If you're an allergy sufferer, you may already know that spring, summer and early fall can be trying times. Puffy eyes, a red nose and sneezing are only some of the symptoms of an allergy to pollen. Other factors, such as pollution, stress and an unhealthy diet, can make allergies even worse. While you can run to the nearest drug store and load up on over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal sprays, yoga may offer a more holistic alternative.
When you confront a stressful situation, you have a physiological reaction, or the fight-or-flight response. Your body revs up – heart rate, blood pressure, breathing cycles and muscle tension. This reaction can be helpful if you’re face to face with a raging gorilla in a jungle. But in modern life, the stressors are emotional and relentless. You can avoid a gorilla once but you can have a never-ending stream of work deadlines. Stress taxes your immune system and lowers your ability to ward off environmental intruders. In the case of a pollen allergy, your body releases histamine and stress hormones, which can inflame your nasal passages. By using relaxation techniques in yoga, your nervous system can tell your immune system that there’s no need to activate. When your immune system retreats, the inflammation naturally subsides.
Because your respiratory system is inflamed, breathing techniques that you would normally use in yoga can cause more harm than good. For example, breathing through alternate nostrils can help you breathe more deeply as long as you’re not suffering from an allergy attack. If one nasal passage is blocked, you’ll spend more energy trying to clear your nose than breathing calmly. Forceful breathing, such as bellow breathing, can also exacerbate your allergy symptoms. While practicing yoga, focus more on the exhalation. For example, practice taking in a short breath and following it with a long exhale, according to Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, in Angela Pirisi’s article “Allergy Antidote” in Yoga Journal.
Structuring a Yoga Regimen
When designing a yoga regimen for allergies, you have to consider the factors that cause your immune system to overreact. It’s not as simple as coming up with a pose to stretch a certain muscle. You have to figure out what works for you given your lifestyle, individual condition and needs, according to Alice Lesch Kelly’s article “Breathe Easy” in Yoga Journal. If you suffer from head congestion, chances are you’ll feel as if your face will explode on a forward bend. Some people feel that an inverted pose, such as a Shoulderstand or the Plow pose, can help to drain your sinuses and clear your upper-respiratory tract. Others feel that an inverted pose puts too much stress on their nasal passages.
While a yoga regimen can help you prevent and manage allergy attacks, don’t throw out your medication. If you’re sneezing and battling itchy eyes or a runny nose, an antihistamine can bring welcome relief and even allow you to do some yoga. In addition, standing poses in which you perform twists and forward and backward bends tend to massage your rib cage and lungs. Conditioning this area of your body can help to strengthen your immune system.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.