Oh No! It's Summer

If, like me, you have been a lifelong martyr to the itchy eyes, runny nose and the cataclysmic bouts of sneezing which we deprecatingly describe as ‘just a bit of hayfever’, then the pleasure of the advent of the warm days and long evenings of Summer can be tainted by the return of these irritating symptoms. Hayfever, or allergic rhinitis, to give it its medical name, is an allergic reaction to pollen and spores from plants, trees and grasses and is thought to affect upwards of 20% of the population. (1) Worse still, it’s not only the symptoms that are irritating! The treatments, such as they are, can leave you feeling ‘bunged up’, sluggish or even drowsy, and symptoms generally persist at some level anyway. All in all, it can be a ‘lose-lose’ situation for many hayfever sufferers.

But what if I told you there are steps you can take to really improve your body’s natural capacity to cope with the allergens that cause your symptoms in the first place?  And, better still, these are simple things that everyone can do! Would you give it a go? I have been using these simple Yoga techniques for many years now, and the improvement in my hayfever is such that I can enjoy being out in the country in the Summer without always needing to be armed with sprays and inhalers, tissues and tablets. I’m not saying I don’t still get the odd bout of sneezing, but the days of irritated, itchy eyes, and constant runny nose seem to be behind me! So, here’s what I recommend!

Tip 1. Yoga Exercises for your Eyes

I start every day, and not just in the summer, by rinsing my open eyes in cool water. To do this most effectively fill your mouth with water and hold it in your mouth (this will help you to keep your eyes open, then splash water from the running tap into your open eyes, making sure that you rinse out the eyes thoroughly, then pat dry with a face cloth. Next, exercise the eyes as follows:


  • Blink the eyes about 20 times.

Yoga Exercises for your Eyes

Eye Exercises:

  • Look vertically up and down 5 times
  • horizontally left and right 5 times
  • diagonally up left, down right 5 times
  • diagonally up right, down left 5 times
  • move gaze in a figure of eight

Changing Focus:

  • Hold one finger a few inches away from one eye.
  • Focus the gaze on the finger.
  • Move the finger slowly away from the face.
  • Focus on an object farther away, and then back on the finger.
  • Bring the finger back closer to the eye.
  • Focus on an object farther away. Repeat 3x.

Washing the eyes keeps them clear of pollen, dust and other irritants and makes them feel cool and reduces that hot, itchy feeling that hayfever often brings. You can repeat the washing during the course of the day if necessary. The exercises will help your overall eye health and make you less susceptible to eye strain and tension, which are exacerbated by hayfever symptoms.

Yoga Breathing Exercises for Hayfever

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, typically when it comes into contact with your mouth, nose, eyes and throat. The immune system reacts to these allergens with an inflammatory response, causing the typical symptoms of irritated eyes, sneezing etc. Using a few simple breathing techniques can help keep the mucous membranes clear and healthy, as well as reducing the inflammatory response. I am going to give you three techniques here and I recommend that you read the instructions carefully and watch the accompanying video before starting to practice. It may seem like stating the obvious, but there are two fundamental ways in which we can alter our breathing – we can slow it down, taking fewer breaths per minute, or speed it up, taking many breaths per minute. For more about Yoga Breathing Techniques see my post on The magical health benefits of conscious breathing • Yogaveda Living

Tip 2: Fast yoga breathing practice

The first breathing practice that I recommend has a great name, Kapalabhati, which literally translated, means ‘Skull Shining', because the effect of the practice is to clear your head, both figuratively and literally. This is a fast-breathing technique which has been shown to significantly improve respiratory function, so it is great for our overall health. (2) It cleanses the upper respiratory tract, reducing excess mucous; it increases oxygenation of the brain and promotes an anti-inflammatory response in the body by inducing parasympathetic nervous system activation. (3) These are positive effects for hayfever sufferers, giving both a mechanical cleansing of the airways and sinuses, and a gradual down-regulation of the inflammatory response making one less susceptible to the trigger allergens over time. Of course, these benefits are dependent on the technique being practiced regularly over a long period of time. Practising daily for 3 – 5 mins, first thing in the morning is ideal. It should be done on an empty stomach. NOTE: The technique should not be practiced when you have your period, or if you are pregnant, or have high blood pressure or heart disease.

Tip 2: Kapalabhati Technique. In this practice, breathing in and out through nose, we exhale rapidly and actively, and inhale passively. This is achieved by contracting the lower abdomen while exhaling, generating the active out-breath, then relaxing it completely, facilitating the spontaneous in-flow of passive inhalation. With practice the rate of breathing can be increased till we are taking two breaths per second. This should be developed gradually and without strain or effort.  If you are new to the technique begin with 3 rounds of 10 to 20 strokes, a stroke being one active exhale and 1 passive inhale.Remember the contraindications given above.

  • To start, relax your belly fully and take a very small breath.
  • Blow the air out through your nose as you pump the lower abdomen (make sure this action is below the navel) inwards towards the spine.
  • Relax the belly immediately out, which will result in a spontaneous small inhalation again.
  • Repeating this 10 – 20 times constitutes 1 round.
  • On the last stroke, after the belly relaxes out with the inhalation, continue to breathe normally through the nose for a few breaths. This is one round.
  • Do three rounds

Tip 3: Alternate Nostril Breath

The health benefits of nose-breathing include lowering heart rate and blood pressure and increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, with its concomitant anti-inflammatory and immunity boosting impact. (4) Practiced regularly, the following alternate-nostril breathing technique, called Nadi Shodhana, facilitates this balancing of the nervous system, reducing stress and strengthening our immunity. It balances the flow of air through each nostril and helps to keep the sinuses clear. The technique is as follows:

Tip 3: Nadi Shodhana technique.  When doing this practice, sit upright in a comfortable seated position, either on the floor or on a stool, and keep the face and shoulders relaxed. Breathe calmly and steadily, and try to make the exhalations longer than the inhalations up to a ratio of 2 to 1 if possible, so if you breathe in for 4 seconds, breathe out for 8 and so on, but make sure there is no breathlessness, strain or discomfort.

  • On the right hand, fold the index and middle fingers down to the pad at the base of the thumb. (This makes a nose width space between ring finger and thumb)
  • Exhale through both nostrils. Close right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale Left.
  • Close left nostril with the right ring finger (keep ring and little fingers together). Exhale Right.
  • Inhale right. Close right and open left nostril.
  • Exhale left.
  • Steps 1- 4 constitutes 1 round. Continue for at least 10 rounds.

Tip 4: Buzzing Bee Breath

Named Bhramari, this technique results in a fifteen fold increase in the body's production of nitric oxide (NO). Produced in the paranasal sinuses, NO has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory, hormonal, antiseptic and repair agent for the entire respiratory tract, among many other health benefits: (5) . The practice is simple:

Tip 4: Bhramari Technique: Bhramari involves breathing out through the nose while making a nasal humming that sounds like a bee buzzing. I know it sounds odd, but it has amazing effects! The sound should be gentle and pleasant and should be loud enough and of a pitch that we feel a vibration in the soft-palate at the back of the roof of the mouth, and into the sinus cavities, over bridge of the nose, and even into the eye-sockets.


  • Breathe in deeply through both nostrils.
  • Breathe out making a nasal humming, that is more NNNGGG than MMMM.
  • Feel the vibration around the sinuses and in the soft-palate.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Tip 5: Watch what you eat!

Many studies have been done which seem to show a correlation between certain dietary factors and hayfever susceptibility. (6) In general, a so-called calorie-dense Western diet, high in red meat, low in fresh fruit and vegetables has been associated with inflammation, (7) which hayfever sufferers would do well to avoid. The recommendation is to decrease consumption of processed foods, red meats, dairy, alcohol and caffeine and increase your intake of fresh vegetables, fruit and grains. Ideally these should be organic and locally sourced where possible. But don’t panic, you don’t have to give up everything, just moderate and try to improve the quality and quantity of the good stuff and minimise the things that are less beneficial. Top tip, eat locally produced honey, made from pollens from your immediate environment, which has been reported to help combat seasonal allergies. It is definitely good for you and helps the local economy, as well as the local bee-populations!

So, these are the things I recommend, not just to benefit your seasonal allergies, but to improve your health and quality of life overall. I know it can seem a little daunting to take on a challenge like doing these practices to deal with your hayfever, but the more we take responsibility for our own health, the more rewarding it is and the more empowered we feel. As always, it is a balance of using the techniques and cultivating good lifestyle habits. The key is regular, committed practice to see positive results. Get in touch if you have any queries. Good luck!