Yoga vs. Ach..choo

In a room full of people if one sneezes, there are smiling faces all
around and many have a pleasant “Bless You” to say. If there is second
sneeze, maybe one or two in the room will say “bless you” in a more
shrill voice. A third sneeze will bring frowns and a quick glance at
the exit door, indicating either they would like to go out of the room
or would want the multiple sneezer to vacate the room.

And quadruple sneeze bout is said to be one of the documented causes
of fatal road accidents!

The air we breathe day in and day out when it reaches the chest should
be lungs-friendly. It should be warm at about body temperature even
when we walk in freezing cold. It should be moist even if the humidity
is very low outside. It should also be bereft of much atmospheric
pollutants like dust and particulate matter. It should be reasonably
free of harmful bacteria and viruses. So the respiratory tract should
not only add warmth and moisture to the inhaled air, but also prevent
the harmful substances and pathogens from reaching the lungs. And then
the Yogis of yesteryears insisted that the respiratory tract or the
nadis ida and pingala should be kept clean (nadI suddhi). Nadis are
tubular structures–blood vessels in the body are referred to as
nadis, so also nerves; they could also be air passages.

So how does the respiratory tract deliver the conditioned air to the
lungs and equally important how is the health of the tract itself
maintained and renewed continually? The nostrils with those thick
short hairs (vibrissae) help to trap dust and some other offending
substances within the nostrils. Then the air enters the nose and goes
through the much narrower naso-pharynx. The mucosa lining this tract
is supplied by nerves from the para sympathetic. It is said that the
nose secretes a viscous liquid continuously, but alternately. The left
part of the nose gets secretion for about 2 to 2 ½ hrs and then the
secretion switches to other side. The wet secretions help the nose
trap dust particles and some offending organisms like virus/bacteria,
etc. The cells of the respiratory epithelium have what are called
cilia which move the particulate matter towards the pharynx, which
passes into the esophagus and mostly this, the mucous with the
offending trapped material goes to the throat . When they reach the
throat, the tract changes and we involuntarily and periodically
swallow it to be neutralized by the powerful stomach acids. Sometimes
when the upper respiratory tract is congested due to infection etc.,
the cilia do not function well and sometimes we snort the secretions
and bring it to the throat, when it is normally coughed and spit out
After the two hour cycle there is the dry spell when one part of the
nose dries and periodically we blow out the scabs.

There are three yoga procedures that are designed to keep the
nasopharyngeal or the upper respiratory tract in good functional
health. Use of the now popular neti pot helps to reduce the
congestion and wash down trapped debris so that the passage of air to
and from the lungs will be smooth. Clean warm water with a pinch of
salt helps to reduce naso-pharyngeal congestion and breathe freely.
This procedure may be followed for a short period of time until the
other more involved exercises, Kapalabhati and Nadishodhana
procedures, start giving more lasting benefits.

The Nadisodhana pranayama, as the name indicates, cleanses the nadis
and here we are concerned with the upper respiratory tract. According
to Yoga Yagnyavalkya, the two nadis ida and pingala, emanating from
the Kandasthana in the pelvic region, extend up to the tip of the left
and right nostrils respectively. When we breathe in, the hollow of the
nostrils first fill up letting the vibrissae and moisture trap some
pollutants. Then when the inhalation starts, the air goes through the
much narrower nasal passage at a significantly higher velocity. This
effect is enhanced in Nadishodhana. In this pranayama we use the
Mrigi Mudra. In it one closes the right nostril with the thumb and
uses the little and ring fingers to partially close the nasal passage
on the left side, just below the ethamoid bone, giving more control
over the process of inhalation. The powerful flow of air over the
mucus membrane of the entire air passage when one sucks in or snorts
during inhalation phase of the nadisodhana pranayama helps to trap
much of the offending unfriendly pollutants and then evacuate into the
throat.

Further the area just beyond the ethanoid bone is considered very
sensitive (asthmagenic) and when allergens impinge on the membrane of
this area, histamines are produced which send signals to the sneeze
center (sneezing center) in the brain (medulla). (Believe me I did
not make up the ‘sneeze center‘. It exists just as other centers such
as the cough center, respiratory center etc). Sternutation or sneezing
is a semi-autonomous convulsive expulsion of air from the lungs

The Kapalabhati is a procedure that has multiple benefits (For more
information on Kapalabhati, please refer to pages 190 to 194 in my
book “Yoga for Three Stages of Life“). It also helps to clear upper
respiratory passages and remove congestion. Equally important is the
possible beneficial effects it has on sneezing, the sneeze center.
Come to think of it, Kapalabhati as one can see, simulates or closely
resembles the activity of ‘sneezing‘. So when one does Kapalabhati, a
few times at a time, and repeats it a few times a day, the procedure
presumably sends signals to the sneeze center and calms down the
overactive center of those who suffer from hay fever and those who
overreact to allergens and pollutants. In these people the sneeze
center is ‘on the edge’ so to speak. And they display a nervous
response to allergens, stress, etc. that is abnormal, usually
resulting in nasal congestion and multiple bouts of sneezing. This
Kapalabhati procedure if diligently practiced for a while should help
bring about considerable control over excessive sneezing. It is said
by medical doctors that some of the methods useful in the control of
sneezing would include deep exhalation of the air held in the lungs
and this is facilitated by both kapalabhati and deep exhalation in
nadishodhana pranayama. Holding the breath after a deep inhalation for
a count of 10 is another commonly known suggestion. It is actually
achieved while we hold the breath in antahkumbhaka after a deep
nadisodhana inhalation. Additionally, when we hold the breath the
sinuses are also filled with fresh air and are cleansed in the
process. Applying pressure to the nose is another commonly popular
remedy suggested with respect to sneezing. In fact that is exactly
what is done when one holds the breath in antahkumbhaka of
Nadisodhana. The nostrils are closed just below the ethanoid bones of
the nose by the thumb on the right side and the last two fingers on
the left side, using Mrigi Mudra. Hence these yogic procedures:
Kapalabhati followed by Nadisodhana breathing with the appropriate
occasional use of Neti could ensure the reduction and subsequent
prevention of recurrent cold, hay fever/ allergic rhinitis, and other
upper respiratory problems. One will not over-sneeze.

Yoga vs. Ach..choo

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced with his kind permission.

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