The Big Sneeze

Kripalu School of Ayurveda

Early spring may sound lovely—the first shedding of thick winter layers, early walks on the beach. However, early spring can also mean a surge of allergies, both for longtime sufferers and those who’d previously been allergy-free. According to Ayurveda, that’s because just as water returns to nature—evidenced by all those new leaves and blooming flowers—so, too, does water return to our bodies. And too much water too quickly can show up in the form of runny noses, watery eyes, and congestion, making those long walks on the beach a little less fun.

“When we shift from one season to the next—which in Ayurveda we refer to as ritusandhi—our immunity is especially low for two to four weeks,” says Ayurvedic specialist Rosy Mann, a faculty member for the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. Typically, the transition from winter to spring is slow, with gradual changes in temperatures that allow our bodies time to adjust. “When warm weather comes on suddenly, though, it overtaxes the system,” clogging our digestive and respiratory tracts and inflaming tissue, says Rosy. Our bodies then produce even more fluid—in the form of mucous, usually—to flush out irritants.

There’s good news: For most people, allergy symptoms can be prevented, or lessened, with a few simple Ayurvedic approaches. Though it may be appealing to seek relief from over-the-counter antihistamines and sprays, Ayurveda can not only offer more natural relief, but also, says Rosy, stave off attacks in the first place.

Eat warm. When warm weather arrives, we tend to flock to colder foods, like ice cream and iced tea. But cold foods—especially when suddenly reintroduced to a body that’s been living on soups and hot teas all winter—can aggravate kapha and slow digestion, which in turn leads to blockage, congestion, and mucous. Instead, says Rosy, aim for warm foods and drinks, and avoid leftovers: Ayurveda believes that once food has been heated and refrigerated, it becomes clogging in nature. And be mindful of when you eat, too: Eating your largest meal of the day at lunch, when your digestion is strongest—between noon and 1:00 pm—will help reduce waste buildup.

Avoid these spices… According to Ayurveda, spicy, sour, and acidic foods may promote inflammation. Meanwhile, heavy foods like dairy and fried treats, and nightshade veggies such as eggplant and bell peppers, can slow digestion and encourage allergy-like symptoms.

…and add these. Certain spices—like turmeric, coriander, fennel, ginger, and black pepper—have anti-allergy properties. Rosy also suggests drinking a few cups of herbal tea throughout the day. “Good varieties are ginger, tulsi, and fenugreek,” she says.

Sleep right. Aim to go to bed by 10:00 pm—the time of night the body begins a natural cycle of cleansing. And resist the urge to sleep in: “Morning sleep is kapha-building,” says Rosy. “Oversleep, and you’ll wake up stuffier.” Instead, get out of bed at the same time every morning, and, if you’re tired, take a short late-afternoon nap (no more than 20 minutes).

Cleanse right. Though Rosy says that using a neti pot can help alleviate symptoms of allergies, it’s essential to follow with a few drops of eucalyptus oil around the nostrils. “Otherwise, you’re just drying things out,” she says, adding that “the body is very intelligent and will pour out more mucous to compensate.” And while a warm oil massage can help relieve symptoms of congestion, people who are kapha-natured should avoid oil, as it can be too clogging; instead, says Rosy, try dry-brushing.

Practice yoga. The balancing aspect of asana and meditation can help keep allergies in check by increasing blood flow and relieving stress. And while any movement is better than no movement, “Morning exercise is best,” says Rosy. “Thirty minutes in the morning will help get your doshas moving.”

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