Breathe: Ayurvedic Tips for Healthy Lungs
The respiratory system is an intricate and delicate network of channels that carry prana (the vital life-force) and oxygen. The lungs are the organs that receive the prana and oxygen that we breathe in through our nose and mouth.
In Ayurveda, the lungs and the stomach are important sites of kapha dosha, the force in the body which is governed by the elements of water and earth. Most disorders of the respiratory system are a result of imbalanced kapha dosha. Mucus or phlegm is produced in the stomach and accumulates in the lungs. It can then be distributed to other sites in the respiratory tract manifesting as imbalances. Although accumulation of mucus does not inherently mean that a respiratory imbalance will develop, it is indicative of low agni, or digestive fire. Low agni is among the common causes of respiratory imbalances and very often, the treatment protocol involves enkindling the digestive fire so that digestion can operate more optimally.
Although there can be an imbalance of the other doshas, vata and pitta, resulting in more asthmatic (vata) and infectious (pitta) conditions, people with excess kapha and kapha-predominate constitutions are generally more susceptible to imbalances involving excess mucus.
Ayurveda offers ways to bring an increased dosha back into balance through diet, lifestyle, and herbal supplements.
Follow a kapha-reducing diet.
Banyan's Lung Formula blends pippali, licorice, cane sugar and other herbs to nourish and support healthy respiration and lung function. Take 1–2 tablets, once or twice daily, or as directed by your health practitioner. In the case of low digestive fire, an appetite stimulant and digestive aid such as Trikatu can be taken.
The key lifestyle tip to balancing kapha and maintaining good lung health is exercise. Kapha dosha can be very stubborn, dense, and sticky. Warming the body through exercise helps to liquefy this substance, bringing it back to the digestive tract in order to be eliminated. When exercising, the breathing rate increases to meet the body's demand for more oxygen. This helps to expand lung capacity, keeping them functioning optimally.
Meditation reduces stress, calms the mind and is an effective practice to help dissolve negative emotions that can be detrimental to your health. The calming and relaxating effect of meditation can help to regulate breathing patterns, improving lung function.
Regular practice of yoga improves posture and keeps the body's channels open and free flowing. Linking breath and movement is an optimal way to invite space and increase vitality within the body's tissues and organs. Asana or postures that move the rib cage and stretch the intercostal muscles help to keep lungs healthy. By bringing more flexibility into the ribs, back, and shoulders, the lungs can expand more fully.
To also keep kapha dosha in check, practice yoga asanas more vigorously. Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) or any continuously linked yoga practice including many standing postures can help to raise the heart rate and improve lung function.
Yogic breathwork or pranayama is an excellent way to revitalize prana within the body. Pranayama is a practice in controlling the breath. Pranayama cleanses and strengthens the physical body while calming and clearing the mind. It is important to practice with the proper posture to allow the breath to move freely in the body.
Pranayama may be the ultimate tool to help support healthy lung function. It conditions the diaphragm while helping to more fully oxygenate the blood. Try alternate nostril breathing to balance the breath and support the lungs. Position the right hand (you may choose to alternate with each practice) in vishnu mudra by folding the index finger and third finger inwards to lightly touch at the base of the thumb. Your pinkie finger rests by the side of the ring finger. You will alternately use your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring and pinkie fingers, working as one, to close your left. Rest your left hand comfortably in your lap. The breath should never feel forced. Envision the breath as a light thread of silk, lengthening effortlessly with each inhalation and exhalation.
This is one round. Begin a slow and regular practice of 5–10 rounds. Rest after your practice and notice how you are feeling.
Once comfortable with this practice, you can begin mentally counting to four on your inhalation, pause at the space between the breath and then count to four as you exhale so that the length of your inhalation and exhalation are equal.
“Hope is nature's way of enabling us to survive so that we can discover nature itself.”
The information provided in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, but only to apprise the reader of basic Ayurvedic lifestyle information. The advice of a qualified health professional is recommended before making changes in diet or exercise routines.