Japa K. Khalsa
I enjoy and bask in the warm weather, clean air and beautiful skies of New Mexico, but I feel for so many people here who suffer from seasonal allergies. The pollen counts rise, and the winds pick up in the springtime, as do sneezes, runny noses and irritated eyes. The beautiful mountains of New Mexico have large forests of cedar, juniper and piñón trees. These gorgeous conifers pollinate twice a year, and the pollens can spread as far as 100 miles on a windy day. Pollination months are January to March, as well as September and October, but the dry winds of spring can continue to spread old pollen around well into summer.
So what can be done to help relieve allergy symptoms? You may already know the basics: Cut down on inflammation-producing foods like wheat and sugar, and increase your veggies and fresh fruit. Consider adding nettle leaf, quercetin and borage oil or other fatty acids. Or drop by Herbs, Etc. in Santa Fe and other locations, and pick up the all-encompassing wonder formula, Allertonic®.
The point is, there are many ways to address these problems, but let’s also contemplate the root cause of allergies. The external pollen is an irritant, so how can we adjust on the inside so that our response is different? We can make external changes to our symptoms to provide some relief, but lasting relief comes from treating the root cause of the issue. Remember, all healing ultimately comes from within. In Ayurvedic and Eastern medicine, the root cause of allergies is depletion of Ojas, also known as kidney Qi or Prana. Whatever name we call it, our essential life force must be replenished. If we can restore our basic vitality, we can heal allergies from the inside out.
The Magic of Ojas
Ojas is the precious internal substances of our bodies: the hormones, neurotransmitters and cerebrospinal fluid that flow together and give us adaptive competence and the ability to respond to life’s challenges with endurance and flexibility. It is actually fairly easy to deplete Ojas in our lives because overwork, burnout and lack of balance are shared cultural tendencies in the United States. Rampant consumerism and attitudes of keeping up with the Joneses/Martinezes are breeding grounds for habits that lead to depleted energy or Ojas.
Luckily, Ojas can be restored in many ways. Bring the emphasis back to self-care, and curb the mind’s tendency to compete and compare by teaching oneself to calm the internal.
Breathe for Relief
The heart of restoration of Ojas is a regular breath or meditation practice because this calms the mind and sets the direction towards self-healing. Alternate-nostril breathing is a simple way to calm the breath, the mind and the entire nervous and endocrine connection to produce greater health. Ancient yogis believed that an imbalance in the right and left cycle of the breath through the nose was the cause of disease. Your brain and nervous system automatically cycle through the right and left nasal passages as a way of maintaining balance between the two hemispheres of the brain. If you check your nose right now, there is one nostril that is dominant in terms of more airflow. Just place your hand underneath your nose and exhale. Feel which nostril has a stronger outflow. Then, check again a few hours later. Your body will have naturally switched to the opposite nostril. This is part of your body’s complex self-regulatory system. When you breathe through the left nostril you activate right-hemisphere thinking, and when you breathe through the right nostril you activate left-hemisphere thinking. Right-nostril breath activates the sympathetic nervous function and is considered warming and energizing. Left-nostril breathing (great to practice before bed) is cooling and calming. If you consciously control this interlock through a breath practice, you can overwrite scripted nervous-system messages and guide your body in the direction of internal balance.
Hey, it’s Free!
Dr. Andrew Weil often speaks of how breath exercises are free, available to anyone, easy to do and have a generally beneficial effect on all kinds of chronic complaints. He believes that patterned and repetitive breath exercises recondition the endocrine and nervous system messages in the body.
There are many choices of breath patterns. If you have allergies and your nose is stopped up, just work with yourself. Usually, one nostril will still be able to tolerate airflow, so just breathe long and deeply through that side of your nose and close your eyes. Do this every day, either the right or left nostril, breathing until allergy season is over and your nose clears up. Then, pick up the daily habit of a few minutes of alternate-nostril breathing every day, and see how this helps you reduce your symptoms by the next time allergy season rolls around. Here is how to do it:
First, press your right thumb onto your right nostril to close it. Now, inhale slowly through the left nostril. Pause and suspend the breath for a second; now, switch and close the left nostril with the ring finger and release the thumb off the right nostril.
Now, exhale completely and slowly through the right nostril. Next, inhale through the right nostril. Pause for a moment as you press your thumb on your right nostril and lift your ring finger. Breathe out through the left nostril.
This is one full cycle of this breath pattern. Now, continue for several minutes and do this daily. It is the conscious repetition of this practice that creates the benefits.
The number-one way to benefit Ojas is through increasing rest and relaxation in the body because this is what allows for the body’s self-healing mechanisms to awaken. True rest and relaxation can be reinforced through a practice of breath work or pranayama, where healing can occur from the inside out. If your nose is stopped up owing to a high pollen count, don’t blame the great outdoors. Instead, take yourself through some alternate-nostril breathing or long deep breathing (breathe long, slow and deep through both nostrils).
One Ojas-Boosting Recipe
Here is one easy recipe for self-healing: tahini is a famous seed in Eastern medicine for restoring the body’s energy, and the fresh fruits and vegetables are tasty. So, put one red pepper, one banana, one apple, a few blanched almonds and some tahini in your blender with water and make this immune-boosting shake. Experiment with tahini “milk” and the combination of different veggies and fruits to match your taste buds. Here’s to your health and healing from the inside out!
Japa K. Khalsa, Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM), is co-author of Enlightened Bodies: Exploring Physical and Subtle Human Anatomy (enlightenedbodies.com). She teaches a weekly yoga class for people with chronic pain at Sacred Kundalini in Santa Fe. She completed her Master of Oriental Medicine degree at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine in Chicago. She combines traditional acupuncture with herbal and nutritional medicine, injection therapy and energy healing. Her work with patients and students emphasizes optimal health and personal transformation through self-care and awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. www.drjapa.com