Okay, it’s for sure now: autumn is here.
(At least it’s here in my city, in my part of the world. Autumn is a bad-ass; it doesn’t pay attention to things like Gregorian calendars. It doesn’t need a specific date to invite itself over).
Wasn’t summer just here? Like last week? It feels like it.
Our immune systems definitely get a bit stressed out with the initial back and forth, or swinging between seasons. With it warm one day and chilly the next, sometimes our bodies can’t adapt to the temperature as quickly as they need to in order to keep us well.
There are plenty of other reasons why we’re more prone to getting sick when it gets cold, of course: spending more time indoors and being in close proximity to more people; our bodies not producing as much vitamin D due to not getting as much sun.
But, there are always little, common-sense things we can do to help support our immune systems and hopefully prevent ourselves from getting sick. I’ve spent a number of years figuring out how best to stay healthy throughout the seasons and I’ve put together the “tricks” that I use to tinker with my immune system and keep myself going strong.
With gratitude and thanks to those teachers I learned from.
Socks, Hat, Scarf.
I’m not trying to rush anyone into anything, but the faster we cover up our extremities, the warmer we will be; the warmer we are, the more stable our body temperature and the less “stressed out” we are.
Heat escapes through the top of our heads and the soles of our feet, which is why keeping them covered with warm, comfortable, dry cloth is important. Seriously, dry socks are game changers. Our necks are heat conduits from our head to the rest of our bodies and if we leave them exposed, a lot of our body heat can escape from our torsos, which can be the most dangerous place to lose heat from.
Besides, our necks house our vocal cords and are where our throat chakras are. Ever since I started learning about the chakras (the throat chakra, Vishuddha, is related to honesty and communication) I’ve believed that of course, we should protect our ways of communication and being honest with the world.
(If you need new fall clothes, please consider donating your old items to a local homeless shelter or somewhere where they can still be used).
Spice up our food. Eat our vegetables.
Cook up that butternut squash, make that pumpkin soup. Broccoli is in season now, as are apples, cabbage, carrots, beets, and so many others. Cook them up with spices like garlic, onion, turmeric, ginger, mustard and black pepper.
Recently in a phone conversation with a friend of mine, I mused that maybe, the foods that come into season during this time of year are packed nutritionally with vitamins and minerals that are designed to help buttress our immune systems.
I was so interested in that idea that I went and did a little bit (read, a lot) more research and it turns out, my instinct was correct. Did you know that most autumn vegetables are high in Vitamin A and beta-carotene? And that way back in our evolutionary history, we needed a punch of those vitamins to help our eyes see better in winter conditions?
Also, vitamin A is perhaps the most important vitamin in terms of protecting our immune system, by keeping our skin and our mucous membranes healthy. When our membranes are healthy, they stay moist and are more impervious to bacteria.
In terms of the spices I mentioned, they all share similarities of “detoxing” our system (for lack of a better phrase) and providing extra minerals.
Black pepper helps our digestive tracts and is an anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a highly powered anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant—turmeric is considered one of the most nutritional spices in the world.
Mustard—well, there’s a reason why a century ago doctors put mustard poultices on patients. Again, it’s good as an anti-inflammatory, (hmm, I sense a theme), can relieve arthritis or joint pain and is packed full of selenium, magnesium, and B complex vitamins, among others.
Ginger, garlic, and onion are also life savers.
Ginger and garlic both have extremely high anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. Onions are full of polyphenols and, as a member of the “allium” family, are densely packed with sulfur. Onions support cardiovascular and blood health, as well as overall health of our bones and connective tissue.
Turn down the alcohol and caffeine, turn up the water.
I was the last person who wanted to admit that to myself, but it is remarkable how much changed with my health as soon as I started working with consumption of those two substances. I accidentally stopped drinking caffeinated coffee last year (I took a break, but wasn’t expecting it to be permanent) and as soon as the withdrawals stopped, it was like a new world.
(Don’t worry. I’m not advocating giving up coffee. Just wanted to put that out there).
We need to help our bodies out by keeping them hydrated, all the time—but specifically when seasons change—simply because water helps our bodies flush themselves out, which strengthens our immune systems; we are made of 70 percent water after all.
If you don’t like drinking water, a way to start getting more can be to dilute your juice with it—not to mention the fact that fruits and vegetables also have a water content. (But if you are predominantly a juice drinker, pleeeease check the amount of sugar that’s in it.)
I start every morning with a cup of warm water with lemon before anything else, which seems to consistently set the tone for my day—so that when I want something to drink I’m more likely to turn to water. But it comes down to whatever works best for each of us individually.
Sleep and sugar.
Pretty much anything is better for our bodies than refined sugar, although it dresses itself up in pretty packages so that we want it allthetimewewantitnowwwww. I am prone to a sweet tooth, so I understand that, and I am in no way suggesting an all-or-nothing tactic.
But beyond the amounts of chemical dyes that are in most candy (a fun experiment? Look up any of the names-you-can’t-pronounce in the ingredients list of your favourite candy bar. I’m betting it’s been used as an “industrial lubricant”), refined sugar has actually been classed as a poison by certain doctors.
(It was classed as a poison because as a product, sugar’s been stripped of its life force and minerals, costs our body to digest it, and actually removes nutrients and minerals from us).
While reasons for going off sugar might be a post unto itself, my point here is that sugar costs us—and during our transition to fall, we need to be more gentle with our bodies and more protective of them. For alternatives to sugar: try honey, agave nectar, fruit juices. We can still get sweet things and avoid the toxicity.
Sleep. Ah, the holy grail for those of us who are insomniacs, but not for just insomniacs—it can be really difficult to regulate sleep, especially during the cooler months, when it can seem like our bodies turn into bears and want to hibernate all the time.
While insomnia and sleep also deserve a post of their own, some ways of easing ourselves into better, more restful sleep are: generally staying more hydrated (if we hydrate throughout the day, our bodies are able to take care of themselves better—and as a large function of sleep is to let the body repair itself, this is important); disconnecting from electronics about 20-30 minutes before we want to be in bed (and even leaving them in a different place than our bedrooms—alarm clocks excepted); putting heavier curtains on our windows to make sure that we aren’t disturbed by light.
None of these “sleep aids” are instantaneous, but they do tend to be cumulative.
Exercise. Bonus points, outside.
It’s true, I’ve been off and on active my entire life—but the key here is off and on. Definitely as I get older it’s been a more consistent practice, but every so often I stop moving and stay stopped for a bit. This is useful because it reminds me how freaking good it feels to move.
Whatever our fitness levels are, our bodies are made to move. And touch and feel and explore. Giving ourselves just a few minutes a day is something we’ll never be sorry over. It helps our circulatory systems, or pulmonary systems, sweat releases toxins through the skin: it also releases endorphins, so we get happier.
The outside part is important because our bodies were also designed to be outside. Sunlight is good for us, even as it gets cooler and more distant. Ever see how kids just love being outside, no matter what season it is? The key (besides good clothing) is a sense of play.
When was the last time we picked up a bright leaf to bring it back home? Or took a detour through a park to kick through them? The world is putting on its going-out clothes, it wants us to go out and admire it.
Maybe it’s because I just watched a lot of students go back to school, or that the leaves are changing colours and it makes me want to spruce myself up—I’m not sure. But I do know that there is something in my spirit that responds a little bit extra when I treat myself, specifically in fall.
For the past few years I’ve really been interested in the idea that we can get so much more done in the world if we take care of ourselves. For me, the most practical of self-care tips (like dry socks on my feet) led to me feeling better, which led me to make kinder decisions for myself. It’s a loop that continually feeds itself.
The idea is that we need our bodies to exist in this world. And our souls—who we are—have to be part of our mission, our reason for being here on this earth. We know ourselves the best and so the best love can come from us.
If we treat ourselves better, we will feel better, which will help us make smarter decisions in line with who we are and what we want for ourselves—let’s all do something nice for ourselves, with no strings attached, no “if I do this, I get that.” Just because.
Pay attention to how that makes us feel and how that colours not only the rest of our days, but how it changes how we interact with people. Self care is medicine.
May we all be well.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Martinak15 / Flickr