Pranayama are exercises for breath control or the practice of controlled breathing to tap into our life force. It is composed of two words “Prana” and “Yama”. Prana means “vital energy” or “life force” in Sanskrit and Yama means “to restrain or control” or “to extend or draw out”. It was first mentioned in 1500 BCE in one of the oldest sacred books in India. In modern yoga or Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, pranayama is the 4th limb out of the 8. It is a practice to connect and access the subtle body and energy forces.
The practice of pranayama has many benefits including improvement in one’s body and health. It also affects emotional health and mental health. When a person’s energy isn’t able to flow properly, it can result in illness and disease. Pranayama practices aim to maximize flow of energy.
Pranayama is good for relieving depression, stress, and anxiety. These may be caused by external factors and experiences that one may encounter. Symptoms may show up as physical pain like chest pain, muscle and joint pain, and issues in digestion. Pranayama can help improve focus and free the mind of negative thoughts. Since pranayama directly affects one’s heart rate by decreasing the breath rate, it makes the body more relaxed. Improved blood circulation can also help reduce anxiety and will give a better sleep experience.
When our stress levels are decreased, our heart rate is better regulated, and our sleep is improved, our immune system is able to function much more optimally and inflammation in our body is lower. All of these changes can benefit people who suffer from allergies.
Respiratory allergies are caused by airway inflammation and sensitivity. This can be triggered because of the air that we inhale that irritates the airway. The symptoms include wheezing, coughing, dyspnea, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and watery eyes. Although our body produces natural histamine for allergens. Pranayama can help in respiratory cleaning which is not only good for allergies but those who have asthma as well.
5 Pranayamas for Allergies
1. Ujjayi (Oceanic Breath)
This is an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps the body and mind to feel at ease and energized. This breathing helps blood circulation, regulates blood pressure, removes negative thoughts, and builds energy and internal heat.
How to do it:
Sit upright. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. Constrict the muscle at the back of your throat while inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. This pranayama produces a sound that is similar to the sounds of the ocean. If you have trouble getting started, try breathing in and out of your mouth at first. With each breath, imagine fogging up a mirror. Notice the slight restriction on the back of your throat as you inhale and exhale. Try to maintain that same sensation as you breathe through the nose.
2. Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath)
This pranayama helps clear the respiratory system of mucus, it is also good for decongestion and lung capacity. It is known as a cleansing technique inside the body. This pranayama helps bring balance to a person’s overall well-being. There three types of Kapalbhati: Vyatkrama, Vatakrama, and Sheetkrama. Vyatkrama is the kapalabhati type where you need to sniff water through the nose and spit through the mouth. Vatakrama is the type of kapalabhati in a cross-legged position. The third type of kapalabhati is sheetkrama, compared to Vyatkrama, water is taken through the mouth and discharged through the nostrils.
How to do it:
Sit down straight and comfortably. Make quick, short inhales through the nose and exhale sharply while pulling your lower belly towards the spine. With each exhale through the nose, imagine blowing a candle out. Allow the inhale to naturally come after such a strong exhale.
3. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breath)
Pranayama from the words Nadi which means “channel” and shodhana which means “purification”. It is good for clearing and purifying the body. It is good for clearing the toxins in the body, balancing hormones, reducing stress and anxiety, balancing the hemispheres of the brain, and alleviating allergies.
How to do it:
Sit upright comfortably. Place your left palm on your lap. Place your right middle finger and pointer finger on the gap between your eyebrows. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose. Close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale only through the left nostril. At the end of the exhale, close both of the nostrils by covering the left nostril with your ring finger. Open right nostril and breathe in slowly. Close both nostrils again with the thumb and ring finger. Continue breathing in one side and out the other: in – left, out – right, in – right, out – left. Try about 6 – 10 total breaths before returning to breathing through both nostrils.
4. Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath)
Practice this calming pranayama to help with mental tension, anger, stress, and anxiety. It is also good for the throat, voice, and hearing. It creates subtle resonance in the head which helps with nasal allergies and headaches.
How to do it:
Sit down in lotus pose or another comfortable position. Close your eyes, inhale and exhale deeply. Use your thumbs to close both of your ear lids. Put index fingers on eyebrows and the middle fingers over your eyes. Gently apply pressure on the sides of your nose and concentrate on the gap between your eyebrows. Breathe in through your nose and as you exhale through your nose, create a humming sound.
5. Sitali (Cooling Breath)
This pranayama literally means “cooling” in Sanskrit. It is good for lowering body temperature and for digestion. Because this pranayama helps the body to cool and calm down, it helps the body relieve stress and anxiety.
How to do it:
Sit comfortably while the spine is in a neutral position. Take your tongue out a little bit and make a tunnel by curling tongue. Inhale through the tunnel of the tongue. Close mouth and exhale through the nose.
These pranayama exercises are not only good for respiratory allergies, they are also good for the respiratory system in general. Another study was conducted in 2009 that shows the effect of breathing exercises or pranayama on patients with mild to moderate bronchial asthma. At the end of the study, the symptoms being experienced by the patients were reduced. Improvements in asthmatic patients were seen after doing the breathing exercises.
Another study done during the same year looked at the effects of pranayama and meditation on respiratory functions. Individuals were subjected to the same diet, yoga, and pranayama. The study proved that regular pranayama helps improve the respiratory system regardless of a person’s age, gender, and body mass index. With little risk, pranayama is a natural alternative to over-the-counter prescriptions and it is less expensive.