Ayurvedic Concept of Immunity
The concept of immunity in Ayurveda is described by Ayurvedic texts and physicians under the term, vyādhi-kṣamatva, or the ability of the body to bear or endure any injury or adverse external factor. In Ayurveda, diseases (roga) are classified into two categories: those which arise due to internal factors within one’s one body and mind (called nija, or born from within) and those which arise from external factors (called āgantu, or coming from outside). Immunity specifically relates to the power of the body (bala) to bear and overcome the āgantu, or external factors like injuries, adverse environmental conditions, poisons or pollutants, and pathogens of all kinds (bacteria, virus, parasite, etc.).
The state of bodily strength or health (svāsthya) which gives rise to a strong & resilient immune system, itself results from an abundance of physical vitality (ojas) coming from a combination of conscientious hygiene practices, a balanced and nourishing diet, proper rest and exercise, and a sound condition of mind and spirit.
Daily hygiene practice
Keeping up one’s daily hygiene practice (dinacarya) is paramount in keeping the body pure and in optimum health. This includes daily routines for skin care, hair care and dental care, such as regular bathing, washing one’s hands, brushing one’s teeth, etc. Failure to observe proper hygiene practices may deplete one’s vitality and adversely affect one’s health, weakening one’s natural immunity.
As the immune system relies on an abundance of physical vitality (ojas), and ojas is only created through proper physical nourishment, a balanced and nourishing diet is key to keeping the immune system functioning optimally. While specific dietary advice is reliant on knowledge of one’s own unique dosha and physical constitution, as well as the climate and locale where one lives, general Ayurvedic dietary advice is to eat fresh, nourishing, whole, unprocessed foods without chemical additives in moderation and to avoid overindulgence in refined & processed foods and drugs of all kinds, including caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Regular exercise and activity
Regular exercise and activity prevents stagnation of the life-energy (prāṇa) and promotes circulation of the blood, nourishing the the brain and body tissues of all kinds. Suitable exercise routines also depend on one’s present state of health and bodily constitution, with the one caveat that exertion beyond one’s own limits may result in injury and have the opposite effect of depleting ojas and weakening the immune system, rather than strengthening it. Balance and moderation is always key! If you are looking for ideas to jumpstart your exercise routine, a hatha yoga practice may be a good place to start.
While physical habits like diet, hygiene and exercise are very important, the subtle psychological factors which promote radiant health and immunity are often overlooked. According to a yogic perspective and the deeper teachings of Ayurveda, negative emotions like anxiety, depression, anger and unhappiness create disorder among the body’s doshas and ill-health in the body, and remove its natural protection to outside adverse factors. Among all negative emotions, the most powerful and adverse to health is fear. Especially during the present period wherein we are bombarded with suggestions of fear and doubt and uncertainty, we should all cultivate positive emotions of peace, compassion, optimism, cheerfulness & faith to support our health and keep our inner protection intact.
Lastly, within the Ayurvedic system of herbology there is a unique class of rejuvenating tonic herbs called rasāyana herbs which help to build up vitality and restore strength and healthy immune function when these have been depleted or compromised. Some prominent rasāyana herbs in Ayurveda are Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Brahmi & Amla. These unique herbs each have their own specific properties which have the cumulative result of promoting health and strengthening the immune system. For example, Amla has a very high concentration of immune-boosting Vitamin C (100g of Amla contains the vitamin C content of 50 oranges!). Consider using herbal tonics to give yourself the occasional boost, or as part of a complete Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy.
Although we cannot prevent ourselves completely from coming into contact daily with pathogens and pollutants of various kinds, by following the above principles and especially keeping up a positive state of mind, we cultivate strength of body and radiant health, which in turn results in a resilient immune system capable of protecting us and fighting off any and all adversities!