Heating The Common Cold

The common cold is exclusive to man, occurring in no other animal species. Though it has been a seemingly insoluble problem for centuries (perhaps millenia), now yoga is offering everyone a simple and effective solution for both its prevention and amelioration.

The cold, as its name correctly implies, occurs most often during winter, the cold months of the year. At this time the body's heating mechanism has to work twice as hard and if our resistance is low we become susceptible to infection by different viruses. Lack of inner energy, strength and defence are the underlying causative factors which allow viruses to proliferate and produce those unpleasant symptoms we know so well, such as running nose, sneezing, reddening of the eyes, cough and so on.


Psychiatrists state that physical disease is the result of misplaced emotions, mental tension, conflicts and worries. Frustrations lower our ability to resist stress and tension, thereby depriving us of energy and vitality. Imbalance occurs in the body and a cold develops. The cold becomes an expression of pent up negative energies within the mind. It is a type of safety valve which allows us to blow off steam in a relatively safe way. Without this release we may develop more serious long term and degenerative disease later on. Colds also lower our resistance to psychological stress, so the best place to be when we have one is in bed.

The majority of colds, apart from those caused by allergy and infection, are due to emotional frustrations. Cold drafts, dampness, etc. lower resistance, setting off a chain of events which can lead to a cold if we are not strong. Frustrations are reflected throughout the body via the nervous and glandular systems, dampening our inner vitality and fire so that the body processes become suppressed, less active, cooled. Life loses its meaning and we lose our inner drive.

In ayurveda it is said that mental and emotional tensions cause an imbalance in the subtle elements of the body, the doshas. Frustrations cause the cooling element of the body, kapha (mucus), to predominate over the heating element, pitta (bile). This change is reflected throughout all the organs of the body. The stomach, which is an especially sensitive indicator of emotional imbalance because of its autonomic nervous system link to the brain, produces excessive amounts of mucus and the digestive fire- the key to health, heat and vitality in the body- becomes impaired. The mucus glands in the nose, sinuses and lungs also over secrete and we become aware of the symptoms of running nose, headache, etc.

Other factors which increase our susceptibility to colds are: excessive smoking, eating rich and unhealthy foods, over and under sleep, lack of exercise, pollution, and so on. The general trend to a sedentary way of life dependent on machines to do the work, shuts us off from natural cycles and makes the body sluggish. If we sit inside heated or air conditioned houses watching rather than doing, eating fatty, over-refined foods, we are asking for trouble in one form or another.

The modern lifestyle puts the internal cycles out of phase with external cycles. For example, when summer comes and external heat increases, a healthy body should adjust its internal temperature regulating mechanism so as to keep us cool and comfortable. The same applies to winter cold; the body should automatically warm itself. If we complicate the picture by adding heating and cooling systems to our homes, and thereby remove the natural responses from our lives, we confuse our brain and create tension. Constantly adjusting and readjusting to the many alterations of hot and cold can strain the internal mechanisms so that we lose our access to inner energy resources. Hormonal regulation becomes inefficient and our resistance to germs, viruses and environmental changes becomes impaired. Colds result.

Effective prevention

Through yoga sadhana it is possible to build up sufficient energy, strength and resistance to overcome colds and their unpleasant effects. All yogic techniques are designed to strengthen the body and mind and, when learned under expert guidance, help to make us less susceptible to mental depression, emotional upsets, lack of energy and imbalance in the neuro-endocrine systems. A yogic lifestyle makes the body and mind flexible so that we can better handle the stresses and strains of modern living. We begin to tune into the natural cycles of day and night, and seasons, so that changes in weather are accompanied by a corresponding change in our bodies.

Yoga helps us to overcome cold by maintaining our internal heater. Through the science of prana a yogi becomes immune to the dual nature of existence so that heat and cold, pleasure and pain, sorrow and joy, all come under his control and are seen as inseparable phenomena. Heat generated in the body is an aspect of prana, the life-force. When we awaken prana, we feel its warmth at many levels.

Cold water baths, especially in winter, are an excellent way to switch on the inner alarm system that makes us generate extra heat. Here at the ashram we always take cold baths, even during winter. We find that the cold water stimulates the body heat, either by making us breathe faster, use up more sugar, shiver, or stamp the feet up and down. In summer the opposite occurs, and excess body heat is taken out of the body. Over a period of time hot baths drain our energy and depress the mind, forcing us to depend on external sources of warmth. Of course, it may be a little difficult to step into a cold shower at first, until you discover how much better you feel afterwards. If you can't take a cold shower then at least try to finish off your hot one with a cold blast.

Gold water baths have been supported by various sources. For example, the long-lived Hunzas of the Himalayas sport in the winter time by swimming underneath the ice of lakes between holes cut at certain distances. They live to prodigiously old ages and with very little disease. A group of workers at the Bereznyakovsky Titanium and Magnesium Plant at Perm in the Russian Urals attribute their incredible resistance to colds and flu to their daily dips in icy water over the last ten winters.

To overcome the scourge of colds in winter, summer and change of season, you should try to follow these suggestions:

  1. Get up early, between 4 and 5 a.m.
  2. Take a cold bath. You will feel very warm after this and may even see steam coming from your body. Wrap up well afterwards with plenty of warm clothes.
  3. Follow this with kunjal and neti, surya namaskara, bhastrika pranayama, and ajapa japa.
  4. Then go for a brisk twenty minute walk.

Ten days of this program will harmonize inner and outer energies.

Treatment for colds

In spite of all the modern advances made by science, no drug or vaccine has yet been discovered to cure the common cold. Dr D. J. Davis of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, USA has stated that colds are caused by as many as 113 different types of viruses. Thus it is difficult to tell which vaccine would be most efficacious.

Kunjal kriya and jala neti (see APMB pp.326, 315) constitute the yogic method of relieving and curing the common cold. These age old techniques are as yet untried by the medical profession, but due to their simplicity, and efficacy, they merit widespread dissemination and use. Kunjal cleans the stomach of mucus and clears the throat. This has a reflex action on all the glands of the body as they are governed by the same parts of the autonomic nervous system. Neti then cleans out all the nasal passages, sinuses, eustachian tubes leading to the ears, as well as the eyes. This reduces inflammation, swelling and pain. The salty water acts by osmosis to draw out mucus and phlegm, and helps to dry and clear the passages. Neti also rebalances the nadis, allowing prana to flow more efficiently and clears the mind of tension.

Kunjal and neti rebalance the doshas, reducing kapha and increasing the digestive fire so that we feel heat radiating from the navel centre. Bhastrika performed after neti further fans the gastric fire.

When you have a cold, try the following:

  1. Do kunjal first thing in the morning followed by neti; repeat neti several times during the day.
  2. Go to bed; sleep is the best cure when you have a cold.
  3. Steam inhalations with balm help to relieve stuffiness and sore throat.
  4. Hot footbaths are beneficial especially if powdered turmeric is added to the water.
  5. Hot packs relieve sore joints and sore throat.
  6. Do not take a bath while you have a cold.
  7. Feed a cold and starve a fever, but remember that overloading and rich or mucus forming foods do more harm than good.

The following diet will aid the elimination of mucus : salads with plenty of tomato, carrot, celery, cucumber; papaya, guava, apple, orange, lemon; raw sugar (gurh) mixed with tumeric and made into small balls, taken with a little water; hot vegetable or lentil soup; chapatti.

The following drinks will aid the elimination of mucus and help fight the cold: boiled water with lemon juice; cracked wheat with raw sugar (dalia); carrot and other vegetable juices; tea with grated ginger, black pepper, tulsi leaves; cumin (jeera) juice - made by boiling one glass of water, then adding cumin seeds until the color of the water changes, and straining.

Avoid milk, ghee, cheese, yoghurt (dahee), bananas, and all heavy, starchy, fatty foods which increase mucus and thereby depress the gastric fire.

Cleansing process

When you can reduce the unpleasant effects of a cold through the regular practice of kunjal and neti, it becomes possible to view the cold as a cleansing process with great long term benefits. Therefore we should never try to suppress or 'cure' a cold with drugs. Colds remove from our systems the accumulated toxins and poisons that have built up over the years. The extra production of mucus increases the metabolism of the body and the subsequent use of protein and other substances washes out internal dirt more efficiently. This means that our bodies can function better afterwards. With this outlook, colds can even be viewed as part of the path to higher and cleaner living.