Allergies suck! I’m pretty sure most everyone can relate as well as agree. Who enjoys allergies? Um, no one! It is a rare occasion to find someone who hasn’t been miserably impacted by allergies that are often triggered or made worse by factors such as seasonal pollen, environmental pollution, poor diet, and stress.
Many irritants such as environmental, poor diet, and stress can occur at anytime. However on the contrary, as far as seasonal triggers, there are essentially three times during the year where pollen counts tend to be high. In the spring, it tends to be tree pollen. In the summer, its grass pollen, and in early fall, it often is ragweed pollen. (Of course, when things actually bloom really depends on location. Unfortunately, I know all to well that the Hill Country in Texas is a terrible place to be in January when the Mountain Cedar likes to bloom). Anyways, since it is early fall, I thought I’d write about how yoga can help the allergy sufferer (YOU) be less miserable.
LET’S BE ON TOP OF THE GAME BEFORE IT BEGINS!!!
Allergy sufferers have employed many methods to bring relief or at least minimize the horrible affects. Techniques include allergy shots, nasal steroid sprays, over-the-counter drugs, air purifying systems, avoiding places and things, or staying inside. We do these things because Many of these techniques are very successful. However, I wanted to point out that there are effective holistic approaches as well that you may want to explore in addition to what you already do. Who knows, this might be that extra something that will help you feel great or at least better! Maybe even sooner!
Your Physical Yoga Practice (Asanas):
In the “height” of your misery, you might consider taking your practice down a few notches to a more restorative style. The reason why I say this is two-fold. One obvious reason is that you feel like crap and thus most likely don’t feel like doing anything especially something physical such as exercise. (So temporarily back off the Power or Bikram Yoga). The second argument concerns stress. If you haven’t figured it out yet, allergies are worsened by stress. Stress causes physiological responses such as releasing stress hormones and histamine and triggers inflammation. Stress is brought on by lifestyle but also exercise (usually a good trigger). All in all, Restorative Yoga is designed to reduce stress and allergy season is a great time to check out the local restorative yoga class. You’ll happily find that once your nervous system calms down that your mucus and inflammation decreases. In my book, that’s a win!
On the flip side, if you “aren’t” too miserable, you might want to add and explore poses that have symptom reducing benefits. GRAB SOME TISSUE!
• Inversions: help clear the upper respiratory tract and drain nasal secretions, allowing freshly oxygenated blood to flow more freely
o Try Shoulderstand, Plow (loosens muscles at the base of the skull and neck)
o Don’t stay in Downward Facing Dog or Headstand too long (no more than two minutes) as these place added pressure on nasal passages
• Backbends/Chest Openers: Expands the chest and lungs which helps increase lung capacity
o Try: Upward Facing Dog, Crescent Lunge, Bridge, Fish or if you have access to those big stability balls, try laying over one. You can even lay over a bolster too. Fish also has the added benefit of stimulating the thymus gland which is under the sternum (The Thymus gland helps regulate the lymphatic system).
Yoga Breathing Techniques (Pranayama):
Just making a conscious effort to fully breathe will significantly help! All too often, we breathe to shallow and never tap into our lung’s full capacity. If you have ever been in the hospital for a respiratory complication, you may remember the staff’s encouragement to use your lungs. Things like coughing or blowing those balls in the tube above the line. I’ve been there, done that! You probably have too.
If you can breathe, you can do yoga! Any yoga class, is going to draw your awareness to breath. A popular breath approach is the “Three-Part Breath.” This breath is essentially encouraging you to use your lung’s full capacity.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Put your hands on your belly and close your eyes. This will help draw awareness to the technique. You can do this sitting, laying down, or standing.
2. Inhalation: Slowly drawing breath in through the nose, filling the lungs from the bottom up. Belly will expand first, then ribs, and then the chest.
3. Exhalation: Slowly releasing the air though the nose, allow the chest to come back to neutral, the ribs, and then the belly.
Now that you have the Three-Part Breath down, I’d like to introduce two other breathing techniques that may bring on the relief. Learn these while sitting. I’ll start with the easier to describe of the two.
1. Skull Shining Breath (Kapalabhati Pranayama):
a. You definitely, want the tissue here. We want to avoid friendly fire.
b. This isn’t a hard technique at all. Just inhale normally through the nose and then forcibly exhale also through the nose. Also as you exhale, really draw in your belly. After you get the technique down, try to do three sets of 30. Your stomach should be pumping as you do those exhales! It is fast.
c. After each set, take a moment to breath regularly or reset. Also, if you get lightheaded, just stop!
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodana Pranayama):
a. This is called Alternate Nostril Breathing because you are alternating between nostrils and there all sorts of variations of approaches. Not to get to technical, but overall, the technique is to subtly stimulate the various nadis and nerve endings on the different sides of the body. Ways of inhaling and exhaling by isolating a nostril help to stimulate these nerve endings as well as calm your nervous system.
b. Use your right hand and fold down your index and middle finger. (Some people might rest these two fingers between their eyebrows). Essentially, you will alternately apply pressure with your thumb and ring finger. There are six steps starting and stopping with your thumb!
d. (1) Close off RIGHT nostril with thumb.
e. (2) Inhale through left nostril.
f. (3) Close off LEFT nostril with ring finger (you released your thumb).
g. (4) Exhale through right nostril then inhale right nostril (you never moved finger)
h. (5) Close off RIGHT nostril with thumb.
i. (6) Exhale through left nostril.
j. STOP: This is one round. Try a few to get a feel for it and eventually aim for nine rounds.
Ayurveda (Yoga Sister Science) Nasal Cleansing Technique (Jala-neti):
In Ayurveda, nasal cleansing is a daily practice. However, I know many people especially in America; do not know about the technique. Our approach to colds and allergies is to treat with drugs! Sometimes, the drugs work to mask the symptoms and temporary we feel better or can function. But, then the drugs wear off and we need more because the allergens are still around!
I first learned about the Neti Pot via a coworker back in 2008. I was a shift worker working a 12-hour weekend day shift during the winter and I was suffering terribly from a cold and maybe allergies too. I had tried every OTC cold and allergy drug available and had no relief and to make matters worse I had “medicine head.” NOTHING WAS WORKING! It had been days!!!
My shift crew commander could tell I was miserable. He told me about the Neti pot and said he swears by it. I was desperate for relief so I was willing to try it. I mean, I wasn’t getting better and the drugs were making me feel worse.
I went straight to the store after shift, so I could try this “Neti Pot” thing ASAP! I found a Neti Pot kit (May also be labeled as Nasal Wash or Cleanse) at Walgreens in the cold and allergy section for about $6 dollars.
I went home, followed the instructions, and did it. It took me a little while to get the technique down. But once I figured it out…Oh, my god, I had instant relief! Why hadn’t I discovered this before?!?!?!?!!!!!!!
TRY IT!!!! At least during allergy and cold season when you are suffering! This maybe your new favorite technique! It is mine! And because it works so great, I tell every one!
Make sure you use Clean Water! Make sure the water is not to Hot! Follow the salt measurements! Have a lot of tissues handy! Do this in your bathroom at the sink! Pack this in your suitcase when you are traveling!
I didn’t put the instructions down because if you buy a kit, the instructions and measurements will be included. It doesn’t hurt! It is more weird than anything (American Mindset). At the worst, it will feel like water up your nose like when you were swimming.
Then there are essential oils! You can put a few drops in a diffuser for your home or in your hands which are then rubbed together and then cupped over your nose and mouth. Either one, just breathe! If you’d like to apply topically, try rubbing “Breathe,” an oil blend on your chest, neck, and sinuses for relief.
So there you have it, sadly, allergies and colds are unfortunately part of life. The good news is that we have control to really minimize our suffering and there are lots of techniques to include natural or holistic approaches (asanas, breathing, and cleansing) that are quite effective.
Here’s to finding relief,