Spring is here! Definitely the favorite time of year for many urban dwellers (at least those of us that live in latitudes that include a frigidly cold winter), Springtime is full of everything new. Tree blossoms, warm weather, clean homes, bursts of energy, happy moods…all of it contrasts nicely with the low energy hibernation mode that we settle into in order to survive Winter.
But one thing about Spring isn’t new–the return of pollen induced allergies. Allergic symptoms certainly put a damper on an otherwise pleasant change of seasons. If you suffer from a runny nose and itchy eyes during Spring you are not alone; nearly 36 million Americans endure the effects of seasonal allergies. With so much suffering, it makes sense that the market is full of a range of remedies from pills to sprays to face masks. These remedies are useful, and completely necessary for many sufferers, but they sometimes have unpleasant or uncomfortable side effects. They might provide temporary relief, but they don’t really address the underlying issue, which is your body’s reaction to the allergens. If you are an allergy sufferer and are unsatisfied with your attempts to alleviate your symptoms, or are looking for new ways to combat your allergies this Spring, then consider trying the following holistic remedies that I have learned through my research and my own practice.
Pursue a Healthy Lifestyle. Let’s think about what is going on during allergy season. Your sniffle nose, puffy eyes, headache and itchy skin are a physical reaction to the presence of foreign substances, such as dust, pollen, cat dander, in your body. Your immune system detects the foreign substance and launches an attack by releasing histamines and other germ fighting chemicals–this is what causes your symptoms. The more chemicals the immune system releases, the more unpleasant symptoms you endure. But the more agile and effective your immune system is, the less chemicals it will need to release to combat those pesky particles. So an integrated healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, sufficient sleep and plenty of exercise, will combat your allergies from the inside out and over the long-term. A healthy immune system is simply better equipped to deal with the presence of allergens at all times of year.
It is also true that practicing yoga, and particular inverted and balancing postures, will help immediately alleviate many of the symptoms of allergies. But it is difficult to prescribe a perfect series of postures that will work for everyone because each body is different, and each person is dealing with a variety of different combinations of symptoms. If you are interested in knowing some yoga postures that will help alleviate your symptoms, leave me a Comment below, check out this article from Yoga Journal, or send me an email: zara(at)yoginizara(dot)com.
Practice Breathing. Yogic breathing practices, called pranayama in Sanskrit, have long been recommended for the alleviation of allergies. In particular, the Kapalabhati (“skull shining”) practice, which I have described how to do in a previous post, is known as a cleansing technique because it methodically ejects stale oxygen and particles out of the nose and lungs. Practicing Kapalabhati in the afternoon is often helpful as a daily antidote to allergy symptoms. However, only try practicing Kapalabhati if you can still breathe through both of your nostrils! It is not helpful–and can be harmful–to try breathing practices when you are already suffering from congestion (email or Comment me for a recommended yoga posture instead).
A less obvious, but possibly more important and long-term, benefit from breathing practices is that it stimulates your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for decreasing the body’s stress level. More and more doctors are talking about the effect that high stress levels have on the experience of allergies, but the short story is that stress weakens the body’s immune system and decreases its ability to deal with allergens.
For a daily dose of stress reduction, try alternate nostril breathing (Anuloma Viloma in Sanskrit), a practice where the breath is inhaled through one nostril and exhaled through the other nostril; each nostril is alternately blocked off with the fingers of the right hand. Follow these simple steps:
- First, sit in a comfortable position with your back tall.
- Hold your right hand up and tuck the fore and middle finger to the palm; leave your left hand on your lap.
- Place the thumb of your right hand near your right nostril and your ring and pinkie finger by your left nostril.
- Block off your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril; then block off the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right nostril.
- Keep your left nostril blocked and inhale through the right nostril; then exhale through the left nostril while blocking off the right nostril.
- Inhale again through the left while blocking off the right nostril; and exhale through the right while blocking off the left nostril.
- Repeat this sequence for 10 to 20 rounds.
Nasal Cleansing. Also known as Nasal Irrigation and Jala Neti in Sanskrit, Nasal Cleansing is a great way to keep your sinus passages free from both allergens and the mucous your body creates to fight them. The process, which is simple even if a bit intimidating at first, involves pouring a mixture of warm water and ground non-iodized salt through each of your nostrils using a neti pot (like the one in the image below). I like to cleanse once a day when I am somewhere with lots of particles in the air, or when I am feeling congested. Otherwise, I generally cleanse once or twice a week. It leaves me feeling clear-headed, fresh and clean–and the ancient yogis swear that it is a cure for every ailment in the body originating from the chest up.
You can find a neti pot kit in your local health food store, or you can purchase one from the Himalayan Institute. The kit comes with detailed instructions on how to create the saline mixture and perform the cleanse. But if you need further guidance, reach out to me and I will be happy to help you learn how!
Are you suffering from allergies this Spring? Tell me about your symptoms in a Comment below and I will offer some further suggestions for particular yoga postures you can try to alleviate it.
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