4 Yoga Practices for Allergies - And Why They Work

Oliver the Yoga Cat reads up on the science behind allergies. Photo by Mary Raynor

Oliver the Yoga Cat reads up on the science behind allergies. Photo by Mary Raynor

Has the Spring bloom got you coughing, sneezing, itching, or just plain miserable? Yoga can help! Here are 4 practices with the reasons why they can make you feel better:

1. Neti. This ancient practice, one of the original Hatha Yoga techniques, has gained modern attention from Oprah and morphed into various sinus washing products. A small pot with a long stem is filled with warm saline (salt) water, which is then used to flush mucus from the nose and sinus passages. This effectively washes pollen, dander and pollutants from the nose, which has the same effect on your body as cleaning ductwork has in your home.

An advantage of using a neti pot is that the irritants are swept completely out of the body through the nostrils instead of being directed back down the throat and into the stomach. This is a huge advantage in areas that pose major risks to people with air quality sensitivities. I used a neti pot daily when I was in Kolkata, India - the water that came out of my nose was actually black with pollution! I was certainly glad to get that out of my system!

You can generally find instructions on how to effectively practice Neti included with any Neti pot you purchase. TIP: drying the nostrils afterward is an extremely important part of this practice - otherwise, excess water may be left in the nose, which actually becomes counterproductive and can produce INCREASED symptoms. If your Neti pot directions omit this key step, find an experienced yoga teacher to show you how it is done.

2. Bhramari (bee breath) is done by inhaling naturally, then gently plugging the ears and exhaling with a steady hum, ideally directed at the center of the head. Bhramari has been demonstrated to increase the level of nitric oxide in the sinuses. Nitric oxide is naturally antibacterial and antifungal, and can play an important role in supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation - including the swelling and redness that can accompany allergic reactions.

3. Shavasana. This deceptively easy practice - lying on the back with the arms and legs equally distant from the centerline of the body, and the head in line with the spine - seems too simple to be effective. But it actually affects your biochemistry!

When you sit or stand in bad posture - think of slumping while driving, texting or using a computer - the deep muscles along the upper spine are working harder than usual to hold your head. For every inch your head is forward from correct alignment, the effective weight of the head increases by 10 pounds for your poor neck muscles! These overworked muscles produce a waste product called histamine (does that sound familiar? Many of us take antihistamines when our allergies kick up). So if you are slumping at any time, your body is actually producing chemicals that make your allergies WORSE!

Lying in Shavasana gives the deep muscles of the upper spine a much-needed rest. Those muscles stop producing histamine, and the body can get rid of the histamine already in the bloodstream, reducing your allergic response!

TIP: If lying on your back makes you cough due to sinus drainage, put a thin pillow under your head to help facilitate drainage.

4. Antar Mouna is a progressive meditation practice that teaches you how to be present with irritating stimuli WITHOUT reacting to them (instead of overreacting, like our immune systems do when we have an allergy). Antar Mouna is not necessarily for relieving allergic symptoms of allergies so much as it is for addressing the root cause of them. Through this technique, one can have breakthrough realizations as to why allergies have developed in the first place.

During one Antar Mouna session, I came to realize that I started breaking out into hives because I didn’t feel like my parents were noticing how much their dysfunctional marriage was affecting me. I distinctly recall saying to myself, “If only they could see how much I am suffering.” And voila, I started to get very visible, violent swelling during times of emotional stress and allergen exposure. This was a huge breakthrough for me in learning about the roots of my allergies, and encouraged me to do further work that improved my overall health!

Yoga also has other techniques, including a variety of poses, that can be used to help reduce allergies. A good Yoga Therapist can help you select and adapt ones that best address your unique needs. With yoga you can do more than just relieve allergies - you can get rid of them for good!

About the author: When Atmadarshan started yoga in 1999, she expected to get more flexible - but never expected that her allergies would be greatly reduced! Her biggest thrill is that she can now be around cats and dogs without any trouble, so she can now have a pet of her own - Oliver, the yoga cat. Atmadarshan is excited to help her students resolve their own long-term challenges with various yoga techniques, and she hopes this article helps you, too!