Ayurvedic Diet & Digestion School
IntroductionAyurveda places great emphasis on the quality of respiration because of its intrinsic connection to vitality (prana). The respiratory system infuses the body with life giving oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. Without its proper functioning, life cannot thrive or flourish. Humans can survive for days without food or water, but take away the breath, and a person will quickly die.
Ayurveda teaches how to calm one's breath to live a long and vital life. The slower and deeper the rate of respiration, the longer the lifespan. The quicker and shallower the respiration, the shorter life will be. This example can be seen in nature. A tortoise takes just three to four breaths per minute and will live to 100 years and beyond. A mouse, on the other hand, takes between 100 to 200 breaths a minute and lives just a few short years.
The Role of RespirationEach inhalation feeds every cell in the body with rich oxygen. Through exhalation, the lungs clean the body of wastes, particularly carbon dioxide. The breath also plays a vital role in maintaining body temperature and the rate of circulation, both of which can increase or decrease with the rate of respiration.
The health of the respiratory system lies not just with the lungs, but also the nose, mouth, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi and the brain. Ayurvedically, all three doshas function together in the respiratory system. Vata in the nervous system controls the breath rate, depth of inhalation and the flow of prana (prana vayu). Pitta's heat is responsible for maintaining blood flow to the lungs. Kapha in the respiratory system (avalambaka kapha) maintains adequate fluid secretions in the lungs so gaseous exchange to occur. It lubricates, supports and protects the heart and lungs.
The Ayurvedic ApproachAyurveda takes a whole body approach to the respiratory system and shows how the lungs are related to other vital organs. For example, Ayurveda describes how respiratory fluids (avalambaka kapha) are nourished by the stomach (kledaka kapha) in Ayurveda. This gives practitioners insights into many lung disorders, and how they can be traced back to and remedied in the digestive tract.
Inflammatory conditions in the lungs are due to an excess of Pitta and, in many cases, the liver needs to be cleaned and cooled to restore balance. A dry, wheezing cough can be the result of a frayed nervous system and have its roots in a dry, congested colon. Clearing the bowels and pacifying Vata in the intestines can, in certain case, relieve a persistent respiratory problem. Ayurveda does not simply look at the lungs. It looks to find the root cause of an imbalance and treats each case individually, rather than a 'one size fits all' approach. In this manner, complete healing can be achieved, rather than temporarily masking symptoms.
Common AilmentsAlmost everyone will be struck down with a respiratory ailment at some point. Imbalances in the respiratory system can stem from a number of internal and external factors including pollutants, irritants, toxic chemicals, stress, improper diet, poor circulation or a cold, damp environment. Generally, the lungs like warmth and dryness and abhor cold and dampness. Strong circulation helps the lungs maintain this dryness. This is why poor circulation in the elderly makes them susceptible to conditions such as pneumonia.
One of the most common complaints in relation to respiration is congestion. Congestion can occur in the lungs, nose or sinuses and leaves you feeling dull and drained as your body struggles to get enough oxygen. In most cases, mucus is associated with cold, slimy Kapha. However, certain types of mucus and congestion can also indicate that Pitta or Vata are at play. Learn how to recognise and manage each type here.
Tightness and constriction in the respiratory tract can also be caused by all three doshas. They can be the result of an accumulation or blockage of Kapha mucus, inflammation due to excess Pitta, but most commonly, they are a result of Vata which causes constriction, spasms and narrowing of the breathing passages. The dry, rough qualities of Vata can lead to a persistent dry cough, wheezing and tightness in the chest. It is often inter-related with dry bowels, constipation, anxiety and stress.
Inflammation can affect lining of the lungs. The space between the two layers of the lining of the lungs (pleura) can fill with fluid and irritation and pain can worsen with each breath. Inflamed lungs feel hot and rough. Allergies and infection can lead to this aggravation. Ayurvedically, it is due to an excess of hot, sharp and liquid sadhaka pitta in the respiratory system and ranjaka pitta in the liver.
Respiratory TonicsThe lungs need to be nurtured and cared for so they can fulfil their life sustaining role each day. The use of lung tonics in Ayurveda builds strength and nourishes the tissues, particularly after a period of illness or if there is a general weakness in a particular organ or system. To dissolve wet mucus, hot and dry pippali is used. Its sweet post digestive effect means it is effective as a rejuvenative tonic, especially when combined with honey. To nourish a dry respiratory system prone to tightness or wheezing, boiled milk with cardamom balances Vata in both the lungs and the colon. It also works as a bronchodilator, easing the passage of air to the lungs. Licorice tea can be used to reduce all three doshas, but it works particularly well as an anti-inflammatory and is useful in Pitta congestion and infections. You can add a few drops of mahanarayan oil for a greater tonic effect. For daily maintenance and cleansing of the respiratory tract, try a neti pot with a saline solution in the morning and apply nasya oil to the nostrils each evening before bed. Don't forget to practice deep belly breathing daily to strengthen the lungs and flood the body with oxygen.
Find Ayurvedic health tips In these main areas:Nose and Sinuses