Yoga 1 – Sinusitis 0

Every morning for the past few months, I’d wake up with -apart from the roadkill face and rat’s nest hair- a blocked nose. The blockage would take the next few hours to clear out and I’d be able to breathe fully through my nostrils again only by lunchtime.

My sinus started unceremoniously. Like an unwelcome distant relative with no sense of personal space, it just appeared one morning and refused to leave -no matter what I did to make it go away. Never been one to have any sort of difficulty breathing or excess phlegm issues, it was debilitating. Too often, my day would be ruined even before it really began.

When I started my course at Tirisula Yoga, it was the same ol’ respiratory routine and by the end of the first week, all my lovely coursemates knew me more by my trusty box of tissues than my name. Yes, a box. A pack of tissues can only last me for about half-an-hour tops and that’s not so disco for me and my leaky yet stopped-up nose. It was even more frustrating because I couldn’t do any of the morning pranayama exercises properly without doing a large part of my inhales and exhales through my mouth. Truly annoying, very dismaying and doing yoga with a pile of crusty tissues by your mat is just plain gross. At the worst moments of my plight of packed phlegm, as everyone easily did their rounds of anuloma viloma and all I was doing was whistling through my nostrils, I would look at Master Paalu and give a silent (or sometimes loud) cry for help.

He, in turn, will look back at me and say confidently, “It will go away soon. Trust me. Just keep doing what you can do.”

Adoi! Really? When?!

Fast forward two weeks, his words came true: my sinus troubles disappeared. It wasn’t even a gradual thing. I didn’t even noticed my sinusitis mornings were not happening anymore. They just…….stopped.

What exactly made it go away, after many bouts of nasal sprays, tablet decongestants and breathing strips have failed and only turned me into a pharmacy store junkie?

I say, it is my daily Ashtanga practice. 

Ashtanga Primary Series

Countless studies have proven any physical movement when you’re under the weather is going to encourage the lymph to move along and do its job, so one can feel healthy again. Though a non-yogi might hardly think yoga is the way to go for much movement, Ashtanga Yoga is actually a great option as it is actually one of the most dynamic forms of yoga commonly practiced. Additionally, Gregor Maehle, author of Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy stated in his book, Ashtanga makes the body “free of disease, making it light and strong so that it can be a suitable vehicle on the path to freedom.”

Sounds (and feels) about right.

For sinusitis specifically, inversions are excellent as it improves the flow of fluid in the sinuses and can flush mucus from the lungs. According to a review published in a 2008 issue of the International Journal of Yoga, Authors Sarika Arora and Jayashree Bhattacharjee, biochemists in New Delhi, India, a pose like Downward Facing Dog is already considered an inversion and the practitioner can start to benefit from that asana without even getting into a full-on sirsasana or headstand. We do more than a few inversions in Ashtanga Primary Series alone. Just counting the number of Downward Dogs I do in one session is enough to get me quite heady. Factor in the actual Sirsasana done during the finishing sequence and the other varying forms of inversions like the Prasarita Padmottanasana and the Salamba Sarvangasana throughout the series alone, it is not unfounded for me to credit Ashtanga for helping me get rid of my morning snots and sniffles.

Having said that, I feel I should also give props to the humble jala neti pot.

When Master Paalu gave the pots out that morning, my first thought was;

“You want me to put that where and do what?!”

Jala Neti Pot

The looks on everyone else’s faces were just as incredulous but after we learned how to do it and then we actually did it, I learned never to be afraid of using metal pots to clean my insides ever again.

The pots were used for nasal irrigation, which Wikipedia defines as a “personal hygiene practice in which the nasal cavity is washed to flush out excess mucus and debris from the nose and sinuses.” In the yogic system, it is one of the body cleansing techniques to clear the passageways in the head and will bring benefits such as profound physiological improvements on the body, mind and personality.

Jala Neti

Sterilized and lukewarm isotonic salt water is poured into one nostril, so that it leaves through the other. The procedure is then repeated on the other side, and the nose is dried by bending forward and by rapid breathing. According to Melissa Pynnonen, MD, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Michigan, nasal irrigation helps to “thin out the mucus and improve the coordination of the cilia (hair-like structures in the nasal passages) to help them more effectively remove bacteria and other irritants from the sinus passages.”

Needless to say, whatever Ashtanga was doing for my sinus, the neti pot came along and boosted the effect -much like Super Mario getting a power-up from a Star AND a Super Mushroom all in one level.

I think if I were to break it all down, one blog post is not enough for me to deliver my Winning-An-Oscar thank you speech about what I am grateful in the healing of my sinusitis. All I need to reaffirm is that, yoga did it for me again. I did not start with Ashtanga Yoga back then, just Hatha, Vinyasa and when I need to really sweat it out, Bikram. however, when I started doing yoga back in early 2013, I did not know I have unwittingly embarked on a journey that would constantly keep me going and improving as I go along. Back then, it was simply a means to get me out of the lowest point of my life because I heard it had great physical benefits so one can live better. Having courted death and survived, I needed to live better. Now, a year on, it’s even helped me to breathe better.

By and by, the more I do it, the more I realize how my yoga practice is always there to help me get things done and done the way that’s best for me. From simple daily decisions I make about food and fun to addressing my health to finally realizing I can let go of a grudge I’ve held against an old friend for too long. It’s liberating -in more ways than one.

By and by, I get keener than ever to continue on these paths to self-discovery. Even when sometimes it hurts to get there. Or the journey’s hard. Or it gets me breathless. Wherever I get to and whatever I get out of it all eventually, I will always be learning and I will surely be enlightened. This is an education that will never stop.

Knowing just that is enough for me and now, I can breathe easy.

-Raihan Ruslan
200hr Yoga TTC


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