Ayurveda offers us potent healing modalities for all kinds of respiratory conditions. Which of these are in your medicine cabinet?
In Ayurveda, there are 16 srotas, or channels of the body, similar to the nadis of the yogic tradition. The srotas are physical and energetic passages that flow throughout the body, enabling nourishment and important bodily functions. The three Ayurvedic doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, move along the srotas.
The Respiratory System in Ayurveda
Out of the 16 srotas, there are three main ones connecting us to the external world. One of them is pranavaha srotas. This is the most important channel, as it carries prana (life force) into the body. This srotas is responsible for respiration, metabolization of oxygen, and maintenance of life. Pranavaha srotas is also closely associated with a sub-variety of Vata dosha located in the head, called prana vayu.
It’s important to note that pranavaha srotas plays a vital role in maintaining the homeostasis of the body. Pranavaha srotas oversees oxygen flow, oxygen and Co2 exchange, agni deepana (the kindling of the digestive fire), maintenance of body temperature, and blood flow. It is also the major route through which pathogens can enter the body.
If you are a visual person like me, this should help: The modern medical equivalent of pranavaha srotas would be the respiratory system, which includes the nose, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, pleura, and alveoli. According to Ayurveda, pranavaha srotas consists of all of those organs, as well as the colon and brain.
What Causes Respiratory Problems in Ayurveda?
Srotas dusti (issues in the pranavaha srotas) are caused by the following conditions, according to Charaka Samhita, one of the foundational Ayurvedic texts:
Depletion of dhatu (tissues)
Suppression of natural urges (ex. urination or defecation)
Intake of overly dry food and an overall lifestyle that creates dryness
Exercising despite being hungry or performing activities that are beyond one’s physical capacity
Signs of srotas dusti include frequent respiration, difficulty breathing, breathlessness, chest pain, obstructed respiration, bluish discoloration (cyanosis), abnormal sounds during breathing, agitated respiration, and painful breathing. Ailments include cough, cold, hiccups, tuberculosis, heart disease, hoarseness, laryngitis, pharyngitis, pneumonia, tonsillitis, and sinusitis.
Ayurvedic Management of Respiratory Disorders
In Western medicine, respiratory disorder treatment might be limited to the respiratory tract, while in Ayurveda, pranavaha srotas vitiation is managed similarly to hrdaya roga (heart diseases), kasa (cough), and svasa (breathing disorders). When GI tract symptoms become forefront and are found to be the cause of respiratory imbalance, then the alimentary tract should also be treated effectively.
We often think mucus indicates high Kapha, but that’s not always true. Mucus can also be a sign of low agni, or digestive fire. That’s why improving the strength of the agni is an important treatment for respiratory disorders in Ayurveda.
According to Ayurveda, the conditions of the pranavaha srotas are classified as easily curable (sadhya), treatable with difficulty (yapya), or fatal. Easily curable conditions of pranavaha srotas include the common cold, hay fever, pharyngitis, and laryngitis, as well as many forms of influenza. Easily curable conditions of pranavaha srotas can often be managed with the use of home remedies and localized topical treatments.
Many acute conditions of pranavaha srotas can be treated completely with Ayurveda but may require the intervention of a skilled practitioner. This is to avoid complications or even the onset of life-threatening situations. One example is tonsillitis.
Ayurvedic Tips to Keep Pranavaha Srotas Healthy
In his book Ayurvedic Healing, Dr. David Frawley tells us that the treatment of respiratory disorders includes not only the right herbs and diet but also yoga postures like Cobra pose, Bow pose, Tadasana, and Upward Dog. These backbends are effective for cleansing and detoxifying the lungs. Pranayama is another way of keeping the pranavaha srotas nourished.
Herbal gargles, oils, nasal decoctions, and smoking blends can all be helpful, as can herbal oils or pastes applied to the head, back, or chest. Frankincense is a wonderful herb for managing pranavaha srotas disorders. It is used to treat respiratory congestion, cough, bronchitis, and asthma. It pacifies Vata dosha, thus lowering anxiety while calming the mind and nurturing the nervous system. The revitalizing and uplifting action of Frankincense also helps clear excess Kapha.
Also, prioritizing healthy ahara (food) and vihara (lifestyle choices) plays a vital part in the healing and strengthening of the pranavaha srotas. According to Ashtanga Hridayam, one of the leading Ayurvedic classical texts, 25% of the efficacy of clinical success in a treatment plan depends on the choice of herbs and formulations.
There are certain herbs—like Vasa, Tulsi, Pippali, ginger, and eucalyptus—and formulations—like Trikatu and Sitopaladi—that are considered “good herbs” for pranavaha srotas disorders. However, Ayurveda is a customized healing science, and each disease comes with its own individual management protocol and is divided into subtypes based on a person’s doshic imbalance. For example, coughing could be caused by a Vata imbalance if it’s dry and hoarse. But if Kapha is involved, it will be a wet cough accompanied by mucus and congestion. Ayurveda offers different treatments for both these conditions.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic coach, contact Sweta here.
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