Warmer, lighter days symbolise the imminence of summer – and hay fever – but could breathwork be the answer?
If you’re someone who religiously douses their eyes in drops, trying desperately to eradicate pollen from your life, you’ll already understand the daily frustrations that come hand-in-hand with hay fever: incessant sneezing, red, watery eyes, headaches and endless sleepless nights. These relentless hay fever symptoms affect as many as one in four people in the UK, and occur when tiny particles of pollen come into contact with cells that line the mouth, nose, eyes and throat, irritating them and causing the allergic reaction. You may have already tried herbal remedies to no avail, but simple breathing techniques could help combat these uncomfortable symptoms.
Aimee Hartley, author of Breathe Well (£7.45, Octopus Publishing Group), highly recommends active breathing exercises to help clear the nasal cavity when dealing with allergies. “Many people suffering from hay fever tend to over breathe,” says Aimee. “Try some calming breaths to help slow your breathing rate down and learn to establish a strong diaphragmatic breath before practising any form of breathwork. Transformational breath is great for this: prop yourself up on the bed at a semi-reclined angle with cushions behind you, so your chest is higher than your legs. Place your hands on your lower abdomen – just below the navel – relax the jaw, and open the mouth wide and take a deep inhalation, your belly should rise like a balloon, and exhale with a quick sigh. Repeat for one to two minutes, rest for a minute, and return to a normal breathing pattern. Once a deep diaphragmatic breath has been established, you’re ready to reap all the benefits breathwork has to offer, such as relieving stress and boosting immunity.”
Although hay fever is mainly caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, stress can also worsen your symptoms. “When we’re under stress, says Marianna Kilburn, A.Vogel blogger (avogel.co.uk), “our bodies produce all sorts of hormones and chemicals in reaction to the added pressure. One of these is histamine, a chemical released by the body in reaction to what the body perceives as a foreign invader. It’s one of the key chemicals involved in the allergic response. So if stress is high, our histamine levels increase. The higher the histamine levels in our body, the more likely we are to have an allergic response.”
If you feel stress might be the cause of your hay fever or feel your symptoms are just around the corner, give alternate nostril breathing a go. A traditional way to help balance the left and right brain hemispheres, it increases oxygen to the cerebral tissues, helping to lower blood pressure, quiet the mind, and reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia. “Tonight, before your head hits the pillow, sit in a comfortable position with a nice tall spine,” suggests Aimee. “With your right hand, gently closing your right nostril with your thumb, inhale through your left nostril, and then close it with your right ring finger. Exhale through your right nostril, then inhale through the right nostril. Close your right nostril, open your left, and slowly exhale. Inhale through your left nostril, and then close it with your ring finger.” Once this feels comfortable, count how long you take to inhale and double the count for your exhale. This means, if you inhale for four seconds exhale for eight. Let’s end this suffering together. Hay fever; we’re ready for you!
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