Posted Mar 24, 2008 - 09:40 AM
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Finding Relief with Yoga and Ayurveda
Luna Jordan, ERYT-500, LMT
Medical Understanding of Sinusitis
According Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, the nasal sinuses include any of the paired cavities, designated frontal, sphenoidal, maxillary, and ethmoidal, located in the bones of the face and lined by a mucous membrane continuous with that of the nasal cavity.1
Generally speaking, they are located on either side of the nose before above and below the eye.
Normally, sinuses are filled with air. Sinusitis occurs when the tissues lining the sinuses swell, or become inflamed. The sinuses can become blocked and filled with fluid, creating an environment for germs (bacteria, viruses and fungi) to grow and cause infection.2
There are two basic types of sinusitis:
Acute sinusitis: An inflammation of the sinuses marked by a sudden onset of nasal symptoms such as runny nose, stuffy nose and facial pain that does not go away after 7-10 days. Acute sinusitis usually lasts no longer than four weeks. Acute sinusitis may also include the category of sub acute sinusitis if the symptoms persist from four to eight weeks. 2
Chronic sinusitis: An inflammation of the sinuses lasting eight weeks or longer. If the symptoms of chronic sinusitis recur several times within the course of a year, it may be termed recurrent sinusitis. 2
Conditions which put a person at a higher risk for sinusitis include nasal mucous membrane swelling as occurs during the common cold, blockage of drainage ducts, structural differences that narrow the drainage ducts, and increased risk of infections due to immune deficiencies or taking medications that suppress the immune system.2
Signs and Symptoms
The primary symptoms of acute sinusitis include:
1. Facial pain/pressure
2. Nasal stuffiness
3. Nasal discharge
4. Loss of smell
Additional symptoms may include:
7. Bad breat
9. Dental Pain2
Acute sinusitis may be diagnosed by a medical doctor when two or more of these symptoms are present and/or the patient has a thick, green or yellow nasal discharge.2
The following symptoms lasting for eight weeks or longer may be diagnosed as chronic sinusitis:
1. Facial congestion/fullness
2. A nasal obstruction/blockage
3. Pus in the nasal cavity
5. Nasal discharge/discolored postnasal
Additional symptoms may include:
7. Bad breath
9. Dental Pain2
Ayurvedic Understanding of Sinusitis
Ayurveda sees the root of sinus problems in the digestive system, especially the stomach and upper small intestine, which directly receives partially-digested food from the stomach. In many instances, nasal irritants, immune system disturbances and other sinus symptoms occur due to an underlying digestive problem. 3
This digestive problem is described more specifically as a weakness in the digestive fire. Within the body there are many metabolic processes, or agni, and the one that is of particular concern here is called the jathar agni, or the metabolic processes of the stomach and upper small intestine. The hydrochloric acid and other digestive substances in the stomach, as well as the enzymes fed into the jejunum (upper small intestine) by the pancreas are essential components of digestive capability.3
In Ayurvedic Medicine, diagnosis and classification of imbalances is seen in relation to three transporting systems, or doshas. Pitta is the system which transports metabolic nutrients and the energy of metabolism. When the digestive fire, agni, is inadequate, substances that should be separated and removed from the food accumulate. This material, called ama, is unusable for normal physiological processes. The creation of ama may manifest as an increase in phlegm and contribute to sinus problems.3
The dosha known as kapha is the transporting system for certain fluids (other than blood), collectively called phlegm. In a balanced state, this phlegm, or mucus lining in the body, is protective, lubricating and cleansing. The weakened agni of the digestive system, imbalances kapha and creates an overabundance of fluid.3
The fluid has several potential sites of accumulation. The reason it accumulates in the sinuses for some people (and not others) is because of a disturbance there. Beyond exposure to germs, disturbances could arise due to irritation from nasal allergens, cigarette smoke or other substances. Also, a lack of normal movement of air and mucus due to inadequate exercise may contribute to sinus problems.3
Treatment Using Yoga Therapy
Yoga Therapy utilizes many different modalities of healing. Many options are available to the patient. The remedies offered below are some of the ways Ayurveda and Yoga can be utilized to restore balance to the body and allow for healing. It is not an exhaustive list and other resources should be consulted. When an imbalance in the body occurs, sinusitis or other ailment, the exact cause and treatment of the condition will vary from person to person.
Asana: Standing poses are very useful for helping the sinuses drain and increase circulation. 4 In addition, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend) and Pascimottanasana (Sitting forward bend) can be done with the head supported on a block or folded blanket.5
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) and Halasana (Plow Pose) are invaluable for unblocking the sinuses. Both poses should be done with two or three blankets underneath the shoulders all the way down to the elbows. Both poses need to be held for minutes to receive full benefit.4 If the patient cannot hold the poses for a few minutes, then either repeat the pose after a rest or support the pose with a chair.5 The inversions act as a natural flushing system for the blocked sinuses. The blood circulates with some force into the congested areas, clearing away secretions to clear passageways for freer breathing.4
Pranayama: Chanting “Om” may help keep sinuses healthy. Jon Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden discovered that humming can help to ventilate and open the sinuses. They defined humming as “exhaling with sound while the mouth is closed;” they say that chanting “Om” produces the same effect. Chanting and humming both create sound vibrations, which encourage air to move back and forth between your sinuses and nasal passages. 6
Ujjayi breathing with retention on exhalation is recommended by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga. 7 It could help reduce Kapha symptoms.
Jala Neti: Using a neti pot, irrigate the sinuses with warm salt water8 or a more aromatic mixture using either eucalyptus, menthol, camphor, lavender, or anise added to the salt water.9
Nasya: When accompanied by facial massage, after two applications of oil to the face, nasya oil can be administered to the sinuses by tilting the patients head back and applying a few drops of medicated oil. A typical medicated oil is calamus and ginger extract in sesame oil. For this method Dr. Vasant Lad says “Dip the clean little finger into the appropriate oil and insert into each nostril as deeply as possible.” 8 Make sure your fingernails are trimmed. For stressful situations, where the sinuses are not overly congested, brahmi oil (which is made from gotu kola or bacopa in a sesame oil base or ghee). 3
Head Massage: Head massage (champi) is considered very important in the Ayurvedic system and it is used to prevent fluid from accumulating in the head. For sinusitis, medicated oil is used. An ayurvedic practitioner should be consulted for this.3
Facial Massage: With chronic sinusitis, if the accumulation of phlegm and disruption of air flow continues, it distorts the entire tissue structure of the face. Narayan or mahanarayan oil can be used to soften obstructions in the dhatus (tissues) which occur with long-term doshic imbalances.3
Diet and Spices: Avoid chilled foods and heavy foods that are classified as having a cold nature. Also minimize phlegm producing foods, such as dairy, gluten, yeast, corn, soy, oils and fatty meats. These foods can aggravate fluid conditions in the head.3 Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat your most substantial meal of the day at noon when the digestive fire is hottest.10
One quarter teaspoon of Trikatu with a teaspoon of honey, followed by sips of hot water in the morning may relieve symptoms.10
Drink hot water. Fill a thermos as your day begins with hot water and sip an ounce or two every 30 minutes all day, between meals, to loosen and cleanse ama.10
1. The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 2nd Edition Copyright 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
2. Webmd Medical Reference (Webmd.com) provided in collaboration with
The Cleveland Clinic. Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
3. Dharmananda, Subhuti, Phd. An Epidemic of Sinus Disorders, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, OR. www.itmonline.org.
4. Lerner, Dean, Certified Advanced Iyengar instructor. Yoga for Sinusitis, YogaJournal.com, September, 2006.
5. Iyengar, B.K.S., The Path to Holistic Health, Dorling Kindersley, London, 2001, ISBN: 0-7894-7165-5.
6. Bauman, Alisa, Sinusitis Survival, YogaJournal.com, January/February 2003.
7. Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Yoga, Schoken Books, Inc.; distributed by Pantheon Books, ISBN: 0-8052-1031-8.
8. Lad, Vasant, Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, WI, 1984.
9. Verma, Vinod, Ayurveda: A Way of Life, Samuel Weiser Press, York Beach, ME, 1995.
10. Quistgard-DeVivo, Niika, Nip Allergies in the Bud, YogaJournal.com, March/April 2005.