Ayurveda for Respiratory Health- Our Natural Antidote to Air Pollution

Ayurveda and air pollution

What used to be the season of ‘gulaabi sardi’ has turned into a grey blanket of smog. 

Every year, this time of year, a large part of north India wakes up to the challenges of air pollution. Long debates on news channels and WhatsApp groups, quick stocking up of masks, buying of air-purifiers, even air-purifying home plants – It has become a routine feature every Diwali. Government farming policies, citizen apathy, religious festive fervor & the major red-tapism that blocks the implementation of well-meaning policies and measures – all add up to hazardous air.  

As highlighted by Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, “The true cost of climate change is felt in our hospitals and in our lungs. The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high, that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport, and food systems effectively pays for itself.”

This is something that the northern part of India has been struggling with. As we all take measures to secure our health & well-being, here are a few Ayurveda-inspired methods of building immunity and strengthening your respiratory health. The idea is to strengthen ourselves and our loved ones to be able to deal with the harsh pollution around us. The emphasis is always on purity, taking what is naturally available to us, and lifestyle changes and techniques that help our body adapt to the changes in the environment. According to ayurvedic philosophy, health issues are due to an imbalance between the doshas in our bodies. At times external factors can lead to an imbalance in our bodies. Air pollution causes an imbalance between the Vata and Kapha dosha in our bodies. 

How is pollution impacting us?

Pollution has an impact on our health. The irritants in air pollution lead to the following issues-

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Increased Asthma attacks
  • Coughing
  • Irritated Airways
  • Flared up sinus
  • Headaches

Some of the long-term health issues a person can experience when they are breathing polluted air for a longer time are- 

  • Accelerated aging of the lungs
  • Damaged kidneys
  • Loss of lung capacity and decreased lung function

There are a number of ways in which polluted air affects our lungs. While issues such as shortness of breath are due to pollutants in the air irritating our nasal passage, there are other toxic chemicals that are having an impact on the other organs in the body. As  Dr. Gulati points out, “In a study done in Europe short-term exposure to elevated air pollution levels was associated with a decrease in eGFR. The main pollutants affecting the kidneys were PMs and SO2. In the medium-term an increase in the annual concentration of PM2.5 and NO2 resulted in an increased number of patients with chronic kidney disease,” This is because these types of particles can easily get past the surface of the lungs, dissolve into the bloodstream and reach the kidneys. 

The toxic chemicals that are present in polluted air can damage other organs in the body such as the brain. A point to be remembered and noted here is that pollution has a more serious impact on young growing children in comparison to adults. According to WHO, ‘One reason why children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution is that they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. They also live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.’These can be followed by more serious and long-term health effects depending upon the severity of air pollution. 

While the long-term solution is to decrease air pollution as much as possible, the short-term solution would be to manage the health issues caused by low air quality. 

How can we strengthen our respiratory system to tackle harmful air pollution from within?

Ayurveda has some methods and techniques that can help provide some relief from the breathing issues that are a result of air pollution. 

Vata and Kapha’s Imbalance

According to Ayurveda, four main doshas govern the functions of the body. Things such as our diet, our lifestyle as well as our environment influence the balance between the doshas in our body. The types of Doshas in our body are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The belief is that every individual is born with a unique combination of doshas that influence a person’s mental and physical and mental traits. 

As mentioned before, our environment can have an impact on the balance between our doshas. Air pollution leads to an imbalance between the Vata and the Kapha dosha in our This imbalance in both the doshas leads to an increased formation of mucus that can clog the nasal passage and aggravate pre-existing issues. While some of the solutions prescribed in Ayurveda may not be a long-term solution to the problem, they provide relief in the short term. 

Building immunity with wellness routines

According to Ayurveda, there are a couple of things that can be done to make it easier to breathe and make the lungs stronger. The first suggestion is to get an Abhyanga massage. The massage therapist will use this warm oil to massage your body, right from the head to the toes. The massage will begin from the ears and then move on to the head before reaching other parts of the body. The therapist would use circular clockwise strokes while massaging over the abdomen and heart, and circular strokes while massaging the joints. The massage therapist will spend several minutes massaging different parts of your body and ask you to sit comfortably with the oil on your body for another 10 minutes to let it penetrate the skin. (You can ask the massage therapist to spend more time on the parts of your body you are currently having problems). These strokes with hot oil help improve lymphatic drainage in the body. The Lymphatic system is a part of the immune system and can be referred to as the ‘sewerage system’. It helps maintain the health of cells and tissues in the body by removing toxins from them as well as transporting white blood cells around the body as and when needed. 

Another method is the kapalbhati breathing exercise that can be done at the start of your day. To start this breathing exercise sit comfortably and straight. Next, put your palms on your knees. 

  1. Take a deep breath in.
  2. As you exhale, pull your navel back towards the spine. Do as much as you comfortably can. You may keep your right hand on the stomach to feel the abdominal muscles contract.
  3. As you relax the navel and abdomen, the breath flows into your lungs automatically.
  4. Take 20 such breaths to complete one round of Kapal Bhati.
  5. After completing the round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body.
  6. Do two more rounds of Kapal Bhati.

Some of the other exercises that can be done are anulom vilom and other yoga exercises that are recommended for strengthening the upper respiratory system. 

Here are some other things that you can do to improve your breathing – 

  • Since the outside air is too toxic, it is best to stay indoors and grow indoor plants that have air-purifying properties. Bamboo, jade, and money plant are some plants that are easy to take care of and have also got health benefits. 
  • When you step outside the house are to wear a mask 
  • Avoid peak traffic hours when it comes to going outside.  

Polluted air is not just impacting our present but is impacting our future as well. While there are a couple of major sources of air pollution, we as individuals can still make a major difference in improving air quality. For example, when it comes to vehicles, there is a need to switch to electric vehicles or try to carpool as much as possible. Another option is to use public transport. Some of the other lifestyle changes would include buying seasonal fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables that are not in season are often transported from far-off places. The trucks that carry this produce burn a lot of diesel during transportation and contribute to increasing air pollution. There are some vegetables such as tomatoes and bell peppers that can be easily grown in a large flower pot on your balcony.

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