Along with leaves on the trees and flowers in the fields, a common occurrence with the start of spring is the onset of seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever. During this time, there is an abundance of pollen in the air, and the ingestion of it into the respiratory system creates an allergic reaction including sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion, headaches, itchiness in the nose, mouth, and eyes, and other symptoms.
While all people are exposed to pollen, those who have an allergic reaction to it have an overly sensitive immune system that produces histamine. Histamines are proteins that increases blood flow to the affected areas and thus creates the inflammation that leads to the above symptoms. A person can develop hay fever as the result of genetic or environmental factors.
Allergic rhinitis can also be triggered by a reaction to pet dander, mold, dust, and other allergens one may encounter in his or her environment.
Western medicine, like other systems, recommends avoiding pollen and other allergens as the best way to prevent allergic reactions. Beyond this, Western medical practitioners advise their patients to take one of several over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines (like Zyrtec), decongestants in the form of nasal sprays, and corticosteroid sprays (like Flonase). For more acute and severe allergic reactions, a patient may be administered an allergy shot regimen to help them build their immune system’s ability to resist the allergens.
Given its association with inflammation that then leads to mucus, congestion, and other afflictions of the respiratory system, Ayurveda considers hay fever and other forms of allergic rhinitis to be an aggravation of both the Pitta and Kapha energies that sit in the stomach and head/chest regions respectively.
In Ayurveda, the immune system’s strength is directly related to the strength of the digestive system. With weak digestion, we also have a weak immune system. When our immune system weakens, our body then produces moisture with the intention of reinforcing the tissues for the duration of this vulnerable and weakened state. This moisture is indicative of the aggravation of our Kapha element, and with this imbalance comes the congestion indicative of hay fever symptoms.
In avoiding symptoms of hay fever, the first step is to strengthen digestion with proper food choices and eating habits. This will balance the digestive fire associated with the Pitta element and lead to a reduction of inflammation in the affected areas. It is also important to utilize therapies that, along with stabilizing the digestive fire in the stomach, lessen the incidence of mucus in the head and chest region.
It is important to reduce the intake of foods that create more heat in the body and aggravate Pitta energy like spicy foods, caffeinated beverages (like coffee), alcohol, and sour foods (like yogurt and pickles).
It is also important to avoid heavy foods that are difficult to digest and produce more Kapha energy in the body such as red meat, dairy products (like cheese and ice cream), sweet fruits (like strawberries and raspberries), and sugary sweets (like candy and cake).
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 tomake 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 should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours.
Locally harvested honey
Lettuce and other leafy greens
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 can help reduce congestion associated with excessive Kapha energy:
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.
Hot water, especially during meals, first thing in the morning.
Herbal teas of fennel, coriander, and mint will help to cool down the buildup of heat.
Herbal tea of licorice to clear the chest and respiratory system.
Avoid cold and frozen drinks
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.
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 to 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 together 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.
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 buildup 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. Like with the yoga postures above, breathing exercises are likely to be of significant benefit to those who suffer from considerable amounts of stress.
Receive our weekly email digest with the latest content from Yogi Cameron & Yogini Jaima