Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Breathe Easy this Season

by Dr. Leena Sripada, ND, AAWC

As the season changes, we become more aware of the cold dry outside. For some people, this can trigger an onset of symptoms such as asthma, coughs, runny noses and other respiratory issues. Even if you are not prone to respiratory issues, the drop in the outdoor temperature makes us more vulnerable to catching 'bugs'. The respiratory tract (which includes the nose, sinuses, trachea, lungs and mucus membranes) is one of the major barriers to protect from germs in our environment as we breathe in air. In addition to its physical function,  the respiratory tract correlates in Ayurveda to the prana vaha srota which is understood as the energetic channel that receives prana or 'life-force'. 

In this blog, we will look at some of the common imbalances that affect the respiratory season, explore the impact of the doshas from an Ayurvedic perspective and take away a few self-care tips to incorporate into your daily routine.

Doshas and the Respiratory Tract

Concerns in the respiratory tract can often be qualified by certain dosha imbalances, vata, pitta, kapha or a combination of them. Accumulation of these doshas affect the respiratory tract in different but predictable ways. When we can identify the imbalances, we can work with more effective balancing treatments. 

Vata: imbalances due to this dosha can be characterized by qualities such as a dry cough, dry nasal passages, irritated throat, breathlessness or weakness in the lungs. Treatments for vata dosha respiratory issues involve oileating the tissues, steam inhalations and warm moisturizing treatments.

Pitta: issues to this dosha often manifest with heat or inflammation in the respiratory tract. This could manifest as yellow discharge, post-nasal drip or raw inflamed mucous membranes. These types of issues respond well to cooling, soothing treatment such as coconut oil or ghee in the nostrils (nasya) or herbs like goldenseal.

Kapha: this dosha is prone to accumulating in the respiratory tract. Those with a Kapha constitution are most prone to respiratory issues like sinus infections, colds, lung congestion etc. Food like dairy & sweet trigger kapha buildup and are best avoided in the cold season. Emotions also play a role - grief and sadness can accumulate in the lungs and predispose the body to accumulating congestion. Movement and expression can help prevent this, along with a diet rich in antioxidants, fresh warming spices like ginger, garlic, pepper and essential oils like eucalyptus, pine and camphor.

Tips for Healthy Breathing :

1. Steam inhalations: Breathing warm steam with essential oils is a simple and effective way of eliminating kapha or mucous buildup. Warm steam helps liquify and eliminate toxins and bring circulation to the sinuses. Oils such as eucalyptus or camphor support respiratory health and many oils have anti-microbial properties as well. Steam inhalations can be done over a pot of hot water (covering your head with a towel and breathing in the steam) or even as a short cut in a hot shower. Great for everyone, including children.

2. Neti pot: Have you tried the neti pot? This is a traditional yogic practice that is done to open up the sinuses to help with breathing. Neti pot is a simple nasal irrigation using warm saline water to flush out the sinuses. Keep in mind this can be customized with specific herbs, probiotics or homeopathics if there are chronic sinus infections or candida. This should not be done continuously for someone with significant mucous or Kapha buildup in the sinuses and is best done for prevention.

3. Herbal teas: a piping hot cup of herbal tea can do wonders this season - for the throat, lungs, sinuses and for uplifting your mood. Some herbs that can be steeped for respiratory health include tulsi (holy basil), comfrey, mullein and more. Each herb has a specific action so check with your practitioner to customize specific herbs based on your constitution. For example, Kalmegh (andrographus) is an excellent herb to help with excess kapha (such as thick mucus) in the sinuses or lungs and will benefit those with a Kapha dosha.

4. Supplements: There are numerous formulas out there specific to strengthening the respiratory tract. One supplement that I would like to highlight this season is NAC or N-acetyl cysteine.  It is an often overlooked supplement that is an excellent antioxidant and benefits the respiratory tract. It is especially good for mucous in the lungs and helps with prevention of respiratory tract issues. 

5. Pranayam: Breathing is more than just about circulating air & oxygen into the lungs. It is the vital passage of bringing in 'prana' or 'qi' into the body. This is the life force that keeps us going. If you have blocked nostrils, the passage of prana gets blocked, affecting our mood. Pranayama incorporates many types of 'breathing exercises' which can be simple or advanced. If you would like to try learning, there are various resources such as this video which outlines a beneficial alternate breathing practice:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5m6tMjcF8k

Breath is life. If our breathing is compromised, it affects our mind & mood as well.  So keeping a clear and healthy respiratory tract is the foundation to keeping healthy as we enter cold & flu season. If you would like to customize your treatment regime and daily routine based on your constitution, please speak with your Naturopathic Doctor this season.

Dr. Leena Sripada is a naturopathic doctor with extensive training in Ayurveda. Whether you have specific health concerns or just want to promote general wellness Dr Leena provides customized care integrating Ayurveda & naturopathic medicine.  Please contact Naturopathic Foundations at 905-940-2727 or email lathparia@naturopathicfoundations.ca to book an appointment.