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Lifestyle Issues Affecting Upper Respiratory Health and Excessive Mucus in the Body

About The Author

   Swami Omananda Saraswati has been a practitioner and teacher of yoga for over 25 years. Australian born, he is trained in the tradition system of Integral Yoga as taught by Paramahansa Swami Satyananda Saraswati, of Bihar India. Swami Omananda is the author of four books on yoga and associated subjects. He is a qualified yoga therapist and has helped many people back to good health through the techniques of yoga in combination with commonsense lifestyle modifications. He is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced writers on the yoga practice of Jala Neti (Saline Nasal Irrigation) and this document is to be read as a supplement to his other writings on the topic of Jala Neti. See The Jala Neti Frequently Asked Questions.

Introduction

    As a starting point for some professional suggestions, and as a starting point for your own self-inquiry and personal experimentation, I will outline the ways in which the yoga system in general – and any yoga therapist specifically – would look at and treat the condition of excessive mucus in the body. These concepts tie in with the technique of Jala Neti (Saline Nasal Irrigation, SNI) and go beyond the immediate needs many people have to manage and treat the symptoms of upper respiratory ailments with topical methods such as nasal irrigation, and also explore the root causes of such illnesses.
   There are many causes for the wide range of nasal complaints from which people suffer these days. Some may be due to structural problems such as congenital abnormalities or structural injuries sustained in childhood or adulthood; some may be due to fleshy growths over the long term, such as cartilage, polyps or cysts; some may be due to environmental allergies – be it air pollution, food allergies, allergies to products, etc; some may be due to infections and inflammations from germs; some may be due to lifestyle issues which simply cause excessive mucus secretions within the body. This document mainly seeks to address this last category which I believe is the most common cause of nasal complaints today.
   Relatively very few people have the first category of structural abnormalities. For them, surgery is the only option to repair and reopen the nasal passages. More often are those who have growths and fleshy deformities inside their nose which are causing their discomfort. Although some are aware of this through a doctor’s examination, many may not know it. The ignorant may labour on for years, trying all kinds of over-the-counter preparations and via-the Internet “cures” only to find no relief for their problem, when all it would take is a medical consultation, some minor surgery and a few lifestyle modifications.
   Pathogens (bugs, bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc) entering the body are a fact of life for everybody at some time, and whilst medicines to combat the symptoms of these are available, the best medicine is prevention through a good strong immune system. And prevention is always the yogic approach to illness. Short-term treatment for an invader, and management of symptoms during an event of infection, is no long-term solution, as dependence on medicines always weakens the body’s own mechanisms for self-defence and also causes psychological dependence on some one else or some thing else to fix the problem on behalf of your body’s own healing abilities. If this dictum makes intuitive sense to you, and you are ready to take responsibility for the illnesses you and your body contract, then you are ready for what is known as self-healing and for the concepts and methods of yoga which promote self-healing of the body and mind through lifestyle.
   The same can be said for chronic mucus conditions which seem to have no external causes. Endless blowing, sniffing, drying up the nose with sprays is not actually addressing the problem. It is just suppressing the symptoms. The real solution lies in self-awareness, self-examination, lifestyle modifications – in short, self-healing.

The Self-Healing Concept

   Self-healing is all about thinking – “What can I do to address what is imbalanced in my body and in my way of life?” “How can I change things which may have gotten me into this situation in the first place and to help prevent getting into this situation again?” It is only partly concerned with what may have been the original causes, and only in so far as knowing the causes can actually help in addressing practical solutions. Sometimes analysing causes can be a great big lot of historical puffery, and a great mental distraction from real action which is required in the present. Some causes are unchangeable, non-reversible and must be lived with, but some are self-caused and are eminently changeable. These are the ones you must come to see and address rather than wasting time and effort on the ones you can’t change.
   The first thing any aspiring self-healer must resist is immediately reaching for the medicines which have been stocked up in the bathroom cupboard. The second mindset is to resist running off to the drug store or chemist for ‘something off the shelf’. The third trap to be avoided is to stop thinking – “I am sick, therefore I need a doctor to tell me why I am sick and to help me get better”. Whilst there may be many valuable things in all these three places – for certain illnesses and at certain times – it is not always the case that an outside source is needed to battle the ailment or provide the cure. Initially, in any instance of ill health, a brief moment of self-reflection must be made so as not to react according to past habits, then an adventurous and bold new paradigm must be established to break old patterns of thinking and acting.

The Basic Method

The basic lessons a person must learn if they wish to effectively lessen and self-treat any respiratory illness are:
   1 - To listen to your body. This means to watch, to be sensitive to the changing states of mucus in the nose, throat, and lungs. The second thing one must do is to:
   2 - Interpret the observation. This is not as hard as one might think. You certainly don’t have to be a doctor to see the simple ‘cause and effect’ events which are making your body give you signs about what it does and doesn’t like. But you do have to make the mental effort to take the time to investigate and interpret what is going on. You also have to be honest with yourself and with others. You can’t just jump into blaming outside forces. The next thing you have to do to prevent ill health for yourself, both in the short term and the long term, is:
   3 – Act to change the circumstances. This is the major hurdle for many people. And this is the area where the remedy may take lots of self-discipline to make certain lifestyle changes. No matter what the cause, or what the illness, there is always, always, 100% of the time, lifestyle changes which can lessen the effects of the causes. And at this point in the illness, the main issues then become: Do you want to improve the situation enough to change some things in your lifestyle? Do you value your health enough to put it above other factors such as habitual comfort? Because that is what you’ll have to do to break the chain of cause and effect. No amount of warm salty water up your nose or even prescription nasal spray is going to fix (as examples); your hayfever allergy – if the cause is the pretty flowering tree in your neighbour’s backyard right next to your bedroom window; your recurring winter colds – if the cause is the temperature and germ-pool of the office air-conditioning system; your chronic sinusitis – if the cause is the smoke-filled pool room bar you frequent every Friday night; the perpetually blocked snotty noses of your children – if the cause is Dial-Up Pizza and a Monster Chocolate Thickshake several nights per week. Such hypothetical examples would need to be eliminated from your life before restoration of normal body function can even begin to take place.
   The above three factors can be summed up from the yogic perspective as: Awareness - Thought - Action. As a yoga teacher and yoga therapist of 25 years experience, I have had opportunity to be aware of, think about and prescribe many actions (yoga practices and lifestyle changes) for people with many differing ailments, as well as my own personal experience and training in these areas. So, like many health practitioners, my experience can help give you a head start of knowledge in your quest for the most likely causes and remedies to the sorts of conditions for which most people try nasal cleansing.

The Mucus Linings

   The whole length of the linings of both the respiratory and digestive tracts are covered with mucus: the nose, the frontal and posterior nasal cavities (including the sinuses and eustachian tubes), pharynx, larynx, oesophageus, trachea, lungs, stomach, small and large intestine, colon, rectum. In summary, mucus has the function of protecting the sensitive internal skin cells from by chemical or biological invaders. It’s purpose is to trap baddies before they can get into the blood stream to make us sick. It sacrifices itself to be eliminated (via sneezing, nose running, coughing, or by travel through the gut and then defecation).
   So, whenever you sense the respiratory system snotting up or your nose running, it is telling you that something has got into your breathing system which is annoying it and it wants it out – or else your mucus secretion mechanisms may be randomly malfunctioning and don’t know health from danger anymore. The latter can become the case after years of medicinal dependence where the body “forgets” how to do its job properly. To ignore the initial telltale signs of a mucus increase is to invite the pathogen (that is the baddie the body doesn’t like) to hang around longer, make a home in our system, breed some more and create a health-threatening scenario. It’s that simple. Mucus is your friend and early-warning system. Ignore its messages at your peril.
   The following is a list of lifestyle factors which are known to directly or indirectly cause and exacerbate upper respiratory complaints. I have expanded upon them and discussed practical solutions which can help you along a path to a healthier life, not just a healthier nose!

Food Factors

   Excessively Mucus-Forming Foods. All foods cause mucus to be secreted into the nose, the mouth the throat, the stomach during and soon after a meal. A certain amount of mucus is normal. But a lot is not. Dairy foods are the most well known mucus-forming foods. Milk, cream, yoghurt, icecream, butter, etc are not evil foods per se. It is the quantity of dairy foods that modern people are eating which is causing their bodies to overload in the mucus department. Man has been eating them since time immemorial. Yet only in the last 100 years have they started to give people excess mucus. In days gone by, dairy products were made freshly, every day on the farm, because they would not keep well without refrigeration. Also, they were known to be high-value, high-energy foods. That is, you don’t need much of them to get a big protein and fat hit. But nowadays milk is drunk like water. People go to the fridge and drink half a litre to quench their thirst. Parents feed their children a glass or two whenever they think they might be thirsty. Many children buy two or three flavoured milks a day at the school canteen. Cream is put into so many processed foods to make them “rich”. Cream is heaped all over every piece of cake or confectionery bought at a coffee shop. Ice cream is available everywhere, anywhere, at all times of the year, in 100 flavours. People like four scoops on their cone. Butter is laid on bread as thick as cheese by some people. Cheese is double-layered on pizzas.
   The following extract from the book Yoga, Food and Health should remind us of milk’s inherent power and energy, and also of The Great Milk Myth which is being relentlessly perpetuated by vested interests and which is contributing so greatly to the excessive consumption of dairy foods in our society.
 

Extract from the Book – “Yoga Food & Health”.

   There exists today in the affluent Western societies “The Great Milk Myth” – that humans need to drink a lot of milk to be healthy. Unfortunately, this disproven idea is still being widely disseminated by health professionals and those in the dairy industry with commercial interests to protect. We hear through the media that “youngsters have growing bones and need the calcium, protein and energy that only milk can provide”. We hear that older people get calcium deficiencies because they didn't drink enough milk in their youth or because they stopped drinking milk at a mature age. We hear that low fat, calcium enriched milk is the best for your figure. We hear that top sports people are successful because they have milk on their breakfast cereals. Blah, blah, blah.
   But all this modern milk drinking makes no commonsense, and ample evidence exists to show that humans do not, in fact, need copious amounts of cow's milk from birth to death to live healthy lives. Undoubtedly, certain nutrients in dairy products are very valuable to a balanced diet, but if we assess large samples of healthy people of all ages in cultures other than our own, (which do not have the space to graze an unlimited number of cows), we find that they can satisfactorily get the necessary animal nutrients from more compact and efficient sources such as cheese, ghee, butter and yoghurt, rather than from daily litres of pasteurised, homogenised, full cream, or even low cream, plain or flavoured milk. Like all rich, high-energy foods, in small quantities they do no harm, but in excess they will overload the digestive system.
   It was once pointed out to me by a farmer who kept many different milking animals, that the size of the molecule in cow's milk is many times larger than that of the human milk molecule, but that the size of the goat’s and sheep's milk molecule was nearly identical to that of human milk. All mammals only feed on their mother’s milk until such time as they can freely eat solids. Goats and sheep naturally wean themselves by the time they are the size of the average human child but a milk-feeding calf will not be weaned until it is over human adolescent size. There is a great discrepancy here in body size, milk potency, and length of childhood milk drinking. The old farmer pointed out that cow's milk is made to promote a calf’s growth at a rate of 1.2 kilograms per day, from a 30 kilogram newborn to a 200 kilogram calf in just four months! These simple facts indicate that the milk produced by a mother cow is a far richer in nutrients and growth hormones than humans would ever need for their young. But many people nowadays drink a litre or more of cow's milk per day and, as a result, often end up looking rather bovine! The growing number of children and adults with milk allergies, lactose intolerance, high cholesterol, obesity, inability to process fats in their digestive system, poor skin, and many other food complications, clearly suggests that the popular, modern, high-dairy diet is drastically wrong.
   This great milk con may well take a long time to die down, due to our cultural and psychological conditioning which teaches that beyond weaning from mother's milk, we should still be drinking some quantity of milk everyday. In olden times when people went out to work in the fields and exhausted far more protein and fat in their working lives; when our ancestors came from far colder climates where a higher body fat content was needed for protection from the elements; perhaps, a greater dairy consumption was necessary. But these days, with so many people leading more sedentary lives than our forebears, the need for a large quantity of dairy fats in the diet is far, far less (even though the need for a minimum amount of animal protein remains constant).
   Even the way humans feed their domestic pets regular supplies of milk, is a projection of our own preferences for sweet and fatty substances. Do they really need cow's milk? But they are cats and dogs. If they didn't have a house to live in and a bowl of milk to drink from, would they would go off in search of milk from a cow, even beyond their weaned age? No. They are just sopping up one of the nicest things in the world because we give it to them. And possibly, like some adults who may have been weaned prematurely or not even breastfed at all, they hold within them a deep and unresolved craving for mother's milk.


   Body Chilling Foods.
Most things eaten directly from the fridge are basically bad for the digestive system and create mucus in the body. When the body feels coldness, be it on the outside or on the inside, its mucus linings secrete mucus for protection from the cold (ie to insulate the blood from cooling). When any cold food consumed reaches the stomach, the first thing that must happen is that it must be heated up to equal the internal body temperature before it can be properly processed buy the gut. The digestive enzymes, acids and other substances secreted into the body’s “furnace” are intended to work at body temperature. But until the food has reached this temperature is will just sit there, inactive. Have you experienced that heavy gut feeling when you know something you ate is just a lump in your stomach for a few hours? Commonly called indigestion, there can be several reasons for this.
   (i) The food is too cold for the stomach, so therefore the body must summon heat from elsewhere before it can begin to work on digestion. When digestions starts, either the abdomen will have sufficient heat there to commence its job or else heat (that is chemical energy) has to be drawn from the extremities of the body through the bloodstream. This is why many people experience cold extremities straight after a meal or at other times. Ands this is why we are advised not to go swimming too soon after a meal. As the blood is drawn to the digestive system, cramps can be caused in the muscles of the limbs, especially in cold water. Their stomach and the rest of their digestive system is consuming so much of their body heat because the food they eat is demanding extra power to digest it because it was fed in cold
   (ii) The food is too raw and needs lots more “cooking” to be properly broken down before digestion can start. Food which is not properly cooked can be a common cause of indigestion and excessive mucus in the system. If not cooked properly by the power of gas or electricity, it can take an incredible amount of the body’s energy to finish cooking it. Cooking is the first step in breaking down food into its different components. Cooking is helping the body to digest. Undercooking the food is overloading the body. The heat and the additives (salt, spices, herbs, condiments) are part of what the body needs to carry out its stages of digestion. A simple motto to remember is – “Cook the food in the pot, not in the stomach”.
   (iii) That the required chemicals needed for digestion are not being secreted, in other words, a lazy gut or a gut chronically overloaded with mucus. This is deeper physiological problem and one which requires getting the whole body chemistry back on track through a total dietary transformation, a major exercise/yoga program and other lifestyle modifications too numerous to deal with here.
   So the lifestyle issues concerning eating cold foods can be summarised as:
   Don’t eat cold foods directly from the fridge, unless it is a very hot day and your intention is to cool the body down. Even so, suck or drink them slowly so as to cool the throat (thyroid gland area) but don’t gulp them down in large lumps so as to end up with chilled substances in the stomach. Summer salads are OK, as these are usually light, easy to digest and tend to cool the body anyway due to their high water content.
   Always cook food properly in the pot, especially foods which are hard to digest, which are high in proteins and fats.
   Do something like yoga or regular physical exercise to keep a good strong heat (lifeforce) in the abdomen, particularly just before meals.
   Use the temperature of your extremities to judge how the heat is being used around the body to aid or inhibit fast, efficient digestion.
   Watch out for signs of nasal mucus after eating. This will tell you how your body is coping with those foods, as well as coping with the temperature at which you are eating them.
 

Unnatural Environments

   Artificial Air Temperature. First up, note that I differentiate between naturally cold environments and artificially cold environments. There is a distinct difference in body reaction and body health between the two.
   The body senses temperature changes in the environment through two mechanisms: the air temperature as it reaches the nose, and the temperature of the skin on exposed parts of the body. When these two sensors – plus the activity that the body is doing – all match in a natural kind of way, there is no problem. When an environmental temperature change from warm to cold has come about through weather, and the body has had forewarning of this, there is not a problem. But unnaturally cold changes (such as walking from a hot day outside in to a cold air-conditioned building) and extended periods of time in unnaturally cold places (like an office building with no fresh air or breeze) tend to make the body produce more mucus because it “knows” the air you are breathing doesn’t match with the outside (real) world.
   For example, when the weather turns cold, whether it is winter time or just for one afternoon in autumn, the whole atmosphere in the area where you live has been building up to this over time. Your body has detected that the cold change has been on the way, and your body temperature has had time to adjust accordingly and usually people instinctively adjust their clothing and go indoors as this happens. How does your body know that the weather is getting colder? By the air coming in through your nose, through a combined air temperature drop, a drop in air pressure (like a barometer), and by the electromagnetic ions on the breeze. But only if you are a nose breather and only if the sensitive passages and sinuses in your nose are acting as per normal, as designed.
   But if you are a chronic mouth breather or your nose has malfunctions in structure or growths or excessive mucus, how would your brain know what is coming in on the air? The air flowing through your mouth does not tell your brain about air temperature, air pressure or ionic composition. It is the job of the olfactory nerves and nasal sinuses to send these messages to the brain.
   There is no question that the body was designed to breath through the nose. All the major receptors for environmental information are in your nose NOT the mouth. If you mouth breathe, the first thing the body knows about the air temperature is when it hits the back of your throat, your thyroid gland area. But if it is just cold at your mouth, the brain thinks – “Ah, I have just EATEN something cold”. When the air in your nose comes in cold, the body thinks – “Ah, the weather is cold or the room I just walked into is cold”. How can it think anything else, because the air coming in through your nose, always is designed to be body temperature by the time it reaches your throat. But without nose breathing this cannot happen. So the body gets confused. Cold air, air not warmed by the nasal passages, then goes down into your lungs, and what happens – the windpipe and the lungs produce mucus for protection from the cold. They know the nose is not working, not heating the air. So, to protect against a lower internal body temperature the lungs contract, cool down, get watery, phlegmy and the foundations for all manner of lung conditions set in. Mouth breathing is a major human health disaster.
   And what is the major cause of mouth breathing? Excessive nasal mucus, which comes from allergies to things smelled or eaten or inhaled; sometimes by structural defects; sometimes by sudden or artificial temperature changes. So the more the nose is blocked, the more mucus is produced, which leads to more mouth breathing and then more mucus. It’s a Catch-22.

   Sudden and Alternating Temperature. Air-conditioning is a great “tricker” of the body and of the brain because, on a hot day outside, your body is doing its thing to keep you cool as best it can, then, all of a sudden, into the supermarket you go and the temperature drops and the body thinks – “What the hell!?!?” It then goes into cold-protection-mode (that is mucus-producing-mode) and at the same time into sudden body-heating-mode. As a result the nose and respiratory linings clog up, the skin surface tries to warm up because you left home in just a T-shirt on a hot day, but now you are in a cold place with short sleeves and short pants. After a while of shopping, things have stabilised a bit for the body. It understands and adapts. But then you go outside again to the carpark …... “What the hell?!?!” The body then has to go into sudden cooling mode. The respiratory system mucus starts to dry out and body temperature tries to go down by sweating and cooling the skin surface even more than if you have been standing outside in the sun all that time! Then, you get in the car, turn the air conditioning on ……. “What the hell?!?!” Then you get home, get out of the air-conditioned car …… into the non-air-conditioned carport …… then into the air-conditioned house …… you get the point.
   Now blind Freddy can see this is not a good thing for the body’s own, self-regulating temperature mechanisms. It will create a massive amount of mucus-up and mucus-down adjustments far quicker than the body should normally do. It will also make you dependent on a constant air-conditioned life because you “Don’t like the heat” and “Don’t like all that going in and out of the heat”. So, all summer, many people opt to live mainly inside a false temperature womb such as an air-conditioned home and/or office, and/or car. But, deep down, some part of the brain knows that it is actually summer (from the length of the days), but it can’t quite figure out why it is always a stable 15 deg C (60 deg F) all day in the house, office and car!
   Then of course the reverse is true in winter. There are naturally shorter, colder, darker days outside and yet it’s constantly warm to the body’s skin and nose breath! How can a body’s mucus producing membranes function well from the nose to the lungs, from the mouth to the anus, with all that temperature deception going on. It is no wonder so many people have chronic mucus and sinusitis conditions. False and fluctuating environmental temperature is just the start. The body was not designed for such trickery and it will not behave well because of it.

   Overly-Warm Rooms. Many people today live in houses and spend a large proportion of their day in workplaces which are over-heated. When winter comes, or a cold day dawns, the windows are closed and the heaters go on. Yet few people bother to put on a an extra jumper to save the heating bill or wonder why they feel so cold in the body with just a few degrees drop in outside temperature. As discussed in the sections on Low Body Temperature, Underactive Digestive System, Movement and Exercise, Unnatural Environments, all these factors are interconnected such that it is often hard to tell which ones are causes and which ones are symptoms of any other. So for the person who often states “I really feel the cold”, a whole raft of personal health issues need to be addressed.
   Specifically, overly-warm rooms dry out mucus in the nose and lungs which prohibits the body cleansing in the ways that it needs to. You will notice on a very cold day how, when you first go outside, the nose will run. That is in fact a good thing. That particular runny nose is not a sign of infection (like sinusitis or allergies or hayfever). It is the body trying to rid itself of the dried-up, stuffed-up mucus in the nose from being in a warm, dry room and then experiencing a sudden change in temperature. It is a normal function of environmental adjustment from one extreme to another.
   Overly-warm rooms in winter are often just the other side of the lifestyle habit many people have of overly-cold rooms in summer. This habitual dependence on bodily comfort of a lovely warm winter and a lovely cool summer through air-conditioning shows an imbalance of one’s own body temperature regulating mechanisms and will gradually lead to a malfunction of the mucus regulating systems in the body.
   But instead of artificially warming a room with gas or electricity or wood or oil heaters, why not increase the heat from inside your body by increasing the available life force, or prana as we a call it in yoga. The best way to increase vital lifeforce that I can recommend is to take up regular yoga exercise and breathing practices. In this way you will be able to repair a broken body thermostat and learn how to switch on body heating (and cooling) when you need it. That way you are working with the body’s mucus system rather than against it, not to mention all the other health benefits which will spread from that too, like better digestion, a clearer head, lack of colds. And of course smaller heating bills!

   Stuffy Environments. Everyone know that feeling of complete freshness you get standing on a hilltop over looking the sea with the wind in your nostrils. That is the ultimate healthy air, the ultimate life enhancing place to breathe! The nostrils flare out to enjoy it more, the mucus dries out of the nose, the lungs get that sensation of life-fullness, the brain wakes up and gets that tingly high. You feel A-L-I-V-E. That’s a similar quality of fresh air the whole planet had before man chopped down so many trees, made so many industrial chimney stacks, paved so many roads, lit so many forest fires, turned the rivers and oceans into sewers, and closed all the windows and doors to keep out the pollution of the cities. Fresh air is the air that the body was designed to breathe, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anything else is a health compromise. And the nose gives the first signs of annoyance to that situation.
   Humans breathe on average 16 times per minute. The average breath is about 1.5 litres (1/3 gallon). That’s 1500 litres (340 gallons) of stale air you are filling a room with each hour you are in there. Add in other people, machinery outputs (like a computer fan) etc and pretty soon the air is stagnant. As the air deteriorates, the body increases its mucus production all through the respiratory system – the very opposite of the ocean breeze experience and you soon notice you have snotted-up. Snotting-up is the telltale sign that the body has had enough of that place – “Time to go elsewhere and freshen-me-up” it is saying. But who does? Most people will eventually get around to opening a window, but often not until their brain starts to say “I’m tired, I’m yawning, I’m dizzy, I’m not functioning well”. And that is due to a definite lack of oxygen in the room. But that is quite some time after the nose has made its case for a fresh batch of air.

Direct and Passive Smoking

   This particular factor which creates mucus in the body should hardly need any explanation or critique at all in this day and age. There can hardly be a person on the planet who doesn’t know that smoking is bad for one’s health.
   Any air or gas or smoke which goes in the nose which is not pure clean air is bad for the body to some extent. And to indicate this and protect against such inhaled pollutants, it is the mucus linings and the sinuses which “run” to try to cleanse such invaders before they can get to the lungs.
   As well, all the research which has been done in this area has shown that even passive smoking (breathing in other people’s cigarette end-smoke and their exhaled smoke) is bad for nearby breathers. In a smoky environment, such as a club or bar, there is enough smoke in the room to quantify a passive smoker as consuming about 25% of the same smoke that the active smoker does. So, someone consuming passive smoke is a smoker too.
   The inhalation of a smoker is always through the mouth, and is most often out through the mouth which means the nose will be completely inactive for the time of the smoking. Yet the nose will detect the smell and passive smoke in the room and will try to block those pollutants by secreting increased mucus. This increased mucus will only serve to make the smoker a permanent mouth breather. If a person is not inhaling through the nose, the mouth and the throat and lungs collect all the pollutants directly, as they have not passed through the body’s initial filters in the nasal passages. So, in polluted environments, mouth breathing will become, over time, a killer. In the event of a smoker exhaling through the nose, the nasal passages then become an exhaust filter from the bottom up, providing an extra trapping of the exhaled smoked particles in the throat and nasal passages.
   For passive smokers who endue other people’s smoking around the home, the workplace or in recreational areas, you will notice how quickly your own nose blocks up at the first sign of smoke. If you choose to live or work around smokers, saline nasal cleansing can only help so much to improve or maintain your health. For the passive smoker the choice is quite simple. Either you value your own breathing health (nose and lungs) above suffering such smoke, or you don’t. Smoking is such a powerful force against health and life energy that the passive smoker needs to make a major lifestyle decision and remove themselves from such places – permanently.
   Anyone who has heard the bad news about direct or passive smoking and yet still continues to do so has, to my mind, no excuse to make for their own poor health and no serious interest in improving their health until they have completely given up cigarettes and/or frequenting places where cigarettes are smoked. See Also Jala Neti and Smoking.

Air Pollutants

   Air pollutants of all kinds irritate the nasal linings such that they make the linings and the sinuses secrete excessive mucus. As mentioned previously, mucus is the body’s internal membrane protection system and a mechanism for trying to expelling any invader or pollutant which enters through the nose or mouth.
   So what defines pollutant? In the purest sense an air pollutant could be described as something which annoys your senses enough to cause the body to react in any of the following ways: coughing, sneezing, getting a headache, feeling dizzy, feeling nauseous, eyes watering, tongue fuzzing up, mouth salivating to the point of needing to spit, throat to get sore, nose to run, nose to clog up, needing to instinctively leave a place.
   These are just the early warning systems, superficial bodily reactions which, if ignored or left unattended, can only deepen in severity causing long-term imbalance or malfunction of the internal organs in the body. Of course, where the person is a nose breather, the early signs will be more subtle, less severe, and only affect the frontal nasal system (as designed and desired by nature). But where the person is a mouth breather, the signs and symptoms of polluted air entering the body will be far stronger and will affect deeper into the respiratory more quickly (not as designed or desired by nature).
   Most people pay attention to some of these early signs and yet ignore others, particularly the signs of excessive mucus. But long-term, chronic mucus problems should not be ignored. If you live or work where you suspect air pollution to be a possible cause of your nasal complaints, then it is time to assess your location as a factor in your health. If a doctor advised you that the cold wet air of the mountains was worsening your asthma, would you not move your life to somewhere warmer and drier? If your nose is giving you advice that the polluted city air is (for example) wrecking your sinuses, causing chronic headaches, keeping you awake at nights, making you dependent on nasal medications and sleeping pills, why not move to somewhere cleaner? It is only a matter of symptom severity and sensitivity to your body’s messages which differs between different people. The principle remains the same. Your body is giving you messages; are you listening; are you prepared to act upon those messages?
   In the name of experimentation, spend a week out of the city in the clean fresh country air. Maybe you’ve already tried that experiment. Did you sinusitis improve that week? If so, then why live with the problem? Move to a better environment. This is just one example of our bodies telling us that our modern life is too unnatural for our bodies. Sure, some people a can live in the cities and survive the pollution without a problem. But others, maybe like you, are more sensitive to the air and should not be living there. Yes, these are big decisions, to move your whole life somewhere else more clean. But such health and lifestyle options will always there to for consideration to be re-prioritised, and if you ignore the body’s own messages, you will, in the end, only suffer worse.
   The only compromise is to use a method like Jala Neti to regularly (ie. 1 - 2 times a day) cleanse the pollution out of your nasal system. Whilst this may satisfactorily address the symptoms for a while, it will never really address the root cause, such that over time you may find that the symptoms of air pollution still gradually build up in other parts of the body, eventually causing organic breakdown at a deeper level.

Surrounding Pathogens

   Pathogens are micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, worms or fungi which cause illness in the body. They may just be free-floating in the surrounding air, passed on to you by proximity to other people who are carrying them, or come in via water or food. It may seem an obvious thing to suggest, to keep away from sick people, and most people do move back away from the hospital bed or the coughing, sneezing, ill person. But it is the half-sick people who are far more likely to be the spreaders of pathogens around society these days. One often needs to be eternally vigilant for half-sick people, or even quarter-sick people. This how they would classify themselves, but, in my book, they are all sick and will not in fact be healthy until their body has returned to its so-called normal healthy state.
   “When is one ill?” is an interesting concept. Many people do not realise that in the early stages of incubation they are carriers of germs. They may be passing on disease even before they get noticeable symptoms. It is not just the acute phase of illness which is contagious. The beginning and the end is often just as strong.
   How often do you hear the phrase – “I was sick last week but I’m pretty well over it now” –from people with blocked up noses, runny eyes, and half sick bodies who may still be coughing and breathing their germs all over the place, even though they are out of bed and back at work. They think that because they are better, they are of no danger to others. But this is not the case. Even those are sick and who force themselves to work, think that “keeping away from others and coughing into a handkerchief” is some kind of protection for others, but it isn’t. Sick people should be left a very wide berth (they should actually be at home and in bed). Even breathing the air of half-sick people is asking for troubles and the utensils they use should be washed as thoroughly as those which are used by fully sick.
   Hospitals, air-conditioned offices and child-care centres are known to be the greatest germ pools in society, even more so than the family home. When family member get sick, either one at a time or all together, the illness usually passes around in a fairly short time, as they all share a common environment and genes. But it is the diseases caught outside the home, those from public sources, which tend to knock people about worst.
   So how can one detect whether a person they are talking with might be in the early, middle or latter stages of an infectious illness? Apart from the obvious signs of one who is very sick and who knows it, the earliest tell tale signs of disease may be detected by the mucus of another person and of oneself. In other words if they sound a bit blocked up or are nasal sniffing runny sinuses then their body may already be starting to fight off a pathogen. If, after meeting them, your own body starts to go into mucus excretion in the nose (either thick to thin), then that may be a sign that you have caught their germs. In the latter stages of an illness, I make it a rule to treat all people who have been sick in the previous 10 – 14 days to be a health liability, and therefore to be kept at a distance. Although it need not necessarily take 10 – 14 days to get over a common cold or the flu, I notice that most people these days carry the lingering effects for at least that long because they do not treat their illness properly during the main phase, because they scrimp on “time off” and because they then get back into their normal lives again in a half-sick state for many more weeks before the body finally ends the invasion. Apart from being a poor way to restore one’s own health, it is also a great way to spread ill-health to others.
   So the yogic approach when one first senses disease arriving is: To hit it early and hit it hard, with extra relaxation, reducing social interaction, semi-fasting and relevant cleansing techniques. If this fails to halt the onset, then fully “going down” with all of the above plus full fasting and full bed-rest is prescribed. Do not just try to soldier on in the worst phase. That will drive the illness deeper and make the recovery far, far longer. After the main phase has passed, allow another 2 - 7 days for partial return to duties, carefully “coming out” of the relaxation, fasting, isolation stage until full health has returned. Don’t just jump back into normal life once you think the bug has left. That will not help heal the body for the longer term and may just cause a relapse and worse, spread the tail- end of your illness to others.

Under-Active Digestive System

   An underactive digestive system is a disorder which starts and finishes within the person themself. There is no outside cause for this, although many lifestyle factors exacerbate it and can prevent a long-term solution from taking root. Of course, nasal mucus is not usually thought of as connected with the digestive mucus which lines the stomach and the intestines, but it is. People who are heavy mucus producers in the nose are often heavy mucus producers in the GIT (gastro-intestinal tract), and vice versa. Therefore, addressing weaknesses in the digestive system can be highly beneficial for those suffering excessive upper respiratory mucus.
   And underactive digestive system is intimately connected with a Low Body Temperature. “Heat in” and “heat out” are the forces which ultimately determine the efficiency of food processing in the stomach. An under-functioning digestive system is basically a function of low energy in the whole abdominal region. This includes the organs of the stomach, the liver, the gall bladder, the pancreas, the spleen, small intestine, large intestine and colon. As all these organs are so closely connected, it is nearly impossible (even for a medical diagnosis) to say which area is more a cause or a symptom that any other. So in yoga therapy, to improve digestive function, we deal with them all in an integrated way: always with yoga postures and exercises; always with yoga breathing; always with dietary management; always with lifestyle management; often with yoga relaxation and meditation. This often addresses more than one abdominal problem and helps to clear up nasal mucus as well.
   Without prescribing a whole yoga course for health of the whole digestive system in this article, (for that, see The 8 Week Integral Yoga Beginners Course), the basic lifestyle issues which can help bring the GIT into better function are:
      Eating high-quality foods (preferably organic)
      Not eating low-grade foods (pre-packaged, high preservatives)
      Not eating cold foods straight from the fridge
      Not eating late at night
      Eating the main meal at lunch
      Eating a good breakfast
      Not snacking between meals
      Eating a balanced broad-based vegetarian diet
      Plenty of activity, exercise in each day
      Avoiding sitting too long in chairs or lounges
      Slow deep strong abdominal breathing (through the nose)
    Balanced intake of liquids – limited alcohol, soft drinks, heavy drinks like milk; plenty of water each day.

Low Body Temperature

   Low body temperature is not commonly acknowledged as an imbalance or illness, however, many people attest to the discomfort of permanently “cold extremities”. Some describe their condition as “poor circulation”, which is somewhat closer to the truth of the cause.
   It is not the case that low body temperature directly causes excessive mucus, although it is a factor in making the body protect itself more and therefore secrete more mucus. It is more the case that excessive mucus (for whatever causal reason) cannot be dried up, burned up, and therefore eliminated in a “cold body”.
   In Eastern healing modalities like yoga therapy, cold bodies are often referred to as “wet, or yin, or lunar” because there is not sufficient heat, or yang, or solar force in them. It is not so much that the internal body temperate is cold (a body thermometer would read much the same as anyone else). It is actually a case of the body (via the blood) not being able to heat those body parts and warm the nerves, therefore they “feel cold” and “feel the cold”. It is that any heat elsewhere cannot get to where you want to feel it. But there is also the issue of quantity of heat.
   Many people do not generate enough body heat. What, where is the heat generator in the body? It is around the abdominal region at the solar plexus, around the navel centre and the digestive system. We get our inner heat from two sources only – food, and fat. The heat from hot food entering the body is absorbed and distributed to where it is needed. It can also be stored in the muscles and is also transformed into fat if the muscles don’t use it. Ergo, predominantly underactive people are predominantly fat people. Also, in a well-functioning body, food breaks down into chemicals and this gives off heat, to be used or stored. But eating also requires heat to do its job, so a balance of heat and hot food in is important. Equally, a balance of heat and energy output is important. And for those who know how, it is possible to turn your fat back into heat when needed. Body fat is not just an insulator against the cold. It is also a portable heat source. Yoga has many ways to train the body to be able to turn fat back into heat – on demand. Then, no more cold extremities!
   The primary causes of cold extremities are: an underactive digestive system, that is not being able to draw from food its full chemical and body heating nutrients (see Underactive Digestive System); slow circulation due to lack of exercise (see Movement and Exercise); a predominantly blocked right nostril causing a predominantly left or lunar energy flow (see Poor Breathing); low solar energy around the abdomen (from not diaphragm breathing, underactive adrenal glands, tight clothes, tense stomach); a blocked nose (hence mouth breathing sends cool air to the lungs which cools the blood, and increases mucus, etc); a dependence on heaters to keep you warm (see Poor Breathing).
   All these conditions can be remedied through yoga methods of one sort or another and by different lifestyle adaptations. Eat foods high in prana (or lifeforce) rather than pre-cooked, low grade foods; eat food which has been slow cooked in an oven or over heat like gas or wood; strengthen the spine to relax the abdominal breathing; cleanse and/or repair the nose to get back to nose breathing; do strong aerobic exercises everyday just before eating to “fire up” the stomach; keep away from too many heat sources which only make your body dependent on outside heat rather than inner heat.

Poor Breathing

   There is no worse habit for human health than mouth breathing. The nose, with all its sensitive nerves and complex workings, was made for breathing. The mouth is primarily meant for eating, and only as an emergency breathing hole in a case of a blocked nose or, in case of maximum capacity panting, during exertion.
   It causes all manner of secondary illnesses. A person should do all they can to get back to a condition of natural nose breathing – both in and out the nose. I know, some schools of health education teach that you should breathe in the nose and out the mouth but, according to yoga, this is not correct. Just as inhaling through the mouth lets the brain know what is in the air which is coming from the environment, exhaling through the mouth does not let the brain know what is in the air returning from your lungs. This is an equally important aspect of breathing physiology.
   When it comes to the lungs, there are two kinds of breathing for the body. One is chest breathing (also called thoracic breathing) the other is abdominal breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing). Both these mechanisms are there for different purposes.
   Diaphragmatic breathing is the breath of relaxation. It is (normally) assumed when lying down, sleeping, or resting. Babies are natural abdominal breathers. Watch them sleep. Their tummy rises and falls so evenly. But, as many people grow up, they resort to habitual chest breathing even at times of relaxation. The abdominal breath is centred around the navel area, the solar plexus, the “hara”, the seat of our power and dynamic body energy. It is only natural that this diaphragmatic breathing should be our primary form of breath and our primary centre of heat and energy.
   Thoracic breathing is the breath of vitality. It is for times of strong exertion; work, exercise, or running away from danger. And yet many people breathe all the time in the chest. This is a very cooling breath. It is used by the body to dump heat quickly from the lungs rather than to store heat in the belly – as abdominal breathing does. Chest breathing is a health depleting habit for many people. Asthmatics (for example) are chronic chest breathers. Their lung condition is wet, mucusy. Their breathing is shallow, sporadic, uncontrolled, uneven. When taught abdominal breathing, many of these symptoms lessen.
   Excessive mucus in the body is always associated with poor breathing. Chest breathing when not necessary; shallow breathing instead of deep; fast breathing instead of slow; uneven breathing instead of even. All these can be retrained through yoga breathing exercises (called pranayama) and then the excessive mucus secretions from cold and wet lungs, blocked up noses, and runny sinuses will soon clear up.

Movement and Exercise

   Stagnant muscles create stagnant blood, which creates stagnant lungs, which means an excess of mucus blocking the airways. The lungs and breathing passages normally produce small amounts of mucus all day, and each exhalation is supposed to expel from the body any excess moisture in the lungs. If the body is underactive, the lungs will be cold; they will be contracted; they will be over-lined with mucus and will not have sufficient force to dry themselves out with each breath. Heavy, deep breathing, as is usually done with exercise, dries out the lings, effectively changing the stale mucus lining for fresh. This also helps to clear out germs which may have lodged there in the mucus lining. Everybody has heard in the media that regular daily exercise is good for health in many ways. One of the most important ways, relevant to our discussion here, is to help take out excessive mucus from the respiratory system. Physical exercise also helps to heat the body which protects against excessive mucus secretion in the first place.

Restrictive Clothing

   How can tight clothing affect the body’s mucus activity I hear you say? Very simply. At the skin surface, tight clothes (and shoes) restrict blood flow in the capillaries, thereby causing cold limbs and cold extremities. Also, tight clothing and shoes restrict full and free movement to the joints of the hips, the shoulders and the ankles thereby restricting the major circulation vessels, again, causing coldness in the limbs and extremities. This in turn makes the body secrete more mucus in the false belief that it is in a cold environment. It assumes this knowledge from the nerves’ feedback in those extremities. And, if you are breathing through the mouth, the air coming in will not be warmed to body temperature by the time it gets to the lungs and a second message is interpreted that you are in a cold place.
   Specifically, tight underpants tourniquet the circulation to the legs, not to mention the testes in men. Tight bras in women restrict the flow of blood to the chest, the heart and the lungs. Tight waist belts restrict the digestive system – like tying a knot in the garden hose – food can’t flow through the intestines and therefore blocks up and stagnates the energy and heat in that part of the system. Tight shoes or boots restrict circulation to the toes and ankles. Tight jackets restrict arm and shoulder movement and therefore circulation of heat and energy in the arms.
   Loose clothing allows a natural airflow around the skin, so that the body can detect the real temperature of the environment and the body’s extremities instead of the “wrapped-up temperature” of, say, denim and polyester. Loose clothing allows freer body movement in everyday life, better allowing you to move into positions such as cross-legged sitting, squatting, bending forwards and backwards, stretching up and twisting.

Excessive Use Of Hot Water Bathing

   Unlike many people, I believe that hot water is one of life’s luxuries rather than one of its essential needs. In olden times, when wood was the predominant fuel and it had to be cut, split stacked and burden to make hot water for bathing, a weekly bath was used to properly cleanse the body and luxuriate in its warmth. Of course it took a lot of physical energy to make fuel, and that every activity used to keep people warm from the exertion. But nowadays, with a flick of the switch and turn of the tap, we have instant and unlimited hot water for any purpose we like. Many people believe they need 3 - 15 minutes of hot water and soap running over their skin once or twice a day to keep it clean. Hardly! Some people just use a hot shower each morning to warm themselves up, to get their body going for each day. Some people have a daily bath or spa each evening just for the pleasure of it. But all these uses are far beyond what the body needs. In fact, excessive use of hot water bathing weakens the boy’s temperature regulation, and weaken ones tolerance of normal cold water bathing as human have done for millennia.
   An interesting phenomenon is that during a hot shower or bath, the predominant flow of air in the nostrils will go onto left nostril, that means the body has gone into “I want to cool down mode”. The left nostril is the switch for the para-sympathetic nervous system. It is the relaxing side of the autonomic nervous system. So you stand in the hot shower for 15 minutes, or lie in the hot bath for 30 minutes on left nostril and then go to get out into the bathroom which might have the big heater lamps on the roof to warm it up for when you get out. You wrap yourself in a big soft fluffy towel, dress in warm clothing again and then go out into the house again. Do you ever notice that for quite some time you will feel cold after that sequence even after soaking and sucking up all that hot water heat? And if you check your nostrils you will find you are still stuck on the left side flowing more freely. Your body is stuck in cool down mode from all that excessive heat.
   To prevent this, and to better look after the body’s temperature (and therefore mucus regulating systems) finish off your hot shower or bath with 30 - 60 seconds of hard fast cold water only. Whilst the cold water is flowing, make sure you rub it vigorously over every part of your body, and particularly splash some on your anus. This is important to help force the nose to switch sides, as the buttocks often protect the anus from cold sensations. Don’t worry you will not get cold. Your skin will just feel cold for a few moments. When you get out you will notice that the skin will tingle and you will feel glowing warm inside and at the skin. Believe me. Also notice that your nostrils will flush out really well during the cold rinse if you blow them well and, when you get out, they will feel fully open and alive. As you dry yourself, give the skin a good fast hard rub with the towel which will bring the heat out to the surface (instead of just standing there all wrapped up, thinking you should be shivering and running to the lounge room heater).
   This cold water ritual is not suggested as some yogic-austerity-self torture method, but as away to immediately switch your nostrils back on to the right nostril flow, which will then switch the body onto sympathetic nervous system and make the body heat itself up again. It also helps to close off the skin cells from taking in cold after your hot bath or shower, (which is how some people catch a chill after bathing). This will also have the advantage of keeping the heat you absorbed from the hot water inside the body rather than the body giving it off for a while after your shower or bath.
   The long-term outcome of using this cold rinse as the antidote to a hot water soak will be that your body (and your emotions) will not become habitually addicted to purely the comfort aspects of bathing. In addition, on occasions when you do not have a lot of working dirt or sweaty body oils to wash off, have a lukewarm shower, or even a cold one, partly to exercise a little self-discipline and also to re-educate your skin and body temperature mechanisms a more moderate state. This sort of routine will certainly help in cleansing out excessive mucus in the body.

Medication Side Effects

   All patients and doctors will attest to the fact that most pharmaceutical drugs produce side effects in the body. As nearly all modern drugs are derived from unnatural substances, the first thing the body does in reaction to such drugs entering the system is to secrete mucus as a reaction against their presence. In the case of ear, nose and throat aliments, mostly the intention of the drugs is to fight infection and inflammation. In many cases the patient has predisposed issues with excessive mucus. And yet, the irony is that to lessen the mucus by fighting an infection, the body’s reaction against the drugs is to increase mucus production (albeit temporarily while they fight the infection), thus worsening the situation for some time.
   Also, it may not only be drugs for upper respiratory conditions which are causing excessive nasal mucus. It may well be other drugs being taken concurrently for other ailments. Many unwell people are on a cocktail of drugs. The individual side effects, plus the accumulated side effects of several drugs can produce an overwhelming amount of reactionary side effects, the most prevalent of which is mucus production in many areas of the internal mucus linings.
   Over time, habitual use of pharmaceutical drugs causes chronic mucus conditions. Breaking this cycle is very hard. It is not advisable to simple “stop taking” medically-prescribed drugs and try “alternative” methods instead. The best approach is to use natural and naturopathic remedies (such as Jala Neti together with the lifestyle modifications recommended in this document) alongside any medically-prescribed drugs until the symptoms lessen and acute infections pass. At which time, after consultation with your doctor, the drugs may be gradually cut back, thereby giving the body a better chance to break the mucus cycle and return to more normal levels.

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