As the warmth of the sun descends upon the earth, the layers of sweaters and coats are discarded to reveal pale skin that has not been touched by these golden rays for six long months. Waking up to the chirps of young ones getting ready to make their first flight is music to my ears. From the front stoop I see signs of life pushing through on bare branches.
Buds have appeared, ready to open their faces to the sun. A baby chipmunk pokes its head out from under the rocks, and hastily retreats fearing human presence. A squirrel shoots up the majestic maple trunk with another in pursuit, only to come down as fast as King-Da-Ka at Six Flags. Ah! The joys of spring!
I bravely emerge on this sunny day and take in the smell of spring air. Walking up the driveway, I catch a glimpse of the beginnings of spring before Mother Nature awakens from winter’s hibernation. The earth is preparing to be reborn. And I – will enjoy her spectacular birthing from behind a glass curtain! Lucky guess – Allergies!
Spring is the time of the year when some of us are tormented by allergies while others rejoice in the hues and warmth. Allergies affect my sleep, concentration, and my yoga practice. I am exhausted and at times, end up in a bad mood. Sneezing and red, itchy, watery eyes means blooming has begun. If I am not careful, my sinuses can get clogged which may cause infections and headaches.
And evidence shows that allergies and asthma may be related – meaning asthmatics are more likely to be allergy sufferers and those with allergies have a greater chance of developing asthma. Soon – a full blown congestion where I am popping pills, squirting drops and inhaling puffs. Many times I have lost my voice as well. Some folks (who remain nameless) were very happy! But try going to work as a speech pathologist or a yoga instructor with laryngitis!
While people often think of spring as “the allergy season,” my immunologist in New Jersey, explained that there are actually three separate times of year when allergies tend to occur: spring (tree pollen), summer (grass pollen), and fall (ragweed pollen). Many suffer due to indoor allergens such as dust mites, carpet fibers and mold during the winter season as well! Growing up in Bengaluru, India, I suffered from allergies all year round. The triggers were pollen, dust and pollution. I remember using saline nasal drops but other over the counter allergy medications were not popular then.
Being medicated long term via allergy shots, nasal steroid sprays, and prescription antihistamines is something I have never wanted to do. Yet, I am so grateful for them as they have brought a sense of normalcy to my life. Along with medication, a holistic approach of yoga and ayurveda (diet adjustments) has significantly reduced the allergy symptoms by calming my immune system’s response to the perceived triggers, and has helped me find a balance.
Yoga’s cleansing practices are called Shat Karmas or Kriyas, (6 practices), of which jala neti, nasal wash and kapalabhati pranayama, skull shining breath, are effective for seasonal allergies.
Jala Neti – Nasal Wash
Neti (pronounced as Naythi) is a technique used to cleanse the nasal passages and sinuses.
This cleansing is done in one of two ways: with a warm saline solution, known as jala neti; or with a cotton thread, known as sutra neti (not familiar with this technique). Is one easier than the other? It’s probably a personal preference.
- Mix one-half teaspoon of non-iodized salt in a 8 oz cup (500ml -8 ounces) of lukewarm water. I use fine sea salt.
- The traditional method is to take some saline water in the hollow of your palm. I use this method and it works well.
- Close the left nostril with the index finger of your left hand and slowly inhale through the open right nostril, drawing the water in. It will sound like liquid being sucked/slurped in through a straw.
- If you inhale too fast, it will go into your sinuses causing a slight burning sensation. This only happens in the learning phase.
- Vigorously expel the water out through the same nostril while continuing to hold the left nostril closed.
- If the water drains into your mouth, gargle and spit it out.
- Repeat 2-4 times on the same side or until you feel that side is cleansed.
- Then, repeat steps 2-7 on the other side.
- Finish by blowing your nose to clear any residual liquid.
- Gargle deep in your throat with the remaining saline water.
- Jala Neti is usually done once a day. Use apps to track the levels of pollen and ragweed. During allergy season, end of the day cleanse may be essential.
Nasal wash may also be performed with the help of a neti pot. The market is flooded with neti pots made out of plastic, stainless steel, porcelain and copper. They also come in various sizes and shapes. Your choice – the neti pot or the palm of your hand.
This kriya loosens and flushes away incrustations of dried mucous in the nasal cavities, dissolves and expels dust and other impacted pollutants and thoroughly washes the sensitive olfactory endings, helping you to effectively manage your seasonal allergies and making you less susceptible to colds with regular practice.
Jala Neti is usually followed by Pranayama and is necessary to enhance the capacity of your breathing practices.
Jala neti and breathing practices have helped me to manage my allergies. I began these practices in 2008 and noticed improvement in 2012. In 2012, I was able to decrease the frequency of medications to spring and fall, after being dependent on them throughout the year for many years. Since last year, I am taking the medications from March through May only, and have been laryngitis free for 4 years.
I am grateful.
Next Post – Pranayama for allergies
Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Hinsdale, PA