Asthma is characterized by attacks of short, gasping breaths accompanied by wheezing. If an attack is not managed, breathing becomes increasingly difficult.
Causes of Asthmatic Conditions
From an Ayurvedic perspective, asthma can be brought on by any of the three doshas. Which dosha is dominant affects the symptoms:
Vata-dominant often involves mental disturbance, and tends to involve dry wheezing, variable symptoms, and quick onset
Pitta-dominant tends to involve inflammation, burning and dryness. Symptoms can be worse around midday and midnight. Onset is rapid.
Kapha-dominant involves congestion, mucus, coughing and running nose. Symptoms are regular and onset is slow.
One common cause of asthmatic conditions is increased kapha dosha in the stomach, which goes on the provoke vata dosha. Kapha dosha creates heavy mucus which moves into the lungs and associated airways. Here it blocks the natural flow of air and creates spasm in the “bronchial tree” which results in asthma and wheezing.
Dosha imbalance and asthma may be brought on by allergies, a cold, congestion, cough, or hay fever. Increased kapha dosha or vata dosha can be initiated by pollen, dust, animal hair, or various foods to which an individual is sensitive.
There is also a known link between asthma and eczema. From an Ayurvedic perspective, both are most associated with rasa dhatu (the serum component of blood); both are affected by mental stress (fear, anger, anxiety, nerves—contracting energies) and the environment (dust, pollen, etc). Both often occur simultaneously.
Ayurvedic treatments for asthma aims to remove and rebalance the aggravated dosha. For example, to bring the excess kapha dosha lodged in the lungs back to the stomach, so it can be eliminated. Acute treatments are also required in asthma attacks.
To Immediately Stop Wheezing
As soon as you feel congestion and tightness coming on, boil 1 teaspoon of licorice root (Yasti madhu) in a cup of water for two minutes to make a licorice tea. Just before drinking the tea, add 5 to 10 drops of Mahanarayan oil or half a teaspoon of plain ghee. Take one sip of tea every 5 to 10 minutes. [*Avoid licorice root if you have high blood pressure; Licorice root can sometimes induce vomiting—this is good and will help alleviate high kapha dosha!]
Or try one quarter cup of onion juice with 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Drink for immediate relief of asthma.
For On-going Prevention
The standard first approach of Ayurveda is to remove toxins (ama), improve the digestive fires (agni), and look at diet and lifestyle. For example, if kapha alone is driving the asthma (congestion, mucus, coughing, running nose, regular symptoms), the diet should be warm, light and dry, and herbs hot and stimulating. If pitta dosha is involved, (inflamed, burning, dry type, worse in mid-day and midnight, rapid onset), the diet should be cooling and moistening, and herbs mild). If vata dosha is aggravated (psychosomatic triggers, dry, lots of wheezing, variable symptoms, quick onset), the diet should be warm, moist and nourishing, and the herbs salty or sour.
As a universal strategy, drink fresh ginger tea over the day instead of too much coffee or tea. This helps to remove toxins and build digestive capacity.
Herbs to Help Reduce Phlegm and Attacks
Mix 1 teaspoon cinnamon and one quarter teaspoon of Trikatu into a cup of boiling water. Let it steep for 10 minutes, and add 1 teaspoon of honey before drinking. You can take this tea twice a day.
Also try one half teaspoon of crushed bay leaf and one quarter teaspoon of Pippali mixed into 1 teaspoon honey. Take 2 to 3 times a day.
Rub a little brown mustard oil onto the chest to give some relief. In dry vata-type asthma, whole-body warming oil massage can also benefit.
Inhale thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Place 1 to 2 drops of thyme oil in hot water, cover the head with a towel and inhale. You can also use Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), Eucalyptus leaves or another pungent fresh herb.
If you suffer from allergies that bring on an attack, use a clean finger to rub a few drops of warm ghee in each nostril. You can do this regularly, especially during problematic seasons to help catch pollens, dust, etc., before they enter the lungs.
Keep an eye on your diet to see what foods might be causing or contributing to the problem. Then avoid them! Especially look out for: dairy products, including cheeses; fermented foods; salty foods; cucumber. Some people have issues with mushrooms, peanuts and other nuts, and yeast. Be aware that a reaction may be immediate (if you are extremely sensitive), or it may take several hours, or more, to develop.
Look also to other possible allergens such as dusty books, moldy walls or basements, and household and personal chemicals (such as body lotions, cleaners, soaps).
Effective yogasanas to help open the chest and relieve asthma are the “Bow” and “Cobra” poses; sitting in “Vajrasana”, and inverted poses including “Shoulder Stand” and “Plow”.
If asthma is long-standing, consider panchakarma, Ayurveda’s intensive cleansing therapy, followed by rejuvenation.