The worst part of allergies? Not being able to take a deep, clear satisfying breath. Although the itchy eyes and unstoppable sneezing come in as pretty close runners-up.
The best part of beating the allergies? Clarity — being able to focus on my day, the tasks at hand, and the people around me.
I didn’t grow up with allergies, but I watched my dad and brother suffer through their allergies — runny noses and watery eyes every spring and fall. Although I felt bad for them, I couldn’t really relate.
Well, did I ever find out. I developed seasonal allergies as a young adult, and they grew with a vengeance for the next ten years. Refusing to take any drugs on a regular basis, I would suffer through them as best as I could and finally cave in and take some allergy medicine when I could no longer handle it.
That was my not-so-successful treatment plan until I found Ayurveda. Ayurveda views allergies as an excess of kapha dosha, or the earth and water elements. Earth and water are cold, heavy, dense, smooth and stable. These qualities in excess result in congestion, mucus, phlegm, sneezing and post-nasal drip. Along with the excess of these qualities, there's also a slow digestive fire. So the way to turn allergies around is to improve the digestive fire and use the qualities that are opposite of kapha (warm, light, mobile, and clear) in everything you do — diet, herbs and daily routine.
I started my changes one spring and continued them throughout the year, and I finally got to see incredible results the following spring. It took a year to really understand the impact — definitely a worthwhile investment for the way I continue to feel now, several years later. And I keep up with these habits to the best of my ability, though I’m not an absolute perfectionist.
So what did I do, and how can you follow the same path?
1. Eliminate dairy.
For a solid year, I completely cut out cold dairy and had VERY limited hot dairy products — maybe once every two months. For a girl who loves cheese and grew up drinking cold milk everyday, this was a tough one. But dairy has the same properties as excess kapha and phlegm; it's cold, heavy and dense. Even now, I stay away from cold dairy (except the rare ice cream in the summer), and I sparingly consume warm dairy products, like a yummy fresh mozzarella melted on my pizza.
2. Eat warm, cooked foods.
I stuck to warm, cooked vegetarian foods, made with a little bit of clarified butter (ghee). In Ayurveda, eating warm, cooked foods gives the digestive fire a chance to rest. When the digestion is low, it can’t access the nutrition stored in raw foods, and the poorly digested food creates toxins. Now, when I know my digestion is up to par (especially in summer), I’ll enjoy my fill of raw greens and salads. The majority of my meals are still warm, cooked foods.
3. Do an Ayurvedic cleanse.
A cleanse is a great way to get rid of the toxins that are already in the body and reset the digestion. I do a cleanse at least twice a year — once at an Ayurvedic facility, and once at home.
4. Use a neti pot.
A neti pot, or nasal rinse cup, is a must-have accessory for anyone with seasonal allergies. It helps remove the congestion as well as the allergens that are irritating the nasal passages and the sinuses. I did this every morning during the spring and fall, and at least once or twice a week during the summer and winter.
Nasya is the Ayurvedic practice of putting herbalized oil drops in the nose. This practice lubricates dry nasal passages, delivers the benefits of herbs directly to the nose, and keeps allergens from directly irritating the nasal lining. I did this every night before going to bed.
6. Exercise and practice pranayama.
I exercised at least three times a week to keep my weight in check and improve my cardiovascular fitness. Even more impactful was a 30-minute daily practice of pranayama, or breath techniques. These simple practices helped me on a physical level, but also on a mental and spiritual level, bringing calm, attention, and space. I focused my time on anuloma-viloma, bhastrika and kapalabhati.
7. Herbal Supplements and Spices.
I used warming spices in my cooking and on my food to support my digestive fire — particularly ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and black pepper. And I also supplemented my diet with Ayurvedic herbs known to support and rejuvenate the respiratory system, like tulsi, pippali and licorice.