I’ve been thinking a lot lately about allergies, the things that make us allergic, and what it all means. It is spring, high season for allergies. Some allergies are pollen based, some are metaphorical. Either way, it can cause suffering.
Many of us (myself included) have been severely affected by seasonal allergies; some unfortunate folks experience them year round. Mine were so bad they led to asthma attacks and a few trips to the emergency room for adrenaline shots when I was younger. I outgrew the original severity, but was continually plagued with symptoms for many years. I noticed that the symptoms reoccurred during times of stress and uncertainty. They spiked in a work situation once and I could not breathe.
These are huge red flags in the world of holistic health and wellbeing, where the mind-body connection is paramount and offers clues about the origins of ill-health. The results might be manifesting physically, but where are they truly arising from? What mental and emotional states are giving rise to these bodily reactions?
The word ‘allergy’ was coined in 1906 by Austrian pediatrician Clemens E. von Pirquet from the Greek allos “other, different, strange” (from alias) + ergon “activity”. So it’s not far-fetched to ask who or what situation am I allergic to? Why am I having a reaction that wants to express itself as a violent expulsion of air and mucus out of my body?
In my own desperation with my allergies when I was only looking at the symptoms and not the cause, I tried every traditional, drug-based therapy (both over the counter and prescription) for many years. Without a doubt, it’s exhausting to have to sleep upright and it’s an extremely scary feeling to be sucking on your steroidal inhaler and not getting any relief. Gradually, as I became aware of more natural ways of taking care of myself (with diet, acupuncture, and herbs), and extracted myself from the job that literally robbed me of an easy breath, I started seeing results. I began to put into practice the idea of creating good health for myself holistically – connecting all areas of my being: mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. It profoundly changed my life in all ways.
There are other causes of allergies, of course, having nothing to do with pollen or emotional turmoil and upset. They are due to indoor toxins (cleaning chemicals, chemicals in carpets, paints, furniture glues, and resins), outdoor toxins (factory and automobile exhaust, pesticide sprays), and myriad other environmental chemicals. We can’t all walk around wearing gas masks, and yet it’s a miracle to me that not every single one of us is in a heightened state of allergy-induced trauma as a result of the current quality of air in most cities in America. We have epic proportions of kids with childhood asthma and allergy-induced asthma in people of all ages. So, too, is the use of drugs to combat them at an all-time high.
Whether needing to combat less than clean air, indoor environments from toxic off-gassing, or contact with toxic psychological environments, here are some daily health habits that might help reduce some of your allergic symptoms.
- Yoga: Through relaxation, the nervous system can tell the immune system to settle down and stop attacking the foreign bodies, which are naturally cleared out in a non-allergic person by sneezing once or twice a day. When the immune system backs off, inflammation and mucus decrease and symptoms diminish. Practicing any yoga posture in a relaxing way with slow deep breathing, and the intention to let go and relax the nervous system, can be very beneficial in decreasing the symptoms of allergies.
- Nasal Wash: Use a neti pot—devised by the ancient Ayurvedics—to cleanse your nasal passages. Nasal washing thins the mucus in the nasal cavity, which makes it flow more easily out of the body, and removes bacteria, allergens, and other irritants that cause problems. The job of the nose is to moisten the air for the lungs. It’s important for water to be in the air for the lungs to function. When the nose becomes inflamed from allergens or even colds, the inflammation uses up water, causing the nose to get dry. When the nose gets dry, the brain pumps more mucus to keep the air sent to the lungs moist. Adding water to the surface gives the nose the ability to add water to the air, which calms the brain and lowers inflammation.
- Probiotics: Research shows people with allergies have lower levels of healthy gut flora, and are overrun with bad bacteria. Probiotics are good bacteria that can be taken as a supplement, which helps to reset the bacteria balance, providing a protective barrier in the gut. Immune responses are a balance between go and stop responses. Go responses cause inflammation that are necessary to eliminate infections. However, without stop responses, inflammation continues resulting in an inflammatory disease. Probiotics help the immune system to develop stop responses, so that you don’t overreact to something harmless like food or pollens. Make sure you are taking one that can withstand stomach acids during digestion; these will have an enteric coating. Probiotic supplements can take between eight and ten weeks of daily use to change the environment of your gut for you to notice a difference, so be diligent and patient.
Note: Chlorinated water can contribute to probiotic depletion in the body, so install water and shower filters throughout your home.
- Fermented Foods: These are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of our friends, the fabulous probiotics. Natural fermentation of foods has also been shown to preserve nutrients in food and break the food down to a more digestible form. This, along with the bevy of probiotics created during the fermentation process, could explain the link between consumption of fermented foods and improved digestion, improved bioavailability for nutrients to the immune system, and most importantly, decreased allergies in people susceptible to them. The easiest way to consume natural probiotics (you can’t overdose!) is through foods that have been clearly marked as being naturally fermented. These would be high quality yogurts, kefirs, and sauerkrauts with no added sugars and other fillers, and the krauts should not have vinegar as one of its ingredients (cabbage and salt should be all). High quality miso, kimchi, and kvass (fermented beets) should also be sought out.
I’ll leave you with this Spring Allergy Meditation:
- Take a deep breath in through your nose as you say to yourself: “I breathe in good health and wellbeing”
- Let go of your breath slowly through your nose as you say: “I breathe out and release anything that doesn’t serve my good health and peace of mind”
- Repeat 10 times.
- Do this meditation once upon waking, once at midday, and once before going to sleep.