This is the time of year where so many individuals are suffering from allergies as nature comes to bloom and releases pollen so that we can enjoy the fruits of summer. Ayurveda calls this the season of Kapha, which relates to Spring, and when nature gets excited to repopulate the fields and flourish us with her abundant beauty through a vast array of colors people are aggravated on an internal level as they are congested, drippy, sneezy and lethargy. Why does this happen?
First, Ayurveda states that Kapha dosha (the elements of water and earth) are aggravated this time of year by the sun as it grows in the atmosphere daily. What this means is that when winter and late winter expresses with cold, dry and heavy qualities, the atmosphere becomes suspended in time and space. The thawing, due to the sun increasing in the sky each day, causes this thawing to melt and this is when the lymphatic system becomes overwhelmed and is meant to detox. Nature supports this through diet as is seen in the animals gnawing on baby vegetation in order to cleanse their own lymphatic ducts.
Similarly, humans undergo such a process. The issue is that humans tend to have a mind of their own and least likely support the natural detoxification that happens this time of year and therefore things tend to get backed up in the digestive system. The body is amazing in that it is a historical system and that its health depends on consistency of patterns, daily patterns/seasonal patterns in order to truly thrive. When the seasons are honored and aligned with your own constitutional makeup, you are more likely to achieve balance in our health. Ayurveda says that it is because many individuals aren't harmonious with diet and lifestyle that disease is more likely to form.
According to Ayurveda, a disease primarily starts in the digestive system and it is in the digestive system that we can implement a "cure" which transforms disharmonious actions into harmonious health. Slowing down down and listening closely to what the digestive systems is communicating, but so often it is the case that time to do so isn't taken until something happens, like feeling ill or coming down with some form of a disease.
Therefore, subtle signs such as bloating, gas, distention, mild constipation, burning indigestion and/or sluggish digestion are key indicators that something is beginning to brew. By monitoring the "little things" we can prevent the bigger things from occurring. This is the amazing offering that Ayurveda shares with us that is called "preventative care." Ayurveda goes so far as to saying that when we incur a cold, this is the first sign that shows us we are living disharmoniously within the diet and lifestyle, that has weakened immunity and creates susceptibility to the exogenous (external) causes of diseases.
In order to self-regulate and address pathogenesis or prevent pathology formation, Ayurveda has three primary ways of attending to maintaining and/or returning back to balance.
1. REGULATE AGNI. Agni translates to fire, particularly Jatharagni which is the digestive fire (the enzymatic activities of digestion). This involves ensuring that the digestive system is the strongest.
2. REMOVE AMA. AMA (not the American Medical Association), refers to toxicity that occurs in the body, channels, and mind, developed from improperly processed or uncooked food/emotions. Ama creates blockages and can become a sticky, heavy substance like sludge or anything that obstructs the natural productivity of tissues, organs and cells.
3. REBUILD OJAS. Ojas is the actual state of immunity that results as a byproduct of proper digestion. When Ojas is strong and balanced within the body and mind, disease is kept at bay.
When Agni is low, Ama is high. When Ama is high, Ojas is low. When the desire of Ojas is to be high and strong, support to agni is required in order to remove Ama so that the body can regain its immunity. It's not always that simple because the monkey mind lives through the five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound) which engage in the world and constantly distract us. The body inherently is designed to know what to do to take care of itself at all times, regardless of disease. When we don't slow down the and really listen to it OR we hear it, because it is understood that something is out of balance when the body produces symptoms (since this is the body's primary way of communicating with us), and it is ignored when the mind wants to do it anyways. This is the division of body and mind and is what is called Prajnaparadha, or "failure of the intelligence." HERE is an informative article on disease in general. Ayurveda teaches us to return to the body and honor its age-old wisdom.
In the case with Seasonal Allergies, as with pathologies in general, it is important to examine what is the quality of the diet and lifestyle is that supports health or discourages it.
Here are some things to consider in the management of seasonal allergies:
1) Avoid heavy, cold, unprocessed and overly processed foods. For instance, breads, pastas (unless quinoa, to some degree), and fermented foods/beverages like bread, alcohol and cheese. These are the types of food that contribute to ama when someone is prone towards allergies or wants to prevent them.
2) Avoid cold/ice/frozen anything as this impairs the capacity of the digestive system from functioning optimally. It's like having a campfire going and suddenly dousing it out with cold water. Just don't do it! By shutting down the digestive system, anything that is put into it becomes unprocessed and inevitably causes blockages since the liver is stressed, along with the other organs of digestion. This makes its way to the lymphatic system, which we have a lot of drainage points in the head and upper respiratory system, that shuts down and becomes blocked.
3) Proper lubrication of the mucous membranes is essential. The body possesses approximately 12 pounds of skin. This skin covers the internal and the external environment of the body. Dryness of the body and its membranous locations is one of the primary culprits that invites in disease formation. Commonly, dryness eventually brings in either inflammation and/or excess mucus production. Similarly, inflammation can provoke a mucigenous response where the body's defense against dryness and/or inflammation sometimes is to produce mucous for self-preservation. Check HERE for more details on dryness. Ayurveda strongly emphasizes practices such as:
a) Nasya- which is lubrication of the sinus passages with oils like ghee and sesame.
b) Abhyanga - which is external application of oil in self-massage.
c) Karna Purna - application of oil, such as sesame, in the ear canal.
d) Gandusha - what is typically called "oil pulling" or "oil swooshing", with 2-3tbs. of sesame
e) Netra - which is the application of ghee or a medicated ghee (clarified butter) in the eyes
f) Basti - medicated oil enema, as needed and as supervised by a qualified practitioner.
When we feel a tickle in the throat or a scratchiness in the roof of the mouth, gandusha is great for removing this. When we feel like the eyes are dry, we can apply a drop or two of ghee at night before bed or go for a Netra Basti treatment which is an eye treatment where the eyes are swimming in warm ghee. (Feels amazing and rejuvenating!) When the ears feel itchy, we apply the oil. When the skin feels dry, we apply oil. When the digestive system is dry, the colon is one of the places where dryness can disturb absorption. Therefore, the basti mentioned above helps to lubricate this end of the body. Generally, oil helps to soften and lubricate the skin. It also serves to feed the microbes that live there, helping them to strengthen. Our first line of defense against the outside world and pathogens is the skin. Also, regular application of warm oil helps to increase longevity by decreasing the aging process. We can think of it this way. As we age, things tend to get dried up and break more easily. When keep things properly lubricated we can slow down this process...A LOT! We can see how this actually works when we observe children who are balls of mucus making machines and rebound quickly because of the youth. Additionally, there is more water present in their systems since the aren't that far from when they were swimming in the mothers' womb and lubricated, moistened for nine months. It's this level of hydration and lubrication that maintains a youthful appearance.
We also know that stress has a cold and drying effect. By warming up the inner and outer environment and by moistening them with oils and hydration (including electrolyte beverages, small amounts of diluted juices, and water) we can prolong aging and at least age with grace.
4) To help with dryness of the eyes, Rose water drops or spritz's throughout the day can be helpful. Just make sure you don't have any pre-existing health conditions that this practice may be a contraindication for.
5) Drinking warm/hotter beverages helps to keep the digestive system moving, clean, and balanced. We can't dissolve fat with cold water, we only add to it. Adding hot water to fat, dissolves it. Simple! Additionally, keeping proper hydration is a crucial component to supporting the body. Drink around 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water. Water boosted with electrolytes, like natural versions of gatorade can be quite helpful in hydrating the cells adequately and strengthening blood plasma and overall immunity.
6) Staying up late and sleeping in late, creates more inflammation and decreases lymphatic filtration. Staying up late and waking up early, increases dryness and effects the nervous system negatively. Going to bed early (around 10) and up early harmonizes the body and all its systems. We weren't meant to be nocturnal! (no matter how much we justify it) Simply staying up late compromises every system, the digestive system, the lymphatic system, the nervous system and the immune system.
7) Spices that contain the tastes of bitter, pungent, astringent, and minimal salt, such as turmeric, cumin, ajwan, mustard seeds, oregano, cardamom, cinnamon, thyme, basil, coriander, ginger, fennel, garlic and rosemary, help to regulate digestion. These tastes, bitter, pungent, astringent are good to work with this time of year. Just be mindful to not over dry as these spices have a tendency towards being drying but they can be balanced depending on how you use them and how you cook with them.
8) Nasal irrigation, which involves the famous Neti Pot, is excellent for seasonal allergies. When there is too much mucus present, which tends to be the body's means of reacting to inflammation/dryness, the neti pot helps to flush out the sinus and increases oxygenation in the brain and cells. Be mindful not to over neti as this in and of itself can have a drying effect on the sinus. Mainly perform this when you are aware there is a lot of congestion/mucus build up or that you have been exposed to environmental pollutants. This treatment is refreshing. Always follow it up with a little oil lubrication to ensure immunity of the nasal passages. Note: follow proper instructions around neti, where adequate water temperature, adequate amounts of non-iodized sea salt (1/8 tsp.), and adequate quality of water being that it is filtered or distilled, is applied. Otherwise, the experience can be painful. Too much salt or too little salt produces burning. The head not tilted correctly will cause some of the drainage to go into the throat and the quality of water can also cause some burning. So, no tap water! Lastly, the best neti consists of using a ceramic pot. Metal is ok. Plastic isn't. Syringes and sprays are not correct either. I'm sorry/not sorry, to say.
Note: The relationship of Neti and Nasya is a profound and beautiful one! It is a balanced approach strongly encouraged in the management of seasonal allergies. Combined with diet and lifestyle, it becomes amazingly supportive.
9) When it is difficult to perform the neti because one or both nostrils, or that the sinus cavities are very blocked, apply a warm eucalyptus compress for a few minutes. This should open it up so that you can do neti. Otherwise, take the neti into the shower and let the hot steam of the shower open up the sinus' first and then you can do the neti.
10) Follow Guidelines for Health Eating. This will also help support the digestive system in being optimal.
11) Vitamins such as A, B, C, D, and E support immunity and manage stress levels in the body. We know that stress dries out the system and makes it susceptible to pathogens of all sorts.
12) Exercise is ESSENTIAL! There's no way around it! Raising the heart rate through cardiovascular activities that are balancing, can regulate all the systems and the body/mind as a whole. Lymphatic stimulate is linked to the cardiovascular system as it requires a pumping mechanism to support functionality. Exercise is also a crucial practice that supports not only the heart but the body as a whole to move nutrients and toxins to their adequate locations. Exercise supports the blood sugar and insulin relationship. Exercise can help to detox the body, where the body uses sweat, urine and feces to release more efficiently whatever doesn't serve the body any longer. Exercise also helps to put you in your body which will aid you in listening to it more, since it desires your attention. Why wait for something to hurt before we pay the body any attention? Draining the body of its toxins prevents it from sticking around and becoming ama.
When attending to any imbalance, the cause is never just one reason. When attending to finding health and balance again, the remedy is never just one. It's a collective approach, and this is why it is called the W-Holistic approach. There are no quick fixes when it comes to "figuring" it out.
DISCLAIMER: This information is meant for educational purposes only and not considered medical advice. Any changes in lifestyle should be reviewed with a qualified practitioner and/or primary care physician if you are currently under their care for specific conditions.