Zap your hay fever the natural way, as our yoga columnist guides you to a place where you can breathe easy again.
Spring is here! For many, the beauty and excitement of new life is brought down a notch by itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and an explosion of pollen that makes us miserable. It’s awful to feel less than your best, especially at a time when the world around you is springing into life. But you’re not alone.
The CDC reports that 19.1 million adults were diagnosed with hay fever in the past 12 months. The symptoms of hay fever (congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes) are caused when the body reacts to something harmless, like pollen, as if it were harmful. According to the Mayo Clinic, most doctors recommend fighting seasonal allergies with an anti-histamine, a decongestant, or avoiding the allergens altogether. And, even if you’re not one of those millions diagnosed, all that extra stuff in the air can still cause respiratory problems.
If you’re uncomfortable with relying on medication for seasonal allergy symptoms, or if you’d just like to add a natural remedy to your arsenal, yoga and Ayurvedic practice are here to help. Through a smart and simple combination of concentrated breath work and nasal irrigation, you could find yourself once again breathing easily.
Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is used in a yoga practice to focus the mind. However, it has the added benefit of clearing nasal passages. If you’re experiencing congestion, it’s best to have a tissue on hand before beginning this practice.
To practice alternate nostril breathing, sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and take a few deep, centering breaths, letting your attention focus on the moment. Bring your right hand up to the face so that the first and second fingers are resting between your brows, thumb is by the right nostril and ring finger is by the left. Inhale and exhale normally. Use the thumb to block the right nostril, inhaling through the left. Release the right nostril and use the ring finger to block the left, exhaling through the right nostril. Inhale here, and then switch again, exhaling through the left nostril.
This completes one round of alternate nostril breathing. Continue for five to ten rounds, and then release the right hand down to the side and let the breath come naturally. If this breath pattern rattled anything lose through the nasal passages, feel free to use the tissue. If you’d like to extend your practice with a mindfulness meditation, try taking a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing without using the hand to physically block the nostrils.
After this pranayama practice, especially if you’re experiencing congestion, it feels really nice to flush the nasal passages using a neti pot. Neti is an Ayurvedic practice that dates back centuries. In it, you use a pot and gentle salt solution to flush the sinuses. Neti use is growing in the US, in part due to the embrace of the medical establishment. WebMD reports that ear, nose and throat surgeons now recommend that their patients use nasal irrigation (the medical-friendly term for neti pot) to “clear away crusting in nasal passages.”
Using a neti pot for the first time can be intimidating. The traditional method involves leaning forward, tipping a pot of water into one nostril, breathing calmly all the while, allowing the water to safely flow out of the other nostril. After the first side, you’ll switch to the other. After flushing both sides, lean forward over your sink even more, or even fold forward in uttanasana or another posture to encourage any leftover water to come out.
There are many videos online that help to demystify the nasal irrigation process. One really excellent resource is the Himalayan Institute, site of Ayurvedic and yoga teaching in the US, and manufacturer of what is considered the “original” Neti Pot, though you can use any vessel. Be sure to use boiled or distilled water, and sanitize your pot before use.
For yogi extra credit, put a tiny amount of oil on the pinky finger and lightly apply to the inside of each nostril after neti-ing. Even gentle salt solutions can be drying to nasal tissues.
Interested in Ayurveda? The Yoga Bar is hosting Lisa Snowden, our resident Ayurveda expert, for a Spring Cleanse Weekend and exploration in self care. Lisa has trained extensively at the Himalayan Institute and holds a certification in Ayurvedic Health Counseling. See The Yoga Bar’s event page for more information.