When Air Pollution hurts

I just finished doing 2 back to back talks on understanding the healing that nature offers. We spoke about how the 5 elements that exist in nature: space, air, fire, water and earth, manifest in our bodies. And learned how to correct discomfort in the body by balancing these elements.

Most participants agreed that a low exposure to the sun, wind, mud, and other aspects of nature were causing us to be cut off from from it. Hence the solution lay in increasing exposure and not staying constantly indoors, with windows closed.

But what do we do when nature herself becomes sick, like the air pollution that those of us living in Delhi/NCR are finding ourselves engulfed with, as we approach November?

Air pollution

The second in the series of natural elements air or vaayu is seen in nature literally as the wind. Inside our bodies, we experience this through the various gastric movements and sounds: burping, sneezing, hiccups and farting along  with breathing of course. The organ of our body that experiences it the most is the skin (no, not the lung surprisingly) and we sense it as touch.

Its nature is movement, which is why stagnant, stale air can be so harmful, leading to diseases such as tuberculosis. Good cross ventilation, air baths for the skin (exposing naked skin or wearing porous clothing), breathing in fresh air (early mornings, mountain air), are all ways to balance this element.

But all of these only work when the air itself is clean. Air bathing, breathing exercises and even cross ventilation in polluted air can harm more than heal.

Air can get polluted in many ways: stagnation and foul smells are some, but I find the pollution that arises out of crop burning, industrial fumes, and vehicle emissions the worst. And when this polluted air gets combined with the seasonal changes that our bodies are already adjusting to (Oct/Nov months in North India), we find ourselves bogged down with allergies and breathing difficulties. The most common symptoms: early morning or late evening sneezing; irritable and dripping nose and an itchy skin, hives or rashes.

Strengthening the body against allergens

Locking ourselves indoors, doors and windows shut, air purifiers on is not a solution that I subscribe to simply because it is not something that everyone can do: both physically and economically. A better and simpler alternative is to strengthen and cleanse our bodies in such a way that the polluted air does not cause damage. These simple daily habits during ‘pollution season’ can go a long way in helping the body cope with the onslaught of ‘aggressors’ or ‘allergens’.

1.       Jal neti 

Most Indian homes know about the jal neti and have practised it at some point. You can watch the step by step demo here and read detailed instructions here. Do it daily while the air outside is polluted. The best way of making it a habit is to club it with morning teeth brushing.

2.       Oil the nostrils

Two drops in each nostril of almond oil or ghee, the last thing before going to bed goes a long way in keeping us allergy free. If you have never done this, it can take a bit of getting used to. The oil can run into the throat, irritate the ears, cause sneezing, all good signs and nothing to worry about. The only thing is to make sure you are using clean ghee and oil. So, cold pressed almond oil minus any preservatives is the best and so is organic ghee.

3.     Oil the skin

Remember your skin breathes as much, if not more than your lungs. Hence polluted air troubles the skin as much as it troubles the breathing apparatus. Bouts of itching, hives, acute dryness are all signs that the skin is getting affected. In not-so-polluted times the suggestion is: oil the skin first, then take a bath and then rub yourself dry with a slightly rough towel, allowing for the skin pores to open and breath. However in polluted times, especially when winter is almost here: bathe first, rub yourself dry with a rough towel and apply some oil. Mustard, sesame, flaxseed, ghee are all possible options if you are doing this in colder climate; coconut if doing this in warmer climate. Just make sure the oils are free of any preservatives and added chemicals.

4. Eat Tulsi/holy basil

Tulis or holy bail has a specific effect on chemical and environmental pollutants. Best if you can chew on 7-8 leaves early morning, empty stomach. If the throat is very itchy during high air pollution days then have this with some honey. Next best way is to boil lots of leaves in water and either drink as herbal or regular tea.

5. Keep your GUT Clean

If you have an itchy or runny nose, then ensuring your gut is clean will go a long way in helping you get rid of the allergies. I will write about the nose-gut connection in a subsequent post, for now know that they are inter-connected.

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