Since the beginning of spring, as the temperature changes and pollen is released into the atmosphere, many of us are influenced by this and experience allergies. According to Ayurveda, seasonal allergies, along with many other health related imbalances are a primarily a result of poor digestion. Digestion is the key to health. In Ayurveda, we refer to this as Jatharagni (digestive fire), which contains enzymes such as pepsin and hydrochloric acid. When the digestive system is compromised, immunity is compromised, from head to toe and including every nook and cranny of the body. Digestion is also essential in healthy lymph, our lymphatic system, which is responsible not only for our immunity but also is considered the drainage system of the body. Which would make sense because if the drains in our body are clear, then our immunity is improved. A sluggish system can only create more mess and confusion in our body; which means the body works harder to maintain health.
What we take into the body is essential to our vitality. We eat food and certain foods can produce allergic reactions. We breathe in air, and the body can produce reactions. By understanding our constitution (Prakruti), we can learn what our tendencies towards imbalances are in order to prevent them. This is one of the amazing gifts that Ayurveda has to offer to us.
When the digestive system is negatively affected by what we ingest but can't digest, then we start to create a domino effect of ill health effects. Our lymphatic system and intestinal flora, our gut flora especially comprises much of the integrity of our health. These systems are also influential upon our minds. As we notice we have allergies we can say that something outside of the body is affecting us and we get congested, runny noses, some mucus, coughs, post-natal drips, headaches from sinus pressure, sinusitis, clogged ears and dry/itchy or mucousy eyes. This is all the upper respiratory territory but upper depends on lower digestion. Is the colon optimally functioning?(are we pooping daily and fully?) Is our appetite strong or weak?
Additionally, lack of sleep or adequate sleep can also affect our health on so many levels but definitely creating an avenue where allergies are expressed. Are we hydrating adequately and appropriately? Meaning, are we drinking enough water? Is the water hot or cold? Because that makes a huge difference. Cold water shuts down our digestive system. Whereas hot water stimulates digestion and encourages our lymphatic system to keep things moving and the toxins clearing from our body. Our lymph tissue is dependent upon our the quality of digestion.
Our skin runs inside the body and outside the body. Digestion is a key component of health and immunity and our skin is the first line of protection from the outside. There is skin beginning in our mouth and ending in our rectum. Externally, all the surface space including our eyelids, the surface space of our nostrils, ear canals themselves are lined with skin. In Ayurveda, we discuss a great deal around self-care and maintenance of the skin through practices such as daily oil massage, hydration, herbal applications and minimizing sun exposure.
That all being said, when we notice that we are experiencing allergies Ayurveda teaches us to look at what the root cause may be and begin addressing it from there. Histamines are activated, as a part of the body's defense system, governed by the immune system. We tend to take over the counter medications such as Benedryl which has an anti-histamine effect but we know that this has a drying effect and reduces the mucous only to create a temporary relief because we didn't get to the root cause. We can say it's the pollen affecting us, the dust, grass or even dirt but Ayurveda would invite us to think about whether we have some sort of excess or deficiency in our health that is creating a forum in which imbalances can express themselves. We are also invited to take control of our health by becoming aware of the choices we make that will either favor our health or compromise it. For example, if we are eating food that is best for our constitution, if we are hydrating enough with warm/hot water and if we are taking care of our skin along with sleeping adequately, we are more aligned with health.
SOME FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
SLEEP is essential because it allows the body to function more optimally. Ayurveda suggests that we are in bed around 10 and that we prepare to wind down an hour before, to ensure that we sleep fully and deeply. Awaken by 6/7 the latest, and having 7-8 hours sleep (average.) Staying up later only causes an increase of inflammation as the lymphatic system is impeded and the liver becomes more agitated. Our livers are one of the filters for our bodies. Our kidneys are another filter and our noses are also filters for air. Staying up late and waking up late only increases allergies. Sleep is a natural anti-inflammatory, when we are in bed earlier and before 11.
HYDRATING is important. Generally, we are to drink half our body weight in ounces (a little less if we are prone to more Kapha imbalances and have more water in our bodies.) The water should be hot/warm versus cold. Ice in anything simply negatively puts out our digestive fire. Like adding ice to a camp fire. Hydrating keeps everything moving in the body. Sipping water/hot water (you can add lime or lemon or honey) can support metabolism. Hydration reduces dryness in the system.
FOOD. Eating lighter foods, still warm with veggies increasing. Maybe even more raw veggies as we progress into summer. Light breakfast. MAIN MEAL at lunch. (This can not be emphasized enough!) The lunch should be adequate with protein, minimal carbs, other grains/legumes and mostly veggies/salads. Dinner is lighter than lunch. Heavy meals only end up getting partially digested and increase lymphatic congestion, also affecting sleep and the quality of sleep. AVOID foods that are heavy and mucus producing like cheese, dairy, sugar/processed sugar/excess sugar, sweets and treats like cakes, fried foods, alcohol, ice, frozen smoothies, breads, pastas and heavy meats like bacon and meat. These are some quick examples of what can contribute to allergies. Eating heavy dinners only increases allergies. Also, remember that food is either our medicine or our poison. Our kitchen is our pharmacy. Is what is in your kitchen supportive of health or negating of health?
OIL. Dryness of the mucus membranes is what makes it easier for pathogens and other environmental irritants like dust and pollen to enter into the system. This dryness causes irritation and eventually can produce a reactive type of mucus which is the bodies attempt to restore balance.Having adequate natural healthy oil is important. Eating ghee, coconut oil and olive oil helps with the health of the digestive flora by feeding it, especially ghee. We feed the inner skin this way but externally we can apply simple oils like coconut oil, this time of year, sunflower or even almond oil. Mind you, these should be massage grade oils. We lightly coat the skin externally and this helps to feed the microbes on the skin and support the sebaceous glands. Therefore, this would enhance immunity. Additionally, applying some ghee or coconut oil to the nostrils is a good practice to strengthen the nose, which seems to be where symptoms are experienced. In applying oil to the lining of the nose, we protect the sinus' and strengthen immunity. Additionally, some companies such as Banyan Botanicals, Ayurvedic Institute, Life Spa and even Sinus Support produce what is called Nasya Oil. (Check out the links under my page titled SHOP, then HERBS AND SUPPLIES.) Additionally, the neti pot is a great tool for overall cleansing of the sinus passages and clearing out accumulated debris, and increasing the quality of oxygenation. You can go to your local health food store, such as Whole Foods or visit one of the links on the page previously mentioned. Neti is great for irrigation of congestion. Follow the directions as indicated in the box. The Neti Pot should be ceramic. Not syringe or squirt or plastic. This is ideal. This helped me out tremendously as I use to suffer from chronic allergies and colds.
EXERCISE is important, as it not only supports metabolism, encourages good sleep but it also gets the lymp moving as we sweat. Sweat cools the body when it is too hot but it also serves to discgard toxins from the body, from the inside out. Exercising in the morning is best, according to Ayurveda versus night when it can cause disturbances over time.
STRESS in our lives can also affect our well-being on all levels. Stress reduction is a key component. How are we managing the mind. Are we spending time in nature? Are we sleeping, eating, exercising and hydrating well? It's all interconnected and it all depends on each other. Ayurveda says there are "3 Pillars of Health", being Sleep, Diet and Sexual Expression (creativity, not just limited by sex activities itself.) When these three are in balance we feel happier. If we tamper with any one of the pillars or all three, we are imbalanced and in time we will notice the results. Health is based on cause and effect.
Think about this. Ayurveda says that health is a result of choices we make. One cause of imbalance/disease, according to Ayurveda, is what is called Prajnaparadha, known as crimes against wisdom which involves knowing what is right but choosing the opposite. Ayurveda also says that it's not about what we eat as much as it is about what we can digest. We may feel tortured in reducing the intake of any of the above items in the AVOID list or ignoring the essentials of maintenance such as hydrating, sleep, exercise but is this more torturing that the symptoms themselves? In other words, if you're feeling congested and have a runny nose with itchy eyes, is that pizza or cocktail really worth it? Furthermore, the few symptoms listed are only a few but over time, they grow into more and in Ayurveda we know that it is the little things that turn into the bigger things later on. We shouldn't blame the allergies. They are simply showing us that we have some sort of imbalance that is a result of something that we have to look at within our diet and lifestyle. Allergies, as is any imbalance/disease, are opportunities for us to make different choices and take control of our lives and health.
1. Eat seasonally. Constitutionally. Avoiding whatever you can from the above basic list.
2. Sleep around/by 10 and up around 6/7.
3. Exercise regularly, daily. Preferably in the earlier hours of the day, if not morning.
4. Hydrate daily. Sipping hot water/tea throughout the day and with meals.
5. Oil in and oil out. But not too much. You'll know if you need more or less.
6. Minimize how much computer and/or phone screens you're exposed to as this can affect your mental digestion, nervous system and directly cause dryness of the eyes, which makes them more susceptible to pollen. If you have a job that requires you being on the computer a lot, take a break every 30 minutes for a few minutes. Rinse the eyes with cool water or spray a little rose water in the eyes. You can also carry a dropper bottle of a mixture of half rose water and half filtered water and put a drop in the eyes as needed.
7. Neti pot regularly, if feeling congestion. (Use some local steam/hot wash cloth if you're unable to use neti at first, and then use neti. This usually works. If not, neti in the shower with the hot water creating steam.)
8. Reduce stress. There are plenty of breathing techniques, meditations and simply applying a 5 Sense Therapies (being ears, eyes, nose, mouth and skin) to support bringing the senses and body back into health. (See a practitioner for more details)
9. Rose water spritzing (from Heritage Products Company) the eyes helps with hydrating the eyes and reducing the itchiness and redness. (Check with your PCP if you have any eye conditions that this might not benefit) A fun self-treatment is to take half rose water and half filtered water in glass eye cups and apply to eyes a few times a week.
10. There are also herbs that can support this whole journey. A few examples would be Turmeric, Gentian, Dandelion, Talisadi, Manjistha, Mint, Trikatu, Guduchi, Amalaki, Echinacea, Chamomile, Rose and so much more. Again, see a qualified practitioner/expert for details.
11. See a holistic healthcare provider/Ayurvedic practitioner to finely tailor recommendations and if you need any support around this or anything else.
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.