We have our first real chill in the air, and the season has arrived when multiple students are missing our classes each week because they’re home sick. Are you already dreading the cough that lasts 6 weeks (but mostly at night!) or the sniffle that seems to last from November to March? Or maybe you’re the parent of the kiddo who gets sick on Wednesday, runs a fever, and is back in full gear by Thursday afternoon…then you get the same bug and are miserable for a week. The cycle of fall and winter illness can be brutal, but it is totally possible to break out of it. Jen has shared some of her favorite tips for fall wellness. Here are a few of mine.
Black Elderberry Syrup.
I take immune boosting supplements year round in the way of probiotics and adaptogenic mushrooms, but in the winter I break out the elderberries. Nearly every part of the Elder bush has been used medicinally since ancient times, and in the 90s, scientists started putting it through its paces as an immuno-stimulant. Multiple clinical trials have proven black elderberry (sambucus nigra) preparations effective in shortening the duration of cold and flu symptoms.
My favorite way to take elderberry is in a classic syrup. You can buy it at most drug stores these days, but its much less expensive to make at home. Mix one cup dried elderberries (available online or in some natural food stores) with three cups on water in a small pot. I like to add a cinnamon stick, 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon of whole cloves for flavor and their own supportive properties, but those are totally optional. Bring your pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour or until the liquid has reduced by roughly half. Let the liquid cool, then pour through a mesh strainer into a large jar. Mash the berries a bit with the back of a spoon to get all the goodness out of them. Once your liquid has cooled, add in one cup of raw honey (or more to taste, up to a 1:1 ratio of elderberry decoction and honey). Stir or shake to combine. This will keep in the fridge for about two months.
To support your immune system through the cold months, adults take 1-3 tablespoons daily children take 1-2 teaspoons daily. If you do begin to feel the signs of a cold or flu, increase your dose to 1-2 tablespoons every hour.
A steady self-care practice.
You knew I was going to recommend yoga, right? Its hard to shake off germs when your body is stagnant or when you’re feeling stressed. Yoga checks all the boxes: it gets you up and moving, it settles your mind to help lower cortisol (the stress hormone), and the bending and twisting postures also help flush your lymphatic system for added immune-boosting.
Let’s talk about your lymphatic system for a minute. Itsone of your body’s first lines of defense against infection, but it doesn’t have its own pump the way your circulatory system has. The twisting, inverting, and activation of muscles that happens during yoga is a fantastic way to keep lymphatic fluid moving and support your body’s natural germ-fighting process.
When you do start to feel run down or your head begins to feel congested, try adding lymphatic self massage to your self-care practice. It can be a nice way to end a home yoga session. This is a great basic tutorial.
We’re all about drinking our 8 glasses of water in the summer when we’re hot and sweaty, but things change when we start to feel cold. Our bodies are 60% water no matter what the season. Staying hydrated is the absolute baseline of a solid immune system. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re hydrated because of the big mugs of tea or coffee you’re drinking. Your body needs water. Like, that a fish could swim in.
In particular, keep your feet and your neck warm. When your feet are cold, your whole body temperature lowers. If your body is struggling to warm itself, it has fewer resources to devote to immunity. During the winter months, most of us are carrying the cold virus in our nose; we just have the resources to stop it from making us sick. When our feet are chilled, the blood vessels in our nose construct and the cilia (hairs) in our nose move more slowly. The combination of compromised filtering by the cilia and fewer infection-fighting white blood cells traveling to our nose creates a perfect storm for a cold virus to really set in. Look for wool socks and shoes with a heavier sole when you’ll be outdoors, and inside, wear slippers on hardwood floors or socks if you’ll be sitting still long enough for your circulation to slow.
As for your neck, you want to protect what Traditional Chinese Medicine calls the Wind Gate at the back of your neck. TCM believes that cold enters our body through the pores in the back of our neck/upper back, and covering them with a scarf wards that off. Additionally, the large intensive channel runs up our arms, the back of our neck, across our shoulders, and ends next to the nose. Since our GI tract plays such a large role in our body’s immunity, we want to do whatever we can to support it. And, from a purely physiological perspective, notice what happens to your neck and shoulders when you first step into the cold. Almost right away, the hunch up towards your ears. Its a simple, subconscious response to protect your body from the cold, but it also sends a primal-level stress signal to your brain, elevating cortisol. And remember, when our body is under stress—even if it only imagines its under stress—our resources are pulled away from fighting off colds. A turtleneck or fashion scarf is plenty; you don’t need to walk around in your winter knit scarf all day. The goal is simply to keep the breeze off the back of your neck.
Jessica LaGarde has been teaching creative movement in the metro area since 2005 and is passionate about helping children discover and explore their bodies and the world around them. She was trained by Joye Newman, MA to teach preschool creative movement for Kids’ Moving Company, a Bethesda-based creative movement/perceptual motor therapy studio. In 2017, she completed her Baby, Toddler, and Children’s Yoga Teacher Training through Childlight Yoga. In addition to working with preschoolers, Jessica is a registered massage practitioner and is trained in infant massage instruction. She has practiced massage for over twelve years and taught massage as part of Potomac Massage Training Institute’s professional training program. Outside of the movement space and massage room, she enjoys cooking, knitting, sewing, gardening and exploring the outdoors with her daughter.