Budding trees and flowering plants herald runny noses and itchy, watery eyes for people prone to seasonal allergies. "Allergies involve an overvigilant immune system that's gone awry," says family physician Richard Usatine, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and co-author of Yoga Rx. Usatine notes that stress can weaken the immune system and exacerbate allergy symptoms.
Certain practices can strengthen the immune system and may be particularly helpful for people with allergies, says Larry Payne, a Los Angeles yoga therapist and co-author, with Usatine, of Yoga Rx. These exercises include Kapalabhati Pranayama, a series of short, rapid exhalations through the nose, also known as Skull Shining Breath for its potential to cleanse the nasal cavities. "But if you're having acute symptoms and your nasal passages are swollen and irritated," he cautions, "you may want to skip Kapalabhati in favor of a stress-reducing breathing practice like long exhalations." To do this, inhale for a count of three, then exhale for a count of four—gradually working your way up to inhaling for four and exhaling for a count of six.
Payne recommends the following sequence, designed to help open the chest and enhance breathing, for people suffering from allergies. After the sequence, finish with at least five minutes in Savasana.
1. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)Stand with your arms at your sides, legs straight, and left leg forward. Inhale as you bend your left knee and raise your arms overhead into Warrior I. Exhale as you return to the beginning position. Continue three to four times, synchronizing movement with the breath, then hold Warrior I for 6 to 8 breaths. From here, flow into the next pose, then repeat with right leg forward.
2. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)From Warrior I, fold down over the bent front leg and straighten it as much as comfortably possible. Stay here for 6 to 8 breaths. Repeat with the other leg forward, again after Warrior I.
3. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), variationStand with legs wide apart, feet parallel. Rest the left hand behind the back on the sacrum, palm facing away from your body. On an inhalation, raise your right arm, then exhale and lean to the left. Repeat for 3 to 4 breaths, inhaling as you raise your arm overhead and stand straight, then exhaling and bending to the left. Hold the sidebend for 6 to 8 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
4. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)Stand with legs wide apart and feet parallel, and clasp your hands behind your back. Inhale and lengthen the spine, then exhale and hinge forward from the hips, softening the knees if necessary, and release the head toward the earth. Stay here for several breaths, then release the hands and allow the arms to hang forward, or hold the elbows, for 6 to 8 breaths.
5. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) Lie on your back with knees bent and arms by your sides. Inhale as you lift your hips up, then exhale as you roll the spine back down. Continue three to four times, moving with the breath, then hold in the "up" position for 6 to 8 breaths.