As a kid I dreaded spring because of my hay fever. As soon as the season was in bloom, I would start sneezing, my eyes would get red and watery, and I would feel fatigued for weeks, sometimes even for two months. My mom tried everything to relieve the itchiness and malaise. Anti-histamines would dehydrate me too much and upset my stomach. So I would lock myself home and feel miserable. Until one day my mom accidentally bumped into an acupuncturist at the street fair and brought her home. I was afraid of the needles, but also desperate to relieve the allergic bouts.
In three sessions my eyes stopped itching and my nose and throat cleared. After two weeks of acupuncture, I could enjoy outdoor activities freely. The acupuncturist pierced all the meridian points that would give my body a natural boost. Then she also recommended some herbal infusions, and gave me homeopathic remedies to sooth potential allergic reactions. I felt really brand new, and ever since have stuck to the lifestyle changes that she had introduced in my diet, exercise regimen and mindset. I was only 9 years old then, but conscious enough to recognize the natural power of the body to heals itself.
Today at 42, having embraced Yoga as a core set of values and practices in my life I understand the root cause of allergies.
Physiologically, an allergic reaction occurs when the immune system over-responds to a non-harmful substance, such as pollen, dust, or dander, and attacks it as if it were a dangerous invader. Rather than protecting the body, this faulty immune response creates a set of symptoms that becomes a disease state.
We experience many common allergic responses: congestion, sneezing, eye irritation, and fatigue. In my case the worst was the coughing, wheezing, headache, itching, and hives. These symptoms are provoked by allergens, like pollens released from trees, grasses, and other plants. Allergens trigger the release of the compound histamine, which binds to histamine receptors, stimulating the immune response that leads to allergy symptoms. Most allopathic treatments are anti-histamines. If they manage to mask the attacks and suppress the symptoms, they do not address the cause, and in no way do they boost the immune system. On the contrary, they suppress it as well.
When I addressed the roots of my allergy issue later on, I discovered that it was due to a compromised immune system, a weak digestive system, and toxic overload. And the recipe from my Ayurvedic doctor was: reduce “Ama” and strengthen your “Agni”.
According to the ancient longevity tradition of Ayurveda, our Agny or digestive fire supports our immunity. But when agni is weak, our digestion is incomplete, and the residue (or ama) of that unfinished processing becomes toxic waste in the body. Yoga and Ayurveda advise keeping your solar plexus and abdominal muscles strong to enkindle agni, reduce ama, and bolster immunity.
The interesting part to treating my allergies naturopathically through Ayurveda and acupuncture was to realize that I had to clear my blood because I had an excess of “kapha”or stale energy, blocking circulation and flow.
In Ayurveda, kapha is considered the elemental energy of earth and water, which rises throughout winter and early spring. You can see the cold, heavy, damp qualities of Kapha in the changing weather as the snow melts, the rain begins to fall, and the earth becomes heavy with moisture. The kapha within us also begins to liquefy, and we struggle with colds, allergies, and bronchitis, along with other Kapha-related issues such as lethargy, weight gain, and depression. You can quell Kapha with ayurvedic treatments that are heating, drying, and invigorating to balance kapha’s cool, moist, heavy qualities.
In Yogic terms that translates in power yoga routines, sauna baths, a gluten-free veggie diet and intense pranayama, Kapalabhati also know as fire breath in particular.
I paired those with natural anti-histamines like herbal supplements and infusions from Astralagus, Echinacea, Goldenseal, Burdock, red Clover, and Stinging nettle. I also increased my vitamin C intake and made sure to imbue my spring yoga practice with lots of backbends and inversions – the natural allergy blockers. Using a neti-pot to rinse the nasal passages of dirt, germs, pollen and excess mucus several times a day also helped. Then I was ready for an intense breathing session – chasing away all the allergy symptoms. My ultimate allergy hunt was to reduce ama and bring agny back to the seat of fire. And I did.
If you stick to these ancient and tested strategies you, too will be guided toward a sniffle-free spring. Alas!
Allergy Relieving Yoga Routine: Chase Away (open level)
This practice composed of inversions and heart-openers boosts the natural shield of the body and sooths allergic reactions in Spring. An intense fire breath sparks agny and flushes toxins away. Rigorous backbends with the heart open and the sternum anchored into the Earth stimulate the thymus gland and strengthen the immunity. The emphasis goes to activating the throat center and the pool of creativity through restorative inversions and forward bends. Standing pose variations stress the crossing of meridians, incorporating healing mudras and balancing binds – all empowering the energetic body to regulate itself. A series of cooling inversions calm the nervous system and promote circulation to all organs and glands. The pacifying effects of alternate nostril breathing allow you to clear the nasal passages and dissolve in deep relaxation that focuses on releasing toxic build up and regaining your spark and momentum in life.