Will Yoga Help Seasonal Allergies?

  • Article published in HUM Magazine March/April 2015 issue

DSC_5628BY SUMA MUDAN

After being drenched by torrential rains, numbed by unseasonally cold days, disillusioned and discouraged by damp dreary gray skies, Spring is here!. Finally! Yes, Spring is really here!

It’s time to celebrate and enjoy the new bloom, the sunny skies, and inhale the fresh, fragrant spring air, right? Sorry, not so for all of us. For some of us, this is a dreaded time of the year, when the Spring pollen plays havoc with our immune system, when we have itchy eyes and runny noses. Before one reaches out for antihistamines or run to one’s doctor, reading the following may find a less taxing relief,right within one’s reach.

In the last few decades, yoga has become a household name, a regular presence in studios, gyms, health clubs, and indeed many other places. Sometimes, it’s hip to practice yoga – from Gwyneth Paltrow to Orlando Bloom, everybody does it.  But getting back to reality and to you and me – what is yoga?

Yoga has been in practice for more than 5,000 years. The most common definition for yoga is “union” – it can be union of body and mind, union of physical and spiritual, or union of known and unknown. Several times, yoga is projected as one more type of exercise, or as a workout. However, the way yoga was originally developed was as a stepping stone to a higher plane, for spiritual growth. At the more normal plane, yoga can be a “work in” unlike the work out we are so used to. Yoga inspires you to focus on yourself, to turn within, and help you accept yourself the way you are.

We are all too familiar with the physical benefits of yoga – we see the slender bodies in Lululemon outfits, feasting our eyes in most of the yoga studios. However, the other aspect of yoga practice – yoga for therapy, is slowly but surely emerging as a winner. Yoga has been found to be a powerful therapeutic tool, helping people alleviate back and neck pain, stiff shoulders, and emotional illnesses such as depression and anxiety.  Several main stream physicians have taken up yoga therapy as their fulltime activity. To name a few, Dr. Timothy McCall, a Board Certified internist, has written a best seller entitled Yoga as Medicine and he runs workshops on the same lines. Dr. Loren Fishman, Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, has written numerous books on Yoga for arthritis, osteoporosis, MS and focuses his practice on treating people with these problems, combining yoga and medicine.

Coming back to the topic of discussion – yoga for seasonal allergies – let’s focus on what yoga can and cannot do to give you relief from that itchy throat, watery eyes and runny nose. We are all familiar with the concept that we catch colds and infections easily and more often if our immune system is not strong. Strong immunity means active lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system plays an essentiacamel posel role in maintaining the body’s health in a world of potential accidents, climatic changes, infections, parasites, and pollution. The primary function of this system is the production, maintenance, and distribution of the defense of the body against invading organism such as bacteria, viruses, abnormal cells, and toxins.

This is where yoga comes into the picture. A regular yoga practice can help a person to build the strength through facilitating a more active lymphatic drainage, and by increasing the lung capacity to ingest more oxygen and eliminate toxins.  Practicing yoga the right way (for your specific situation) will increase your resistance to illness and disease.

 

There are several yoga asanas that focus on increasing the lung capacity, opening the chest cavity, mobilizing the rib cage to support respiration, facilitating complete exhalation, and inducing deep relaxation.  Some of the most useful asanas to achieve these objectives are briefly described below (if you have neck, back or shoulder issues, or chronic ailments such as blood pressure, it is advised to learn these from an experienced yoga teacher so as not to aggravate the current issues).

Backbends – Fish pose opens the chest, lungs and throat to free the breath. This pose also stimulates the thymus gland, regulates the lymphatic system and helps establish immunities.

Camel pose – opens the chest and aids in alleviating respiratory illnesses. Take caution if you have severe neck problems.

Forward bends –Downward dog is a very energizing pose that relieves head ache, fatigue, asthma and helps drain mucus

forward bends1Another terrific allergy symptom tamer is the neti pot. A neti pot is a container designed to rinse debris or mucus from your nasal cavity. You might use a neti pot to treat symptoms of nasal allergies, sinus problems or colds – T C Li, MD, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic. According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, some of the scientific research that’s been done shows that neti pot “is as effective as drugs for preventing sinus infections.. and hugely beneficial for people with allergies.”  Of course, it comes with a huge side benefit of not having the drug induced side effects. What used to be a fringe cleansing practice for die-hard yoga practitioners is now becoming a mainstream alternative to cold, sinus, and allergy medication. Today you can buy a neti pot in Walgreens, CVS, Target, and pretty much everywhere.

neti potGetting familiar with our noses in order to understand how a neti pot can help us – nostrils are the interface between your body and the atmosphere – they filter, clean, heat, and moisten the air you inhale. The sensitive lining of the nostrils secretes mucus, which effectively traps dust, dirt, and other particles when it is moist. All day the moist, sticky mucus collects dirty particles from the air you breathe and keeps it from entering into the lungs. And if we don’t clean this matter out of the nostrils it will end in our stomachs.  The nasal wash dissolves and clears away dried mucus and stimulates the nasal linings to secrete fresh, moist mucus, which will help keep our noses healthy.  Conclusion – you can use the neti pot to rinse away pollen, dust, germs, and other airborne contaminants.

The way a neti pot works, in Dr. Carrie Demers, MD’s words – nose is divided into two passages, and there’s a septum in between. You pour the water in one nostril, it goes around the back of the septum, and gravity helps it flow out the other side”  You use warm saline solution to wash your sinuses. You fill the neti pot with this solution, lean over a sink, face forward.  Raise your face up slightly, pour the solution into one nostril and in a few seconds, it will flow out of the other nostril. Then repeat on the other side. Once you are done washing, exhale fowrcefully a few times to clear loose mucus and water.

Give it a try, you have got nothing to lose except your congestion and mucus.

Suma Mudan is an international tax attorney and CPA by profession. She consults with US multi-national companies on issues dealing with international structuring and compliance. Her passions are yoga for wellness and gardening. Suma is a registered yoga teacher as well as a master gardener from Texas A&M.