ground us in the elements of nature that are there to help us. If you’re up for it, involve the kids (include Exciting Handwashing below).
Fresh food could mean black-eyed peas, corn bread, and collard greens. Or refried black beans, rice, and calabacitas…We can channel our ancestors. How many generations back before we find one that never drove through a McDonald’s?
Imaginary Reader: You say, that’s all well and good, Amadea, yet in my area the farmer’s market and mercados are closed, and I’m surrounded by food deserts and food swamps.
AM: I hear you. Just getting past all the sugary stuff blockading the door as you walk in is a major act of courage. Is there anything left in the bulk section for grains and beans?
IR: Yes, but..
AM: Right, cooking this stuff takes time and energy, which also costs money. I’d even go for a can of healthy low-salt beans, some frozen veggies and whatever fresh fruit you can find. Do you have any interest in growing stuff? Gardening is a real option.
IR: Maybe. I live in an apartment.
AM: A jar of sprouts? You want to try sprouting? No need to buy some fancy sprouting kit. Just try some plain old whole dried bean, like mung or pintos or black beans, say. Yet, not split peas or split mung. They won’t sprout.
AM: Thanks for coming.
Regular meals with adequate healthy protein help us stay grounded and steady. What that protein is will vary with your constitution, your life style choices, and what can practically be found these days. Start slow. If you’ve never cooked anything before, one dish per week would be a strong success.
Easy Healing Drinks recipes are especially encouraging as many of them can be made in as little as 5 – 10 minutes.
Give yourself enough time to find food and prepare it. This is new to many of us, who’ve grown up on prepared foods or a completely different feeling in markets and groceries. If you find yourself rushing, slow down if you can. “Make haste slowly” Is a famous quote – perhaps from the Tibetan yogi Milarepa? It suits us now, again.
PREVENTION: FRESH AIR AND MOVEMENT
There’s lots of inspirational articles out about movement now. “4,000 steps per day, anywhere, at any pace”, they’re saying has a major impact on health. I hear you, around your studio apartment, taking pauses with the potted plant for nature. It’s possible?
A RIVETTING ACCOUNT OF EXCITING HANDWASHING TECHNIQUE
In terms of prevention, we want to minimize contact with this colorful microbe.Hygiene is paramount in Ayurveda. Skin is a powerful barrier, our first defense. With COVID-19 Ayurveda responses, plain old soap with hot water is more effective than any elusive sanitizer (although sanitizer is a good option when water is not available). Soap literally destroys this particular virus, as well as a goodly number of other viruses and bacteria. At this point, you’ve probably washed your hands to the dry and cracking stage, and you may not want to hear another rendition of this litany. Yet Canadian health officer Bonnie Henry put it so vividly, I as a New Mexican could get it. “Wash your hands like you’ve been chopping jalapenos and you need to change your contacts.”
Here are the thrilling details: “Work up a good lather, scrub your palms and the back of your hands, interlace your fingers, rub your fingertips against your palms (AM: paying special attention to scrubbing your nails and cuticles), and twist a soapy fist around your thumbs.” (NY Times, 3/17/20, D8) Like you’re training for the Olympics (2021) of hand washing…
This is a crucial process for two reasons. One is to prevent infecting yourself; the other is to not unwittingly pass it on to someone vulnerable. The first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Washington state on January 8th; it has been here in the US for three months now. Since 25% of Americans testing positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic, and since more than 80% of those with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, basic hygiene is critical. Remember the increased number of women who survived childbirth in the West once attending physicians began to wash their hands. Germs don’t like soap.
PREVENTION: NOURISHMENT WITH TRACE MINERALS AND OMEGA 3s
In my talk with Dr. Iva Lloyd about how complementary medicine can positively impact coronavirus, she emphasized that correcting and preventing nutritional deficiencies are key to a healthy immune system and preventing illness. I could not agree more.
In other blogs I’ve emphasized the need for adequate trace minerals like selenium which is anti-viral. Selenium is also needed to minimize environmental sensitivities. Another essential trace mineral is zinc, which helps the immune system fight infection. Zinc pairs up with vitamin A/beta-carotenes to strengthen tender mucus membranes.
The macro-mineral magnesium, when deficient, causes us to feel tired yet wired. Nuts, seeds, seaweeds, and dark leafy greens are all friendly sources. A magnesium supplement before bedtime is a method employed by many to enhance sleep.
Omega-3 rich foods nourish both mood and immunity. They create a healthy foundation for ojas, our vital immunity. Chia, flax, and hemp seeds as well as walnuts and cold water fishes are generous sources. Almond Rose Chia Shake and the Vata Classico Shake from my newest book Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda are two of my personal favorites for building ojas and getting enough immune-boosting Omega 3 fatty acids.
In the midst of isolating COVID-19 Ayurveda responses are to connect. One of the happiest stories I’ve heard coming out of these times is Japa Club – people uniting with their guru to do chanting together online. It’s win-win, lifting mood and supporting the ojas of the planet.
Sometimes the connectivity is with the Earth or our own creativity, rather than other humans. Gardening, walking, breathing in fresh spring air, all of these are blessings when they come to us as opportunities we can embrace. Likewise, drawing, painting, dancing, journaling, are all activities that support a healthy flow of energy.
A grounding and centering meditation I do to connect with my deeper self and generate bodhicitta can be found here. (One correction on this video: I discuss the rejuvenating effects of sex hormones. Progesterone and testosterone can be siphoned off to create stress hormones, as I mention. Yet estrogen is not directly part of stress hormone production.)
Steady self-care is a way to root and ground in our health. Ayurveda has countless methods for self-care, no way we’re going to do all of them! Some top ones I think of as COVID-19 Ayurveda responses include: gargle first thing in the morning with turmeric-salt water (1/2 teaspoon of each in a half cup warm to hot water). This is antibiotic and a great way to hold off a potential sore throat. Other favorite self care methods I’d recommend: oil pulling, as well as abhyanga, oil massage. With self-massage, I would target the neck, upper shoulders, spine and lower back areas, to enhance immunity and support healthy calm.
PREVENTION: HERBAL ANTI-VIRALS
Anti-virals have been discussed in past blogs. Use what you have – it may even be coming up in your back yard now. If you’re lucky, herbs like lemon balm, lemongrass, and/or rosemary could be poking their leaves through the earth, ready to help you.
Lemon balm makes a great tasting calming tea that is also anti-viral. We pair it with lemongrass for a Simple Comfort Tea in Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda. I’ve been personally grateful to put one drop of lemongrass essential oil on my washcloth at night, then immersing the washcloth in a bowl of hot water. Breath in its anti-viral properties, then squeeze the washcloth out and place it directly on your face. Ah! Rosemary can be used in similar ways. This esteemed plant is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal.
Future blogs exploring COVID-19 Ayurveda responses will include how to support immune health and minimize tissue damage in infection. Stay tuned!
ESSENTIAL RASA TEA FOR THESE TIMES
In Ayurveda, we build the rasa/plasma steadily, to nourish all the other tissues of the body. This classic tea is excellent for preventing dehydration and supporting recovery.
Time: 35 minutes or less
Makes 3 cups plus
1 quart water
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon peppermint
1 Tablespoon marshmallow root
1 Tablespoon lemon balm (anti-viral, mood support)
1/2 teaspoon licorice root, chopped or powdered
1 thin slice fresh ginger root (optional)
1 Tablespoon flax seeds per cup of tea (optional)
Bring water to a boil in a medium stainless steel pot. Put all the herbs in a quart Mason jar, pour the hot water over them and steep for 30 minutes or more.
Before serving, strain the tea.
Drink 1 – 2 cups per day, the larger amount if you are in dry conditions.
Watch a video on how to make the original simpler Rasa Tea with Amadea:
Effects:Balances all doshas, tridoshic.
This tea supports: plasma, nerves, female & male reproductive systems, lactation, ojas.Comments: Rasa/plasma is the raw ingredient for every other dhatu. Amadea recommends this tea almost daily in her practice, for nourishment and hydration.
Lemon balm is anti-viral; marshmallow root soothes the gut.
This is a forgiving recipe. If you don’t have all the ingredients, consider trying it any way. Used with permission from Easy Healing Drinks.
Image from Easy Healing Drinks thanks to Renee Lynn
Amadea Morningstar, MA, RPE, RYT, Ayurveda health educator, studied human biology and nutrition at Stanford and UC Berkeley, and taught pathology and physiology at the New Mexico Academy of Healing Arts. Her expertise is in Ayurveda and Polarity Therapy health care. Currently Amadea works at a distance from Santa Fe, NM. She is available with respect, bringing over 40 professional years of experience, academic training and hands-on knowledge to her sessions, teaching, and books. Her cookbooks include The Ayurvedic Cookbook with Urmila Desai, Ayurvedic Cooking for Westerners, and Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda. Currently sessions with Amadea include Western nutrition, Ayurvedic nutrition and herbalism, Marma therapy, and nature-based approaches.
Amadea’s newest Ayurveda book Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda with photographer Renee Lynn, , is available in both print and inexpensive e-book form. The e-books can be used anywhere on the planet. To learn more, click here.