Hey friends! It’s been a hot minute since I wrote a yoga blog post – I got some real info here for ya!
Spring has sprung in Minneapolis, and tis the season for allllll those yummy yummy allergy symptoms. Mmmmmmm, puffy eyes and sniffly noses. Or if you’re anything like I used to be – sick with a massive congestion and chest cold that won’t go away fully untill June.
Being that my yoga community and friends here in Minneapolis have only known me for about a year and a half, most of you probably see me as this incredibly healthy person. Which is true. But its because I used to be a chronically unhealthy person.
Now granted – I AM NOT A DOCTOR. (Though my sister is, and I brag about her all the time, and love geeking out with her on body stuff and health-related topics.) I’m’a pass on my decade of reading and practice with this shiz: I started suffering from pretty bad chronic allergies in 2005 while I was living in Texas, and had to be put on three daily prescriptions, weekly shots, and was seeing a voice therapist to help my inflamed and swollen vocal chords so that I could continue to work as a singer. Because I was amazed at the cost of drugs, allergy testing, and specialist visits, and horrified at the idea of being chained to this routine and trapped in an unhealthy body, I basically became an allergy information vacuum consuming every opinion and remedy I could find on chronic allergies. Over the years I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve seen MD’s, allergists, DO’s, physical therapists, massage therapists, and even saved a bunch of green one spring and used an acupuncturist weekly for two months because I was sooooo dreading being sick and miserable for an entire month. I’ve read up on diet studies and how they affect our bodies’ immune system (which is where immunodeficiencies AKA allergies originate in the body), I’ve tried all kinds of cleanses, diets, and remedies, and I’ve gone to about a thousand yoga classes.
And so, as a person on a quest to bring the happiness of health to all my peeps, scroll down to read what I’ve learned over ten years. Its difficult to appreciate your health until you don’t have it, but man does it suck when you don’t. I figured I would share with you what I’ve tried and used in the event that what has worked wonders for me might work for you. Because of my lifestyle and diet changes, I’ve been self-managed with my allergies since the summer of 2010. I no longer get sick and bedridden for two weeks every May, I no longer take allergy shots or medications, and I no longer feel like my health is out of control. Are my symptoms gone entirely? Nope, but they’re a hell of a lot better.
Everyone is different. Everyone. And your life factors DO affect your health, particularly – as the studies are catching on to – your stress level. Do you like your job? Are in a supportive relationship(s)? Do you get the outlets you need in life, be they emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual? These things affect your stress level, and your stress level affects your immunity, and your immunity is directly tied to allergies. So take note – these are remedies, not cures. And I do all of these things because yes, I was that miserable and it was better and easier to make these changes than to insist on keeping my old habits and be sick all the time. Life is a series of choices, you must find your own “happy life cocktail.”
Foods I avoid during allergy season (because they contribute to either inflammation or congestion, or both):
Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. There are so many studies being done on how addictive and dangerous sugar is, so this is a HAAAAARD one to give up – especially because its in almost everything pre-packaged, so get ready to become that annoying person reading all the labels in the grocery store. Just do it. Think about it: sick… read labels… sick… read labels… your call. PS – Honey and maple syrup are nice alternatives that don’t affect your body the same way – when used in moderation. And truly, once you’ve managed to kick the sugar habit, you won’t crave it. It starts to taste kind of chemical after you’ve gotten it out of your diet for a couple of months.
Gluten. Gluten means wheat, barley, and rye. I actually figured out this was a problem for me in 2008, had a hard slow letting go of New York City baked goods for three years, (oh, the baked goods that can be bought on every street corner of New York City… be still, my gut), and cut gluten out of my diet entirely in 2011. The change was incredible for my own health. Eating gluten for me is almost a guarantee that I will get a congestion cold, and an absolute guarantee that my energy level goes in the tank. That does not mean this is the diet for everyone. What I read and found out was that seasonal allergies are often exacerbated by other latent food sensitivities. (Other common culprits are soy and corn. Neither of those was a problem for me.) The kicker?: with the the way that digestion works, you have to be willing to cut out a food for a minimum of six weeks (usually) to start to really notice a difference, as our intestines and digestive systems hang on to nutrients for quite some time. (Sometimes years, which is gross to think about, but a bit enlightening as well… eeesh.) As was recommended to me, cut foods out one at a time for six weeks. Take note of how you feel. Try a small amount of that food after six weeks and see what you feel then.
Now, yes, you can go buying expensive gluten-free bakery items to try to maintain your current diet… but I’ve always thought if you’re going to change your diet, be willing to really change and maybe try new things that are just naturally gluten free: like rice, and quinoa, and vegetables, and meats, and legumes… Thankfully Indian, Thai, and Latin food have all kinds of naturally gluten free dishes. And I love me some Indian, Thai, and Latin food. Mmmm, mm. I haven’t ventured much into the paleo land (no grains whatsoever), but I know lots of friends with similar symptoms who’ve had great success with a paleo diet.
Dairy. Pasteurized dairy contributes to mucous production, and if your body is already over-producing mucous from your allergies, then this is a good thing to cut out of your diet. This one I cheat on with cheese and butter because I usually don’t eat large quantities of butter (more than a tablespoon or two), nor do I eat it very often. I’ve largely switched any use of butter in cooking and baking with oil alternatives, so now I just eat butter when I want to taste it ON something. And cheese… well, everybody has a secret mistress (or mis-TER-ess as I would prefer to say), and mine is cheese. Same thing, I don’t go downing a giant thing of mac-and-cheese during allergy season, but I’ll have a slice on my burger. Also, did you know about Coconut Bliss ice cream? Its amazing. You seriously will not miss regular ice cream. Some non-dairy-ites have also had no problems with raw and unpasteurized dairy. This is tricky to find, as the sale of it has very specific legal specifications, but the few times I’ve gotten my hands on it, I notice that it doesn’t seem to make me all mucous-y. And now that I’ve talked about my mucous how many times in this post, I will surely never have a date again. ;p
Alcohol. Yep, its a toughie. Especially if you’re like me and the warm weather outside just makes you want to sit on patios and drink in the sunshine and a tall cocktail after a long Minnesota winter. But, you know, maybe find a friend to join you in sober nights-out? Or pick one night a week to reward yourself. I dunno, we all have to figure it out.
Foods I INCREASE during allergy season (because they are great at supporting immune health, and countering inflammation):
Tart cherries and apples. There have been some studies on the effect of tart cherries and tart cherry juice on inflammation of the joints. I happen to love tart cherries, and I feel that when I eat them, I do notice my inflammation and sinuses respond. Apples same thing. If you’re buying the juice, beware the added sugar. PS – If you are CostCo shoppers, they sell an unsweetened cherry mix in the frozen fruit section that’s like $10, and you can turn your frozen cherries into sorbet with a blender, some maple syrup, and either water or your pick of non-dairy milk. Mmmmmm sinus sorbet!
Turmeric. Sooooo, my sister – the awesome one who is a doctor – told me about taking turmeric supplements for inflammation. It’s a bright orange root with light brown skin that is often used as a powdered seasoning in lots of Indian and Ayurvedic dishes. You can buy the root in raw form at the grocery store and add it to dishes (it’s a bit more expensive this way, but also more potent), or get the powdered variety. You can buy turmeric supplements at a vitamin store, but if you’re cheap like me, I go to the local ethnic food store and buy a bag of turmeric for about $3, and then buy pill capsules from the vitamin store and make my own capsules for wayyyyyy less than $20 a bottle. I take 3 capsules in the morning and 3 at night during high stress times or peak allergy times.
Miso, Kombucha, and Pro-Biotics. The jury is out about weather probiotics are actually helpful, as supposedly we all need different amounts and kinds of bacteria to balance out our gut, but we do know that good bacteria are good for us, when you can find the right balance.
These are foods that make me feel better when I’m starting to feel sick. And I go with what feels good most of the time, as opposed to what a doctor in Boston found out about a bunch of patients that have nothing to do with me. I know, I’m such a hippie. I add miso to just about any hot food that I can for the health benefit – you don’t need much, a teaspoon or so. Vegetables, soup of any kind, use as a mayo substitute. The trick is to NOT cook it, as you’ll cook and kill all the beneficial bacteria – add it to your hot foods just before you eat. Kombucha: Don’t know what it is? It tastes a bit like fruity beer. Yes, its expensive if you think of it like buying a soda. No, its not expensive if you think of it like buying a beer. And, again, well, CHOICES PEOPLE. Pro – Biotics: I would ask someone in the supplement isle. I’ve found a brand that I notice seems to affect my energy level, so I use those. Trial and error might be your best bet, or ask a dietician.
Cider Vinegar. Mix it with salt, pepper, and water, and either drink a few sips if you can stomach it – OR, cut up some cucumber and let them brine for 20 minutes and then eat them. THIS STUFF IS AMAZING AT CLEARING OUT STUFFY SINUSES! Seriously, I don’t even care what the medical research or reasoning is on this one, cider vinegar is a nectar of the gods, if you ask me. And I’ve converted a few people along the way who say the same thing. This is seriously something you should try on a day when you are miserable with allergies.
Other things that help my allergies:
Shower before bed. This is one of those things that’s so simple and logical. I was MAD when after years of suffering from allergies, my sister said to me, “hey are you showering before bed? Cause you should be.” Why had none of the allergists I’d spent thousands of dollars on ever said this to me? Ay, ay, ay, I digress. Here’s the thing: we walk around all day and our hair and clothes and skin pick up small allergens in the air. Then you go and shove your face in a pillow with all these allergens clinging to your body while you’re supposed to be sleeping and recovering and recuperating from the day, and instead you’re breathing in the very thing you’re allergic to all night long. And then you wake up feeling puffy, and stuffy, and un-rested. Duh. Shower at night. It’s so easy. And makes SUCH a difference.
Yoga. Or Stretch. Same Dif. The reason yoga helps SO MUCH with allergies is that you literally get the lymph flowing through your blood when you stretch out or do yoga. Lymph fluid gets stuck in inflamed nodes when we’re ill, and getting the lymph moving can help get rid of the symptoms of allergies. Even if you’re sick at home, or low on energy, just lie on the floor for a few minutes while you watch a movie and stretch out your legs, arms, chest, and neck. Take deep breaths while you stretch. 10 minutes can make a world of difference. Come to a yoga class, and you’ll wonder why you ever spent any money on decongestants at all. A word of warning: depending on who you are, and how regularly you exercise, this can also make you feel temporarily worse, as the lymph loosens the allergens and pushes them through your system all at once. Usually the effect is short-lived (a day or so), but just be prepared that you might feel worse before you feel better. Drink lots of water, stretch slowly, be your own keeper.
Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse. Ok, if you are really committed, and want to go the extra mile, here is the cleanse that I do every spring. It’s a little intense to stick to, as you have to eat a strict diet for 8 days, take some supplements, and take time to do things like take baths and rub yourself down with oil. But man oh man, every spring that I have done this cleanse, I barely notice my allergies. It has been passed around in my yoga community for several years, and all my yogi friends who’ve done it, swear by it. Also, depending on how hard core you are or aren’t, you can take the gentle approach and skip the supplements, oil rubs, and enema at the end. Just do the diet and you’ll still get some real benefit:
- combine rice and mung dahl in a bowl and rinse well, drain.
- add water and bring rice and dahl mixture to a boil. reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
- in a separate pan, heat the ghee (careful not to burn it)
- saute all spices, except the turmeric, in heated ghee (30 seconds..until aromatic)
- add spices, including the turmeric, to rice and dahl mixture and stir well
- add salt
- garnish with fresh corrinder leaves.
THAT’S ALL MY ALLERGY MAGIC, FRIENDS!