Reducing and Managing Allergy Symptoms Through Yoga

Ivy Markaity Health Guide
  • Yoga is not a cure for allergies however is can greatly reduce allergy symptoms by reducing stress. Stress reactions worsen allergies by the release of stress hormones and histamine, and triggers inflammation. Jeff Migdow, M.D. a holistic physician says, "Relaxation diminishes fight-or-flight response, and thereby reduces allergic symptoms." Through relaxation, the nervous system basically tells the immune system to hold its fire. Once the immune system backs off, the inflammation and mucus decrease, and symptoms diminish. Allergy shots, nasal steroid sprays and over the-counter antihistamines work for many, but a holistic approach can be helpful as well.

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    A staggering 36 million Americans annually are plagued by seasonal allergic rhinitis. And the number has doubled in the last 20 years, due to factors such as environmental pollution, poor diet, and increased stress, which compromise our immune, nervous, and respiratory systems.

    Allergies affect sleep, concentration, and productivity. They can make you feel exhausted and put you in a bad mood. Some allergy sufferer's only experience these symptoms for a couple of weeks out of the year, others who are allergic to non-seasonal environmental substances such as pet dander, mold and dust may suffer for months or all year long. Growing evidence shows that allergies and asthma may be two sides of the same coin, as asthmatics are more likely to also be allergy sufferers and those with allergies have a greater chance of developing asthma.


    Before beginning to understand how we can alleviate allergy symptoms by practicing yoga it is important to understand more about them. An allergic reaction occurs when a person's immune system attacks a substance that is usually harmless-such as pollen, pet dander, or dust-as if the substance were an organism out to cause disease. The immune system kicks into defensive mode, releasing histamine and a host of other powerful chemicals to attack what it sees as the enemy, say Pamela Georgeson, M.D., board certified allergist. "These chemicals cause the allergy symptoms patients experience: stuffy and runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, teary eyes, postnasal drainage, and sometimes headaches." Allergic reactions can also include hives, itchy welts on the skin, and difficulty breathings.


    Yogis have used asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing practices), kriyas (cleansing practices) and meditation for thousands of years to cleanse the body, strengthen the immune system, calm the nervous system and fight disease. These ancient practices are very simple and have proven successful in helping many of my students as well as myself alleviate the debilitating effects of allergies and asthma.


    Many of us experience chronic stress on a daily basis. Most of our stress is emotional and keeps us in a habitual fight or flight response. Our bodies are tense and contracted, our breathing is very shallow and overtime our immune systems are weakened. As we have already learned, when the body's immune system is weakened, allergy symptoms increase.


    Through yoga we learn relaxation techniques that help to decrease the negative effects of psychological stress thereby strengthening proper immune function. Yoga, pranayama and meditation help break the stress cycle, giving the body time to heal. Yoga practitioners have found that yoga helps their allergies on many levels: Asanas help build a stronger and more agile body and condition the lungs; pranayama increases oxygen intake and improves the way we breathe. Kriyas help detoxify and cleanse the body including the lungs and sinuses. Meditation teaches us how to quiet the mind and induce relaxation. All four help the body to fight off environmental assaults by elevating the immune system.

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    Asanas for Allergies Include:

    1. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or bridge pose, which strengthens the muscles of the lungs and chest. This increases the effectiveness of breathing.
    2. Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) or Viparita Karani (Modified Shoulderstand) these inversions can help clear the upper respiratory tract and drain nasal secretions, allowing fresh oxygenated blood to flow into the oral cavity. They also calm the nervous system.
    3. Halasana (Plow Pose) also an inversion
    4. Standing Poses, forward (when your head is clear) and backward bends, and twists- all of which massage parts of the spine and the thoracic cage and condition the lungs. Strong lung meridians help strengthen the immune system.


    Pranayama for Allergies Include:

    1. Nadi shodana or alternate-nostril breathing is a great way to practice breathing more deeply. This is to be practiced when the airways are clear and not during a full-blown attack.
    2. Extending the exhale is a great way to calm the mind and lengthen the breath. When the breath is lengthened digestion improves, the cardiovascular system is strengthened, sleep deepens and immunity increases. Count your breaths and extend you exhale twice as long as your inhale. For example inhale (counting comfortably to yourself) to a count of four and exhale 8 or 3/6 or 5/10...whatever is most comfortable.

    Kriyas for Allergies Include:


    1. Kapalabhati (Shining Skull Breath)- which involves several sequences of short, sharp, rapid exhalations as well as passive inhalations. Kapalabhati helps cleanse the lungs and sinuses. Allergy sufferers tend to breath very shallowly and this will allow them to take in more oxygen after. It also helps digestion and relieves lung spasms associated with Asthma. Kapalabhati should be practiced when the nasal passages are clear.
    2. Neti-cleanses the nasal tract by using a combination of warm water and sea salt. It will help keep the nasal passages free relieving allergy and asthma symptoms. I have been practicing neti with Alkalol (NOT Alcohol!) It is a gently liquid nasal wash and mucus solvent that can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy.


    Meditations for Allergies Include:

    1. The easiest way to meditate on a daily basis is to bring your attention to and deepen your breathing. Just watching your breath will help bring you into the present moment and quiet your mind.

  • 2. A simple breathing meditation that you can do anywhere is simply repeating inhale as you inhale and exhale as you exhale.

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    3. Another one of my favorite breathing meditations is the same one that I described above. You count your breaths extending the exhale twice as long as the inhale.


    Other holistic factors to consider when treating allergies are: A balanced diet. Identifying which foods, drugs, or emotional states trigger allergic reactions. Begin to identify the stress in your life and ask yourself if it is necessary. What areas in your life cause emotional distress?

    references: Yoga Journal



Published On: June 16, 2010