Oh, allergies! Many of us experience them at some point in our lives, especially in spring and early summer, and they never arrive without a little (or a lot) of trouble. What causes allergies and what we can do to reduce their occurrence and severity?
According to Ayurveda, allergies are usually the result of an allergen aggravating one or more of the vata, pitta, or kapha doshas. Allergies are best treated by understanding which aggravated dosha is causing the reaction. Since one’s dominant dosha (take this quiz to find out yours) is most often the one that’s aggravated, allergic reactions usually reflect one’s constitution.
For example, someone with a Vata constitution is more likely to develop a Vata-type allergy, and the same is true for Pitta and Kapha dominant constitutions. Any of the doshas however can become aggravated regardless of one’s constitution, making it possible to develop allergies related to any one of the doshas.
Let’s further explore the allergies that are commonly associated with each dosha.
Vata is the dosha that’s most likely to be out of balance and also the easiest one to bring back into balance. Vata-type allergies are commonly located in the digestive tract and in the head. With an imbalanced vata dosha, symptoms of allergic reactions include burping, bloating, digestive discomfort, gas, gurgling intestines, wheezing or headache, sneezing, ringing in ears, joint pain, sciatica, muscle twitching, and insomnia. Vata-type allergies can be mitigated by slowing down in one’s daily routine, meditating regularly, reducing caffeine, eating cooked and warm meals, eating a vata-pacifying diet, and staying hydrated.
Allergies related to the Pitta dosha typically manifest on the skin or in the GI tract. Symptoms include hives, rashes, itching, allergic dermatitis, eczema, bloodshot or burning eyes, heartburn, acid indigestion, nausea, and hot flashes. The Pitta dosha can become aggravated by an excess of heat, an overwhelmed digestive system, over consumption of Pitta-dominant foods, and too much intake of caffeine and alcohol. The best way to balance Pitta and reduce Pitta-type allergies is to keep cool by eating a Pitta-pacifying diet, consuming cooling herbs, and wearing breathable and natural fibers.
Kapha-type allergies are those that are commonly experienced in the Spring season when Kapha is especially high in the body and in the environment. These allergies are often felt in the head and chest regions of the body. They include irritation of mucous membranes, hay fever, cold, congestion, cough, sinus infection, water retention, runny nose, watery eyes, bronchial congestion, asthma, heaviness in stomach, and sluggish digestion. Kapha can be balanced by staying warm and dry, being active, reducing or eliminating naps, and eating a Kapha-pacifying diet.
Root Cause of Allergies
Many of our allergic reactions are passed down through genes. Based on scientific research, having one parent with allergies increases your risk of allergies by 30%, and having two allergic parents increases your risk by 60%.
However, several other factors influence allergies and the severity of the body’s reactions. These factors include the strength of the digestive system or agni (digestive fire), the amount of allergen the body is exposed to, and imbalance in the doshas.
While we can’t control what we inherit, we do have more control over the strength of our digestion, our exposure to allergens, and balance of the doshas. Ayurveda helps us understand how we can leverage our health by maximizing the areas of our lives we have control over, and that includes allergies.
Ayurvedic Suggestions for Allergy Relief
One of the key teachings in Ayurveda is that there isn’t one primary teaching or solution that will be helpful for everyone. Rather, Ayurveda believes that each person has a completely unique constitution and therefore requires a unique approach to various health issues. The following suggestions are meant to help you find your own solution, but only by exploring different suggestions will you know what works and doesn’t work for you.
Here are a few Ayurvedic suggestions to help you find greater allergy relief:
Strengthen Agni (digestive fire)
In Ayurveda, digestion is one of the primary pillars for good health. With a healthy digestive system, you will have greater resilience to changes in your environment. There are a number of ways to strengthen this digestive fire, and a good place to start is with the food you eat. The quality of your food greatly impacts digestion. Eating fresh, organic (when possible), and whole foods will strengthen agni, as will eating meals at regular times and reducing or eliminating snacks.
Meditate for Stress Reduction
Stress has more of an impact on our digestive system and overall health than many of us realize. In our particularly high-stress, modern culture, it’s especially important to be aware of your stress levels and prioritize lifestyle choices that reduce it. When the body is compromised by high levels of stress, its systems weaken and lose their ability to function properly or respond appropriately to the external world. Ayurveda suggests regularly practicing meditation and yoga to reduce stress. Even five minutes of meditation each day gives the body an opportunity to slow down and reground.
Respiratory Support through Pranayama
Another way to reduce stress is through the practice of pranayama–yogic breathing techniques that help to loosen and release blockages preventing the free flow of prana. This practice brings many health benefits, including greater lung capacity and respiratory flow throughout the body. Since many allergies manifest themselves in the respiratory tract, clearing these passages through pranayama makes the body less vulnerable to allergens. The right practice will depend on the location and severity of your allergy, but a few of the best practices for allergy relief include:
- Kapalabhati Breath – great for clearing nostrils and opening the nasal cavity
- Nadhi Shodhana – alternate nostril breathing, best to do after Kapalabhati
- Ujjayi Breath – a good practice if you feel stuffy at the back of the nose and throat
- Bhramari (bee buzzing breath) – great for clearing the upper respiratory system
Cleanse or Lubricate Nasal Passages
Nasal rinsing is a great allergy relief practice that uses a neti pot to pour saltwater solution into one nostril and out the other. It helps to reduce the amount of allergens that enter the body by flushing out foreign material. The body is especially benefited by this practice when it’s followed by nasya, the Ayurvedic tradition of applying an herbal oil to the inner nostrils. Nasya supports the sinuses, nose, throat, and head and is also balancing for all doshas.
Balance the Doshas
In Ayurveda, one of the most effective ways to cultivate good health and fight allergies is to balance your doshas. As mentioned before, many allergies are intensified or caused by an imbalance in one or more of the doshas. Balance is supported in the body through diet, herbs, daily habits, meditation, exercise, seasonal cleansing, and more. But each dosha requires its own unique combination of eating habits and lifestyle choices to return it to its balanced state.
The allergies we inherit can sometimes make us feel helpless, but the good news is that there are many ways we can reduce their occurrence and severity. Ayurveda offers practical habits that we can incorporate into our lives for allergy relief, including practices that strengthen the digestive system, meditation and pranayama techniques for stress reduction, practices that cleanse the nasal passages, and lifestyle habits that bring the doshas into balance.
By making conscious and healthy choices for our body, we can improve its ability to respond appropriately to allergens we may be particularly sensitive to. Thankfully, Ayurveda reminds us that we can always leverage our choices to influence our experience of the world, especially ones that are seemingly beyond our control.