Can Yoga Help Seasonal Allergies?
As the trees and flowers burst into their spring brilliance, those who suffer from seasonal allergies quickly shift their immune systems into high gear to deal with the pollen. It’s been a week of students walking into class with itchy, swollen eyes, runny noses, congestion, sinus headaches, coughing, worsening of asthma and fatigue. “Can yoga help allergies?” has been the question of the week.
Yoga therapy can help seasonal allergies in two very different ways – preventatively and on an emergency basis. Many of my students needed the emergency approach this week, which is dealing with the most urgent uncomfortable symptoms.
The yoga therapy emergency approach to allergies centers on calming the nervous system, which in turn helps calm the immune system. A very short gentle practice that includes progressively lengthening exhalation, a calming breath practice and restorative relaxation may help reduce the “hyperreaction” that happens when every tree and shrub decides to spread its pollen. When I work with people individually, I individualize breath ratio and techniques to manage sinus congestion, asthma symptoms and fatigue. Most people who have allergies will need to do emergency methods from time to time but even more ideal is building up your system in advance of the season.
A yoga therapy preventative approach to allergies starts long before the pollen count goes up and focuses on progressively strengthening the respiratory, digestive and immune systems. This prepares your system for high pollen counts so that you have fewer or less disabling symptoms, possibly reduced need for medication amount and frequency, and overall less restriction of doing what you love or need to do. Yoga postures are used to extend the breath and prepare for pranayama or breathing practice. It is pranayama and other individualized approaches in personal practice that provides something akin to a multivitamin for the immune system way in advance of seasonal allergies.
Your own unique constellation of allergens and subsequent symptoms are the starting point for yoga therapy emergency and preventative approaches that help you live with minimal disruption as the trees and flowers burst into their full glory.
by Mary Hilliker, RD, E-RYT 500, Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist