Each time an individual takes a breath, the air that is inhaled and exhaled to and from the lungs move through passages known as the bronchi and bronchioles. In healthy individuals, the smooth muscles of these passages transfer air through many times a day without incident.
When a person has asthma, however, their passages are constricted and their breathing is inhibited. This constriction is typically the result of inflammation of the passages, the smooth muscles going into spasm, and an excessive buildup of mucus. An asthma sufferer will experience periodic manifestations of constrictions, also known as asthma attacks.
During these episodes, the sufferer experiences shortness of breath, wheezing, and if it escalates, outright difficulty in breathing. It is estimated that there are more than 22 million asthma sufferers in the United States.
In Western medicine, asthma patients are treated medicinally with anti-inflammatory medication such as corticosteroids, bronchodilators that relax the bands of muscle that have constricted, and quick-relief versions of these medications administered through inhalers, nebulizers, and other devices.
As asthma is closely related to the dysfunction of the respiratory system, Ayurveda primarily associates the occurrence of this disease with the imbalance of the Kapha energy that sits in the head and chest region. When food is not properly digested, it can’t be reabsorbed and eliminated from the body as needed. This creates a backlog of undigested food, which in turn creates excess toxicity like mucus.
The act of eliminating waste follows a basic downward movement as the matter travels from the stomach and small intestines into the colon and out of the body. When this basic process is disrupted with undigested food, the downward action becomes reversed in the body and the toxicity moves up into the head and chest region through the blood. Toxicity in the head and chest equates to the moisture and density associated with the Kapha dosha, and this leads to a buildup of congestion and restriction in the air passages.
Ayurveda guides us to control asthma attacks with two primary tasks: 1) regulating digestion and 2) burning off the accumulation of mucus in the head and chest. Poor digestion is resolved primarily through a proper diet that diminishes the build-up of Kapha in the system. An asthma sufferer must avoid eating too many mucus forming foods like sweets, salty foods, and dairy products (except for milk). Food must be properly chewed, eaten in reasonable quantities, and not consumed for at least three or four hours before going to bed.
The accumulation of mucus in the head and chest can be burned off by consuming heat-producing substances like spicy foods, ginger, and raw onions with food. An Ayurvedic healer may also settle excessive moisture in the head and chest with specific herbs that act as bronchodilators to help the body open the passages and as tonics to strengthen the lungs.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. The following foods will help to balance excessive amounts of Kapha energy in the body, reducing the severity of symptoms associated with asthma:
Ghee (in moderation)
Goat milk (in moderation)
Intake of sharp and spicy foods is good to help break up the mucus
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha. Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha. Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods and food types can further aggravate Kapha energy, and can increase the severity of symptoms associated with asthma:
AVOID THESE FOODS:
Sweets and candy
Dairy Products (except goat milk, in moderation
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
Garlic (powder or juice)
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
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