Ayurveda and Yoga for Respiratory health

30/04/2020, Ananda in the Himalayas

Respiratory health has been well document in traditional systems of wellbeing over several millennia. However, it is only in the recent context that we have really woken up to the role that it plays in our overall health and wellbeing. We are living at a time where global warming, erratic climatic changes, poor air quality, excessive exposure to smoke, fungal, viral and bacterial infection is the new normal and the cause behind dwindling respiratory health for many of us. Needless to say that we are now, more than ever, aware of the danger of this becoming rampant.

During the current pandemic, most of its workings which we still coming to grips with, the best thing for us to do is simply go back to our basics. The practise of Ayurveda as a medicine and its sister science Yoga dating back over 5000 years recommend treatments with specific plants, and daily use therapeutic procedures for the prevention of various oral, nasal diseases and maintenance of overall respiratory health.

Prana is the vital energy or life force, which exists in all of us. Although related to the air we breathe, it is more subtle than just air or oxygen. Stepping aside from the cosmic Prana to the Pranic body, prana refers to the flow of energy and in practical terms governs the thoracic area between the larynx and the top of the diaphragm. It is associated with the heart and organs of respiration together with the muscles and nerves that activate them. It is the force by which breath is drawn inside.(Swami Satyananda)

This may seem a simple mechanical process to most of us but it is only when an imbalance occurs that we realise that we are being faced with a respiratory crisis. Some of the more common issues challenging our respiratory systems are chronic colds and coughs, breathlessness, Bronchitis, Sinusitis, chronic allergies, Asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,

Ayurveda works on the principle that uncongested breathing is important to ensure the proper flow of ‘prana’. Ayurveda gives us simple practices to build into our ‘dinacharya’ or daily lives. Cleaning your nasal passages and sinuses with a saline nasal spray or a neti pot helps moisturise the nose while cleaning out any dust, dirt or pollen. This can be followed by applying nasal oil or ghee (clarified butter) to help lubricate the nasal passages, soothe and cleanse tissues and clean out excess mucous from the sinuses.

Ayurvedic foods & supplements which benefit respiratory health

  • Liquorice - Perhaps the most uncomfortable respiratory ailment is the common sore throat. Using one teaspoon of liquorice root or powder brewed as a tea and sipping on it 2-3 times a day soothes the irritated throat and brings substantial relief to the tender lung lining.
  • Pippali - from the peppercorn family, this is excellent for releasing mucous and congestion. The best way to consume this is by boiling 10 peppercorns in milk.
  • Triphala - which is an Ayurvedic combination of fruits amalaki, haritaki and bibhitaki is an effective herbal decoction used for gargling. Ayurveda recommends that this practice be incorporated in daily to balance the doshas in the throat area
Ayurveda and Yoga for Respiratory healthAyurveda and Yoga for Respiratory healthAyurveda and Yoga for Respiratory health
Include Vit C in daily diet. Amla or the Indian gooseberry is a natural source of bioflavonoids & antioxidants
Curcumin aids in healthy respiratory function by modulating pro-inflammatory chemicals (cytokines)
Increase Vitamin D with foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (walnuts, seaweed, kidney beans, soybeans, spinach, canola oil, salmon, tuna)

Oral Hygiene Tips

  • Use a chemical-free, herbal toothpaste with antimicrobial properties to brush your teeth
  • Tongue Scraping removes coating over the tongue which is a breeding ground for bacteria
  • Oil pulling using cold-pressed sesame oil. Take 1 tablespoon or 15 ml of oil in the mouth and swish until it is completely filled with saliva.

Yoga which benefits respiratory health

Yoga has always focussed on prana and respiratory health. The ancient Indian practice of Hatha Yoga which is a combination of asanas (physical postures) and Pranayama (Yogic breathing exercises) provides a sense of equilibrium to the body, mind and soul and is vital for the smooth functioning of the respiratory system.

Asanas delicately move the spine in all directions which helps to stretch and strengthen the respiratory muscles in the upper torso. Some of the most effective yoga Asanas for this are Phalankasana (plank), side planks and upward plank postures which strengthen the muscles around the chest wall. Back bending postures such as Bhujangasana (cobra pose), or Urdva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog pose) helps to strengthen the back and chest muscles. These asanas tone and stimulate the cartilages of the respiratory tract, increase blood circulation through the pulmonary veins and capillaries, increase the efficient functioning of the lungs and balance in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves to ensure optimum performance of the airways.

The Surya Namaskar with its series of 12 physical postures juxtaposed with systemic inhalation and exhalation has a deep effect in oxygenating the body and its trillions of cells.

Pranayama literally means Prana or life Force, Yama which is discipline or control and  Aayama which is extension or expansion. 

Pranayama (Yogic breathing exercises) can increase the intake of oxygen by 5 times which enables the lungs, heart, brain and digestive organs to function at their best and bolster overall health. Pranayama improves blood flow to all parts of the body, increases circulation of lung fluids which stimulates lymphatic flow and eliminates toxins, enhances the elasticity of the ribs and intercostal muscles that help form and move the chest wall, and increases the movement of the diaphragm which massages abdominal organs to aid optimum digestion.

The following kinds of Pranayama have been practised for years and are proven to be most beneficial in maintaining good respiratory health:

1.Nadi ShodhanaAlternate nose breathing infuses the lungs with oxygen which supports, clears and balances the entire respiratory system.
2.KapalbhatiDone in a sitting posture where you inhale normally and exhale while simultaneously contracting the abdominal muscles with each exhalation.
3.BhrastrikaThis is where the breathing pattern is like the blowing of bellows. This form of pranayama is about inhaling and exhaling completely so as to give your body the maximum about of oxygen.
4.BrahmriThis comes from the Sanskrit word ‘brahmar ‘or humming black bee is done by creating a humming sound in the throat while inhaling and exhaling. This provides a calming effect on the mind and the respiratory mechanism.
5.Pranava PranayamaThis is the full cosmic Om or ‘Aum ‘represented by 3 different vibratory sounds of ‘Aah ‘originating from the lower lung, followed by ‘Ohh’ from the middle of the chest to the ‘Mmm ‘sound as it moves to the upper lung.

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