Health, Yoga Practice

Yoga while you’re congested

Molds are high pretty much throughout all of summer here in Austin, so for those of us who suffer from allergies, it’s a miserable time of year in addition to the heat and humidity.

While I’m hearing my husband hack up his lungs from congestion and post-nasal drip, I thought about the last time I decided to practice yoga while severely congested. I was on the brink of a sinus infection – that’s how bad it had gotten – and my first downward dog was the worst idea ever. All of the pain in my sinuses got flipped upside down, and it felt like my head got submerged 10 feet under water. The pressure was immense. This was a classic case of when NOT to practice any type of inversion.

That said, a moving yoga practice (asana) is generally safe to practice even when you’re a little stuffy. Here are a few pointers:

  • First, I recommend using a neti pot to clear away any “loose” congestion before you even get on your mat. Like I’ve mentioned before, you’ll be pretty amazed at what’s hiding up there!
  • Once you’ve gently blown your nose and have a bit of a breathing passage opened up, you’ll want to focus on ujjayi breathing throughout your practice. That’s the Darth Vader-like breathing in and out the nose. Because it’s more throat-y and not controlled by the nostrils, it’ll help to create moist internal heat. It takes the tickle out of my throat that causes uncontrollable dry-throat coughing.
  • Take your sun salutations a little easier to start. Make sure you don’t get that intense underwater sinus pressure feel. Otherwise, back off or try again when you’re feeling better. Nothing wrong with letting your body rest when it needs it the most.
  • The combination of downward dog and ujjayi breathing somehow gets the congestion to stay confined to some part of your sinuses that allows you to continue to breathe. I don’t know how it works, but that’s been my experience.
  • Feel the sweat. Once you get your blood moving, the inner heat makes you sweat. That seems to loosen up the congestion more. By the time you get to savasana, your nasal passage should have opened up pretty nicely.
  • Avoid supine postures until the end. Nothing makes congestion worse than lying flat on your back when your body’s cold.

One pranayama exercise that should help with congestion is Anuloma Viloma, which alternates nostrils for inhale and exhale.

In this Breathing Technique, you inhale through one nostril, retain the breath, and exhale through the other nostril in a ratio of 2:8:4.

Anuloma Viloma restores, equalizes and balances the flow of Prana in the body.

One other trick I picked up (which has nothing to do with yoga) was to buy the gold-colored Listerine and microwave a small amount in a mug. Then, close your eyes, put your face over the mug, and breathe in the heated vapors. The combination of menthol and eucalyptus will open up the nasal passages quickly, and voila! You’re ready to get on your yoga mat. Credit for that trick goes to my friend and acupuncture student Pearl.

Taking a hot bath or shower after a nice moving practice will further your good efforts. Lots of luck to you allergy-sufferers out there!

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