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April 8, 2021

I have an Autoimmune Condition & I got the COVID-19 Vaccine—Here’s what I did to Empower my Body.

*Elephant is not your doctor or hospital. Our lawyers would say “this website is not designed to, and should not be construed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.” But we can’t afford lawyers, and you knew all that. ~ Ed.

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I have an autoimmune, yet the vaccination didn’t make me sick. Want to know what I did?

For the first time in over a year, this week, I don’t taste mundaneness in the air. I am filled with hope and healing.

On Friday, April 2nd, my husband and I received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. Definitely an emotional and monumental moment. Less than 14 months ago, New York City was the hot seat for COVID-19. “Will I be next?” was on all our minds. It’s been a difficult journey that no one should have to endure.

For me, the vaccine isn’t about a license to become reckless. For me, the vaccine has allowed me to explore (even if mentally) the next phase of my existence. I am grateful for science, doctors, and everyone who made it possible. I am blessed to live in a city like NYC, where the vaccine was available. That said, I did have trepidations about the second dose. Even as you walk in line to reach your designated counter to receive the shot, there are television screens warning you about the short-term side effects of the vaccine.

Sans the exception of one person, everyone we know fell vehemently sick after receiving the second shot. These were healthy people.

I have an autoimmune condition, and much has been said about people with underlying conditions. I was on the cancer watch list until the summer of 2020. But I had no reactions or side effects to the vaccine.

None whatsoever.

I was fully prepared to be in bed for 48 hours (or more) after the vaccination. We don’t really know much about why some people develop reactions to the vaccine while others don’t. But I believe one of the reasons my husband and I did okay is because we took good care of our nervous system, emotional well-being, mental health, digestion, and overall stress before getting the shot.

The week leading up to the appointment for our second dose…here are a few things (Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle modifications) that I did to keep our mind-body positively balanced and nourished.

Remember: this was the only aspect under my control. I laid out a well-thought-of plan for the week—what foods to eat, how to nourish the mind-body, what kind of sleep hygiene to maintain, and a few more things. There are no guarantees in life. Please talk to your health practitioner before you decide to try anything new.

Practice Gratitude.

I am an extrovert who hasn’t taken a subway or any public transport or sat in a café since March 12th, 2020. My happy spaces—yoga studio, dance spaces, cafes, and gym—have not been accessible for over a year. My family and I have only socialized (safely) with our safety pod and not eaten in NYC restaurants (only ordered take out frequently) ever since the virus hit the Big Apple last year. Now my mind believes it’s going to be okay.

Even if from six feet away and with our masks on, I can meet friends outdoors (those who have been vaccinated) whom I haven’t seen since February 2020. I can go to a coffee shop, sit down with a book, a cup of Earl Grey tea, and a chocolate chip muffin. I feel slightly less “clinical” about my upcoming days. Gratitude washes over me.

Learn to Accept.

A friend, with no existing health issues, said to me that the first dose made her sick. What should be her impetus to get the second dose? I said, “48 hours of feeling sick as a short-term side effect of the vaccine on one hand; a life of ‘sensible freedom’ on the other hand. Is that motivation enough?”

It’s two days of feeling miserable. If we can accept that this is a temporary inconvenience, perhaps, we can agonize a little less? Because thinking about what can go wrong can send us in a spiral that won’t help our sanity.

Stay smart.

I am one of those people who doesn’t like to pop pills (unless prescribed by the doctor) and believe that if the body is given enough space and care, it heals on its own (with the right Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle). But after receiving the shot, we went to the pharmacy and picked up Tylenol and Advil, in case we needed them.

Abusing medication versus being smart about healing are two different approaches. There is a time and place for Western medicine just as there is a sacred space for alternative healing methodologies.

What to Avoid.

Ayurveda says it’s just not what we eat but also what we consume—news and conversations—that lead to sensory overload. Reading stories about those who fell sick after receiving the vaccination wasn’t going to help me. Participating in stressful eating, which would lower my immunity was counterintuitive.

Simple, home-cooked, plant-based, warm, freshly cooked, and seasoned meals are what we ate all week with mindfulness. One-pot meals (khichadi, lentil pasta with veggies, hearty soups, Thai curry) are easy and fast to cook. I also stayed away from “cold foods,” dairy, and gluten as they can be terrible for both inflammation and congestion—this is Kapha season (late winter to early spring when many fall sick).

I barely and rarely drink, so alcohol is not something I needed to consciously avoid. But if you unwind with alcohol in the evenings, know that alcohol creates inflammation and can make some people antsy/restless/agitated, so cutting back might be helpful.

Do Your Prep Work.

The night before the vaccination, I cooked for the weekend. Yes, Ayurveda recommends that we prepare fresh meals, and I do that 80 percent of the time. But I didn’t know what to anticipate or how my body would react after the vaccine. What I do know is that when the fever hits, our agni (digestive fire) becomes weak. Sometimes fasting or eating foods that are easier to digest helps with the recovery.

If your body doesn’t have to fight for your immunity and digestion at the same time, you bounce back a lot quicker. What did I make? I had a full day at work as well as school in the evening on Thursday, so I cooked simple yellow mung lentils with spices, a vegetable fried rice with immunity-building and Kapha balancing vegetables and herbs, and a big pot of vegetable soup with very little organic chicken.

I don’t eat tofu or red meat, so tiny bits of organic chicken worked as a good option for protein. I didn’t use any canned goods. Lots of fresh ginger and other spices and herbs made it to all the dishes. Restaurant food (I love it too!) has too much oil and salt.

Embrace Your Morning Rituals.

Our appointment was early in the morning on Friday. I woke up early to practice my dinacharya, aka daily rituals, which help center me and add structure to my day. Between asanas, pranayama, meditation, abhyanga with warm sesame oil, nasya, and hot shower…my nervous system felt nourished and unperturbed. My mind wasn’t racing and contemplating possible outcomes of the vaccination. I wasn’t rushing from one thing to another.

Pausing and letting go are key to healing.

Practice Mindful Movement.

The gentleman who gave me the second shot said that typically it takes 8-10 hours for the body to start reacting to the vaccine. After finishing grocery shopping and getting in a dosa lunch (hot, vegan meal), I attended a couple of business meetings, sent out emails, read a friend’s upcoming novel to write a blurb for it, and then did some movement. Moved my arms a lot.

Before hitting the 8–10-hour mark, I got in some gentle cardio and stretches, which directly impacted the quality of my sleep. I also gave myself permission to rest without feeling guilty.

Get Your Sleep On.

Poor quality of sleep can negatively impact our mental, emotional, and physical health. It can lead to chronic illnesses and lower our immunity. Factors like inappropriate foods, caffeine, alcohol, overthinking, intense mind, mind chatter, stress can interfere with a good night’s sleep.

I practiced Bhramari pranayama before going to bed and massaged my feet with warm oil. I also practiced yoga nidra a few evenings of the week since it offers deep rest and rejuvenation to the nervous system.

Indulge in that Soak.

We are all busy, and we’re all adept at making excuses. I have been that way with baths even though it’s something I recommend to my clients for vata imbalance. Obsessive thoughts about how, what, when can create anxiety for most of us—even if it’s low-grade. A soak in warm water and essential oils can help calm the nervous system and mind. It teaches you the power of disconnecting with the world and focusing on self.

Two days prior to the appointment, I did a 20-minute soak where I used a few drops of organic essential oils.

Positive Mindset.

Ayurveda reminds us that all diseases start in the mind. You can tell the world you are fine, but if you believe that you are going to fall sick or a foreign object projects danger, chances are that you will not be okay. Mind over matter. If we think we are sick and in a lot of pain, that’s what we start to feel. But if we believe we will be okay, despite falling ill, we heal faster.

You have to have faith in both science and your body’s healing capacity. Mindset is key.

The first aim of Ayurveda is to protect and maintain the health of the human being throughout the lifespan. The second aim of this science is to cure the diseases that are developed in the body of a human. Based on the idea that disease is due to an imbalance or stress in a person’s consciousness, Ayurveda encourages certain lifestyle interventions and natural therapies to regain a balance between the body, mind, spirit, and the environment.

Ayurvedic lifestyle yields side benefits, not side effects. Did I not fall sick, despite my autoimmune condition, because of my Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle only? Again, there are no confirmed answers, yet. I’m not saying that following these Ayurvedic tips will ensure that you don’t react to the vaccine. Talk to your doctor and don’t expect any guaranteed results from reading this essay. I am only sharing my journey.

The only thing I know for certain is planning, prepping, and practicing mindfulness plus self-care definitely lowered my stress. I didn’t show up to the appointment in a heightened state, expecting things would go wrong. My mind and body were in sync and calm.

When your mind is unruffled, so many issues feel resolved. You aren’t dragging in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Ayurveda protects the health of the healthy and alleviates disorders in the diseased.

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being positive about what could go right.”

~

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