Selina Singh’s tips for winter wellness
We were lucky enough to attend a recent Wellness Retreat in Auckland, where naturopath and medical herbalist Selina Singh hosted an educational workshop on natural ways to support overall health and boost immunity. She had some tips for taking care of common winter ailments such as colds, headaches and stress. We hope these prove helpful during this chilly season!
Selina refers to the immune system as our savings account. When we are running low, our defences for warding off pathogens and bacteria aren’t as strong. Here are some of Selina’s suggestions to help keep your ‘immunity savings’ topped up:
1. Take a daily immunity strengthening formula
Echinacea is a flowering plant, which was traditionally used by native Americans as an antimicrobial remedy to combat the symptoms of colds, flu or infections. Today it is a popular herb, commonly taken to boost the immune system. It’s available in tablet, capsule and liquid form.
Mineral deficiencies are widespread and can occur for various reasons including poor diet and stress, Selina says, adding that to stay healthy, the body requires a certain amount of each mineral. Selina suggests supplements may help to promote mineral balance.
2. Support hydration and healthy digestion
Eating foods that are difficult to break down can cause digestive stress and compromise the immune system, Selina says. She recommends reducing the amount of refined sugar and processed foods we eat, and increasing our intake of fibrous and nutrient dense wholefoods such as fruit and vegetables to keep our digestive system functioning well. And she says drinking around 2 litres of water each day can help.
3. Lifestyle and sleep
Selina believes it’s important to allow your body and immune system to relax and recharge each day. Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can help to reduce stress both mentally and physically, and aiming for at least eight hours of sleep per night also allows your cells to repair and regenerate, she adds.
Colds and coughs
1. Vitamins and herbs
If you’re feeling under the weather, Selina suggests taking vitamin C every few hours to help combat symptoms early. There are varying qualities of vitamin C, and some are more absorbable than others. Selina recommends taking it in gel or powder form to get the best possible results.
And she believes marshmallow can be beneficial for a sore throat because it’s “cooling, and soothing” She recommends taking it as a tincture or tea to maximise its soothing effect.
2. Warm water
Sipping on warm water with ginger and lemon can help to ease congestion, and is warming and gentle on the throat, Selina says.
Selina explains that the digestive process starts in the mouth - as we chew, salivary enzymes that help to break down our food are released, so she says it’s important to chew each mouthful until it’s liquefied. This can take some getting used to, but with practice it will become second nature, she says. Her advice is to try counting to 40 chews before swallowing, and you might even notice you feel fuller faster, too.
Selina recommends eating foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, and aiming for around six servings of vegetables per day. And she says slippery elm might reduce inflammation through the digestive tract and it could also have soothing qualities for those with reflux.
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction and although in some instances stress can be beneficial for our health and safety, prolonged periods in this state can deplete the body of nutrients, Selina says. She adds that we respond to stress by releasing hormones and increasing our heart and breathing rates and that stress that continues without relief can cause exhaustion, headaches and high blood pressure. Selina suggests the following three things to help you unwind each day:
1. Breathing exercises
Studies have shown that focusing on deep diaphragmatic breathing can reduce our stress response, lowering heart rate, blood pressure and encouraging a state of relaxation.
To do this, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Take a regular breath. Then breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully, then slowly breathe out.
Try to make time for yourself each day. Choose an activity you can look forward to – it might be journaling, reading, meditation or a warm bath. Exercise is also an important component. In times of stress try something that isn’t too strenuous but still gets you moving such as a walk amongst nature, yoga or tai chi.
Selina recommends withania (also known as ashwagandha), which may help to reduce stress She recommends taking it during busy times when we may be more stressed and susceptible to illness. And she adds passionflower, lemon balm and camomile are all relaxants, so they’re nice to have in a herbal tea to help you get ready for sleep.
Insufficient hydration is a common cause of headaches, so Selina says try increasing your daily water intake and if you routinely drink coffee, or green or black tea, it may be a good idea to swap these out for a non-caffeinated beverage, as caffeine can be dehydrating.
If you’re experiencing regular headaches, you could try seeing an osteopath or chiropractor to check posture and spinal alignment. And regular sleep routine and healthy stress management can help too.
Magnesium is a muscle-relaxing mineral, which can help to keep headaches at bay. There are many different types, she says, so it’s important to discuss this supplement with a healthcare professional prior to taking it.
Sleep quality is more important than quantity. If it’s difficult for you to fall asleep or if you find yourself restless or waking frequently during the night, Selina says it might be worth trying a couple of these suggestions:
1. Develop a night time ritual
Creating an evening routine will help your body to recognise when it’s time to prepare for sleep. This could include journaling a conscious stream of thoughts before bed, which can help to clear the mind, or rubbing lavender sleep oil onto your wrists after a warm shower or bath.
2. Try and stick to the same bed time every night
Selina recommends being in bed with dim lighting by 9pm, and asleep no later than 10pm. Dim lighting is important because our sleep hormone, melatonin, is released when it’s dark, so it’s best not to use electronics with back lighting right before bed either.
A blend of passionflower, valerian and chamomile is often effective for encouraging a deep and restful sleep, says Selina. Passionflower is a herbal relaxant and studies have shown that kava extract can help to reduce anxiety.
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury and infection, and reducing prolonged inflammation is the first step in healing injuries as quickly as possible, Selina says. Omega oils may have an anti-inflammatory effect - omega 3 and 6 are referred to as essential fatty acids. These can be taken as supplements, or ingested by eating nuts, seeds, avocados and fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna.
Selina also suggests drinking a cup of bone broth daily, which is nutrient rich. This can be added to soups and casseroles for extra depth and flavour, which is great during winter.
Arnica cream is good to have on hand to soothe bruises and sprains, Selina says.
This article is not intended to substitute for medical advice. Visit your health professional to address any issues or conditions.
Photo credit: Sarah Alice Photography