I suffer from really bad allergies. This is in some ways strange to me since, for the first twenty-five years of my life, I never had allergies. In fact, in the first twenty-five years of my life I probably sneezed a grand total of twenty-five times. Now, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, I am a sneezing, sniffling, runny nose, itchy eye mess for a good part of the year. What the heck happened? Who knows exactly? Global warming, increased pollen levels, pollution, old age, toxicity building up in my body from Dupont’s ubiquitous chemicals, etc. are all possible causes. Whatever the cause(s) may be, all I know is that I have really bad allergies now and the only two things in the world that seem to provide any relief are Claritin and yoga.
So how does yoga help with allergies? To be perfectly honest, I have no scientific basis for claiming that yoga is helpful for allergies. But I do have plenty of empirical evidence gathered from my own experience (that should count as a kind of scientific basis, shouldn’t it?), so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here given that many other people suffer from allergies as well.
First, and most importantly, not any old yoga will provide relief for allergies. In my experience, you need to do some really intense, sweaty, physically demanding yoga if you expect any positive effect. My speculation is that when your body is working really hard in the asanas, and you’re sweating your butt off and your heart is pumping, your immune system becomes engaged and stops attacking what are harmless particles entering your body, like plant pollen. Allergies, after all, are a kind of auto-immume problem where your body kicks into “defense mode” when it doesn’t need to. I’m not medical doctor though, so it’s quite possible that everything I’m saying here is totally bogus.
Regardless of whether or not there is any scientific evidence of the specific mechanism by which yoga benefits allergy sufferers, we can always appeal to our own anecdotal evidence. Personally, in the past when I’ve had really bad allergy days, yoga, and not Claritin, has been my savior. I can recall one day in particular, this past spring I believe, when my allergies were so bad that my nose was basically running snot like a faucet – sorry, I know that’s gross. When I started yoga class that afternoon, I really didn’t expect to be able to get through the class given the severity of my allergies. During the first twenty minutes or so, my allergies were so bad that I had to get off my mat every other sun salutation to go blow my nose. (It’s really difficult, by the way, to do Down-Dog when there is a stream of snot coming out of your nose.) But by the time we had gotten really warmed up and into the heart of the flow, I found to my great surprise that ALL of my symptoms had stopped. I can’t really express in words my astonishment at how suddenly and completely all of my allergic symptoms vanished. All I know is that, to this day, when my allergies get bad, no matter how difficult it is, an hour and a half of yoga is just what the doctor ordered.