By Sarajean Rudman
‘Tis the season … for sneezin’! As plants start to bud and flowers to pollinate, and we throw open our windows for spring cleaning, we find ourselves confronted with seemingly benign substances floating through the air, spelling discomfort for those of us who suffer from allergies.
What exactly are allergies? Why do we have them at some points in our lives and not at others? Why is it that one person can gleefully play with their dogs for hours on end, while others can’t get within 200 meters of a puppy without developing itchy eyes and a fit of sneezing and coughing?
Three types of allergies can trigger these unpleasant reactions: food allergies, airborne allergies, and contact allergies. In each case, the body recognizes something that’s typically non-harmful as harmful. The immune system boosts into overdrive to try to eliminate this faux pathogen.
Some primary causes of allergies, according to Ayurveda, are genetics; weak agni, or digestive fire; a person’s state of vykruti, or imbalance; and/or the presence of ama, undigested or poorly digested food that turns toxic and interferes with processes in the body.
Here are 10 Ayurvedic approaches to help stop allergies in their tracks.
1. Use a neti pot daily, or twice a day, with a weak saline solution and distilled water, to loosen up the heaviness of kapha, or earth and water energy, in the sinuses. This also helps clear out allergens that may be sticking to the mucus membranes.
2. Practice nasya: Dab a little bit of sesame oil spiked with eucalyptus or camphor in each nostril about an hour after using your neti pot.
3. Take the Ayurvedic herbal compound trikatu, a combination of black pepper, long pepper, and ginger, before meals to heat up the agni and improve digestion.
4. Avoid cold, heavy foods and drinks, including dairy, wheat, meat, sugar, processed foods, leftovers, and iced beverages, as they can slow down the digestion and dampen the agni.
5. Go on a kapha-reducing diet: Eat warm, light, natural, cooked foods that are easy to digest. Focus on fresh, organic vegetables and fruits. Cook the vegetables with a little bit of ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil to soothe the mucus membranes.
6. Use warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne in your cooking.
7. Enjoy ginger tea throughout the day, as it sparks digestive fire.
8. Take triphala tablets at night to help rid the body of excess toxins that can cause slow digestion. The Ayurvedic trio of amalaki, haritaki, and bibtaki, derived from fruits, works to cleanse and strengthen your system.
9. Develop a daily pranayama routine that includes Dirgha (Three-part Breath), Ujjayi (Ocean-Sounding Breath), Bastrika(Bellows Breath), and Kapalabhati(Skull-Polishing Breath).
10. Exercise daily, for 30 minutes or so, to help stimulate agni and eliminate ama. This can be a brisk walk, a fun fitness class, a vinyasa yoga class, a hike, a bike ride, or a dance class.
Sarajean Rudman is the Kripalu School of Ayurveda Intern.