Respiration is one of the vital systems of our body, which is involuntarily supplying oxygen to the body to feel energetic and lively. As per Ayurveda, Prana is a sub-type of Vata dosha, and responsible for inhaling oxygen from the outer environment. The inhaled oxygen is balanced by exhaling carbon dioxide with the help of Udana, another sub-type of Vata dosha. Such involuntary mechanism reciprocates throughout life, and thus, it is necessary to maintain healthy respiration lifestyle to avoid any respiratory-related diseases.
Causes of malfunctioning of respiratory systems
Most disorders of the respiratory system are caused due to imbalanced Kapha dosha. Due to excess Kapha dosha, mucus or phlegm accumulates in the lungs, which can disperse to other sites in the respiratory tract. Accumulation of mucus does not necessarily suggest the development of respiratory imbalance. However, it is always an indication of low agni (digestive fire), which is the most common cause of respiratory imbalance. Moreover, excess Vata can cause dryness and blockages, while surplus pitta can induce inflammation.
Consuming a heavy, oily, or cold diet that is hard to digest, or eating leftovers following morning hampers the digestive system. Toxin particles circulating in the air such as smoke, dust, pollen, or dirt enter the lungs while breathing and cause irritation in the respiratory tract. With varying temperature and climate, our body functions in a different manner each season. Seasons like autumn and early spring have been observed to make us especially prone to respiratory problems. Excessive stress or grief has also been reported to influence lung functions.
How to maintain/improve respiratory health
Ayurvedic literature has reported effective remedies to stabilize the disturbed doshas through diet, lifestyle, and use of medicinal herbs.
Herbs and Compounds
As per Ayurveda, most well-known herbs for supporting a healthy respiratory response are peppercorns (maricha and pippali). They aid in keeping the airways open, which enhances lung functions. When mucus (Kapha) accumulates in the lungs or airways, pungent herbs such as black pepper (maricha), garlic (lasuna), cinnamon (dalchini), cloves (lavang), and ginger (sunth) have been observed to weaken the thick mucus and support the respiratory system for smooth functioning.
Additionally, holy basil (tulsi) (3-4 leaves) has been suggested to be chewed every morning or adopt steam inhalation of water boiled with holy basil leaves to support healthy respiration.
Licorice root (yashtimadhu) has been known to support the efficient functioning of the lungs, and additionally, enhance healthy and normal expectoration.
Moreover, the use of turmeric (haridra) has been practised since ancient times to maintain a healthy response to inflammation and assist the immune system. Subsequently, it is widely used in Ayurveda to treat respiratory-related difficulties.
Malabar nut (adulsa) helps eliminate excess Kapha from the throat and dilates the respiratory tract for easy, comfortable, and relaxed breathing.
Sitopaladi, a well-known formulation given by Acharya Charak in ‘Charak Samhita’ is available in every Indian household. It is recommended by doctors for acute, serious, unproductive cough. Specifically, it is used to treat profuse white or slightly yellow-coloured mucus (Kapha), sore throat, and high fever. This fine powder liquefies in the mouth and soothes the irritated throat.
Inhalation of camphor (Kapur) and rubbing Nilgiri oil on chest is well-known phenomena that help to keep the airways healthy.
Various nasal oils have been proposed in Ayurveda like Nasya Oil and Shadbindu Oil, which lubricate the nasal passages and support uncongested breathing. However, excessive use of such oils may cause inflammation in your nasal cavity, and thus, must be administered only on doctor’s recommendation.
During exercise, the breathing rate increases to meet the body’s excess demand for oxygen. This, in turn, increases the functional capacity of the lungs and keeps them healthy and at optimal function. As per Ayurveda, exercise should be performed until it sustains half of your strength. Strenuous exercises like lifting heavy weights beyond your capacity can cause strain on the lungs. On the other hand, skipping exercises reduces the oxygen-intake capacity of your lungs.
One needs to dedicate 15-20 minutes of the day to concentrate and improving breathing. Each breath is a bridge between our body and mind, and therefore, by improving our breathing experience, we directly enhance our mental capabilities. Postures that move the rib cage and stretch the intercostal muscles bring more flexibility into the ribs, back, and shoulders; and thereby, help to keep the lungs healthy and expand to its limits. Therefore, pranayama is a vital part of yoga and should be practised with suitable posture to allow oxygen to disperse throughout the body. For beginners, refer the blog of our Yoga expert on Pranayama.
Avoid binge-eating and especially, foods which are oily, deep-fried, or those using preservatives. One should drink warm water daily and include onion and garlic in your daily meal to avoid respiratory congestions. Moreover, dry, and cold food should be avoided to prevent from disturbing Vata dosha.
Overall, respiration is necessary to sustain life, and a healthy respiration is essential to live a nurturing life. Especially, in times of current health and economic crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, a healthy respiratory system not only might protect you from infections and respiratory ailments, but also provide you with a sound balanced state of mind.