For the past five weeks (35 days to be exact, but who’s counting?!) my two children have been home from college. And if the stress of a global pandemic wasn’t enough, I’ve also had to cope with the anxiety of wondering if my kids have been exposed to the Coronavirus, either in their college dorms or somewhere along the way during their travels home from California, where they go to school. For my son, a college senior, and for my daughter, a college freshman, moving back home two months before graduation and the end of the semester was definitely not part of the plan—for any of us. My “empty nest” is full once again, and it’s filled with uncertainty.
But there is one thing I can be certain of: the immunity of my kids is strong. How do I know that? Not just because I’m a physician who has always practiced prevention basics, but also because of Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old healing science of India, the birthplace of my parents and many generations before them, which I grew up with and in turn, brought to my children.
Growing up in a South Asian household, Ayurveda was a part of daily life. It was just the way we did things. I remember coming home from school every day and the routine of taking off my shoes and washing my hands in the mudroom before entering, then going straight to my room to change out of my school clothes into clean ones before doing anything else. It didn’t matter what time it was, how hungry I was or how much homework I had to do—this routine was non-negotiable.
So yes, even before COVID-19, building and maintaining immunity was and still is our entire lifestyle thanks to Ayurveda. Here are my top five suggestions, based on Ayurvedic principles and more than 20 years of being both a physician and a parent, to help boost your child’s immunity.
1. Prioritize sleep. Studies show that sleep is critical for a healthy and strong immune system. Create a bedtime routine and be clear about what time “lights out” is.
2. Maintain a daily schedule. Our children live in a world in which their nervous systems are constantly on high-alert with a stress response that never slows down. Creating a daily schedule establishes regularity that helps calm the nervous system and in turn, strengthens the immune system. Start with regular sleep and wake times, then add on regular mealtimes.
3. Establish routines. Routines create stability, and stability creates a sense of “ease” that down-regulates the stress response of the nervous system and boosts the immune system. Establishing a morning routine or an evening routine with two to three steps is a great way to add consistency to your child’s day.
4. Build a strong digestion. According to Ayurveda, a strong digestion is the key to strong immunity. Limit refined sugar, cold and processed foods, and instead focus on a diet of warm meals such as hot cereal, stewed fruits, soups, stews, steamed vegetables, and grains.
5. Create connection. The health benefits of strong social connections have been found to be as important as sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Create an evening “tech time-out” when all electronics are turned off, followed by family time to remind children that relationships are important. Try playing board games, coloring or doing crafts as a way to connect and relax with your kids.
Ayurveda teaches that a strong immune system is the natural result of a healthy lifestyle built upon adequate sleep, a balanced nervous system, and proper nutrition. That said, take your time with the recommendations above. Follow your intuition as a parent and choose one suggestion, try it for a few weeks and observe how your child responds. Make adjustments as necessary or add another suggestion and observe again. You’ll find that over time, your child is learning daily practices, based on the wisdom of Ayurveda, that will help them maintain their immunity throughout their life.