Charmaine Yabsley talks to top holistic health experts about how to combat hayfever and asthma, naturally.

1. Breathe om

“The process of breathing feeds into our psychological and physiological predisposition for maintaining and sustaining a ‘dis-ease’ state,” says psychologist Emma Howard. “If your body is in a state of unease, then breathing will be shallow and won’t oxygenate the body at a cellular level, causing depression, lethargy and sluggishness. But a healthy mindset enables mindful, meditative breathing, which nourishes both mind and body.”

2. Notice your emotions

“Emotional problems can deplete immune function, opening the pathways for illness to creep in,” explains emotional strength trainer Amanda Foy. “Asthma has an emotional structure of being ‘smothered’ in a situation; colds represent mental confusion, with too much going on; and hayfever is emotional congestion, and fear of the calendar or persecution. By understanding what is going on around you emotionally, you can identify issues you need to deal with.”

3. Free your qi

“The ancient art of qi gong, with its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, Zen, and Taoist philosophy, is incredibly calming, energising, and balancing,” says qi gong instructor Fiona Patterson. “It involves rhythmic breathing, synchronised with slow and flowing movements and focused intention. With practice, we learn to recognise tension and anxiety in the body, and where qi is stagnant or blocked, and how to unblock it. This enhances the health of our respiratory system.”

4. Green your office

Mitey Fresh spokesperson Carol Parr says, “Indoor plants play a very important role in filtering and improving indoor air quality in your home and office. Research from Sydney’s University of Technology has found strong evidence showing office plants also reduce office workers’ stress and negative mood states.”

5. Open your chest

“Place one hand on your sternum – that is, in the middle of your chest, directly below your two collar bones,” suggests Pilates instructor Josephine Holecek. “This is a great point of reference to instantly change your posture: by lifting your sternum up towards the ceiling as you inhale, and maintaining that lift as you exhale, your ribs will lift away from your hips, your chest will open up, your shoulders will roll outwards, and your gaze will be forwards. By becoming aware of your posture - and how to change it as soon as you feel your ribs drop towards your hips – you will find it easier to breathe.”

6. Seek serenity

“Your breathing changes to match your mood,” explains Wes Smith, director of Canberra’s Live Well Spa and Wellness Centre. “When you meditate, rather than try to change or control your breath, simply allow yourself to be curious. Notice how you are breathing; is your breath shallow or deep, smooth or ragged? This simple act of enquiry will allow your mind to pause, if only momentarily, on what is happening in the present moment and - without having to try too hard- you’ve begun to meditate.”

7. Try the turbine

“The Turbine is an innovative respiratory product,” says Dr Mitchell Anderson, of Shinbone Medical and Rhinomed’s Sports. “By comfortably expanding the nostrils, it increases air intake through the nose by an average of 38 percent. It actually reminds you to breathe in a more controlled way. Breathing through the nose, rather than the mouth, filters and humidifies air, so it is optimised for the lungs.”

8. Get steamy

“A steam vaporiser can relieve breathing difficulties at night,” says naturopath Kate Dalgleish. “Adding essential oils further enhances the benefits - chamomile is antispasmodic and relaxing to the bronchi; thyme is antimicrobial and useful for reducing the impact of infections on lung capacity and breathing; rosemary is also antimicrobial and relieves congestion.”

9. Pop a pill

“My tried-and-true hayfever relief formula is horseradish and garlic tablets, plus vitamin C and zinc,” adds Dalgleish. “Horseradish and garlic are antimicrobial, treating or preventing secondary sinus infections, while vitamin C and zinc are potent immune boosters. Foods that help relieve hayfever include pineapple, which contains the enzyme bromelain to break down mucus; sulphur-containing vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, asparagus, onions, garlic, and leeks, which support liver detoxification and reduce mucus build up; and vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, berries, kiwi fruit, capsicum, and papaya.”

10. Drop your shoulders

“Shallow breathing that makes you raise your shoulders does not promote the desired movement of the rib cage and thoracic spine, and creates tension in the neck, shoulders and middle and upper back,” says Pilates teacher Marcia Teperman Shapira. “Deep abdominal breathing expands the ribs and promotes slight extension of the thoracic spine during inhalation, allowing the neck muscles to relax.”

11. Vim and your vagus

“There is a relationship between shallow breathing or breath-holding and the vagus nerve,” says nutritionist Cyndi O’Meara. “The vagus is a major cranial nerve, and its main job is to mediate the sympathetic 'fight or flight' and parasympathetic 'rest and digest' feelings. Different breathing patterns favour either parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system response. Diaphragmatic breathing and yogic breathing techniques help our bodies go from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’. Notice how you breathe as you read emails or work on your smartphone, and channel diaphragmatic breathing to encourage ‘rest and digest’.”

12. Eat lung-friendly foods

Accredited practising dietitian Kate Gudorf suggests: “Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals, rice and pasta, lean protein sources like chicken and fish, and low-fat dairy products. Using healthy fats, like olive oil, snacking on a handful of nuts or spreading avocado on toast, is also recommended. A healthy weight can help better manage lung conditions, like asthma; however, people with COPD, cystic fibrosis, or other lung conditions should increase kilojoules, as maintaining weight can be difficult in these conditions.”

13. Take baby breaths

“When we were born, we lived blissful little lives that were reflected in the rise and fall of our round baby bellies,” says naturopath Amie Skilton. “Fast forward to being grown-up, and most of us are running on adrenalin to some degree - whether it’s from stress, caffeine or both, a number of physiological changes result, including shallow breathing. Shallow breathing impacts oxygenation and therefore energy, focus, and concentration. The next time you find yourself breathing with your upper chest only, try abdominal breathing. You can do this lying down or simply sitting at your desk. Place your hands over your belly button and concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply, so that you can feel your belly rise and fall. This boosts oxygenation and sends a message back to the body to calm down, which slows heart rate and breathing, and reduces circulating levels of stress hormones.”

14. Get your P plates

“Pilates instructors can help you understand your body’s mechanics and natural bone movement during breathing, and so facilitate a deep diaphragmatic breath release of tension that may be affecting proper breathing,” says Teperman Shapira. “We must address breathing to make sure the right muscles are working to stabilise the spine under load during exercises. Try the following imagery techniques: imagine your diaphragm lowering towards your waist as you inhale and rising up like a jelly fish swimming as you exhale. Feel the rise and fall of your breast bone as you breathe in and out. Feel the extension of your spine as you breathe in and the return of your thoracic curve as you breathe out. Visualise the space between the ribs expanding as you inhale, and returning to its regular space as you exhale.”

15. Slow the pace

“By slowing the breath’s pace, depth and speed, we can override an automatic stress response,” says Sharon Kolkka of Gwinganna Health Retreat. “In times of pressure, stress or pain, practising mindful breathing can restore equilibrium. If you wake up during the night, bring your awareness to your breath and focus on deep belly breathing. This helps relax the body and, with the mind engaged on the breath, you can go back to sleep.”

16. Try Buteyko

“Developed by Russian doctor Professor Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s, this method involves breathing exercises and relaxation techniques,” says Dr Sarah Brewer. “Buteyko suggested that overbreathing leads to respiratory problems because it causes you to lose large amounts of carbon dioxide, the waste acidic gas produced by cells. A study of 600 asthmatics found that, after six months, the Buteyko method relieved symptoms by 98 percent and reduced the use of reliever medication by 98 percent, and preventer medication by 92 percent. Here's a simple Buteyko exercise: inhale normally, then let out a little bit of air so your lungs are not full. Pinch your nose closed and hold your breath, with your mouth closed, for five seconds after you first experience the desire to inhale (don't be tempted to hold your breath for as long as you can). When you start breathing again, inhale and exhale as little as possible.”

17. Count your breaths

“Do you overbreathe?” asks Brewer. “You may feel you breathe normally when, in fact, you are inhaling three or four times the volume of air you actually need. This is known as ‘hidden hyperventilation’. Ask a friend to count your breathing rate when you're unaware they are doing it. The average breathing rate is 10 to 12 breaths per minute, but people who overbreathe take 15 to 20 breaths per minute.”

18. Skip omega-6s

“Omega-6 and omega-3 fats both have important functions in the body,” adds Dr Brewer. “For example, GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid in evening primrose oil, is important for hormone balance, skin health and protecting against depression, but an excess is not advisable. You can reduce excess omega-6s by eating less vegetable oil (except olive, flax seed, walnut, almond, macadamia, avocado, hempseed and rapeseed oils, which contain omega-3s and/or monounsaturated fat), meat, margarine, and fast food, processed or manufactured foods.

19. What to avoid

“Try to avoid chlorinated pools, as chlorine can obstruct airways,” says author of 500 of the Most Important Health Tips You’ll Ever need, Hazel Courtney. “Find out which foods you're intolerant to: the most common are wheat, nuts, chocolate, and tomatoes. Lower your intake of meat and avoid sodium benzoate, frequently found in soft drinks and MSG.”

20. Add aromatherapy

“Steam inhalation can ease colds and flu, break up and expel mucus, fight bacteria and viruses, and stimulate immunity,” says aromatherapist Eileen Mallard. “Useful oils are lemon, eucalyptus, cypress, lavender, pine, peppermint, tea tree and niaouli. Pour boiling water into a stainless steel bowl, add one to four drops of your chosen oil, tent your head with a towel, and with eyes closed, inhale deeply for 2–3 minutes. Inhale through the nose for colds and headaches, and through the mouth for chest conditions. If you suffer from asthma, seek professional advice.”

21. Aim for ACE

“The body needs the essential antioxidant vitamins A, C and E to support lung function, and fight free radical damage and inflammation,” says accredited practising dietitian Georgie Rist. “Think citrus fruits, leafy greens, broccoli, mangoes, and add Brazil nuts and chia seeds for omega-3 support. Lungs are a vital part of our innate detoxification system. Smoking, pollution and allergies increase our requirements of antioxidants, especially vitamin C. Ninety-four percent of Australians don’t meet their fruit and vegetable requirements, increasing the risk of nutrient deficiencies that may lead to poor lung function. Let’s get the basics right: go for two fruit and five veg!”

Meet our experts
Psychologist Emma Howard.
Amanda Foy, The Emotional Strength Trainer.
Fiona Patterson, yoga, tai chi and qigong instructor.
Carol Parr, Mitey Fresh.
Josephine Holecek, Pilates Instructor.
Wes Smith, director of the Live Well Spa.
Dr Mitchell Anderson, Shinbone Medical and Rhinomed’s Sports.
Kate Dalgleish, naturopath at Charlie's Choice.
Pilates teacher Marcia Teperman Shapira.
Cyndi O’Meara, nutritionist.
Kate Gudorf, accredited practising dietitian.
Amie Skilton, naturopath, herbalist, and BioCeuticals educator.
Sharon Kolkka, wellness director at Gwinganna Health Retreat.
Dr Sarah Brewer, author of Overcoming Asthma (Simon and Schuster)
Hazel Courtney, author, 500 of the Most Important Health Tips You'll Ever Need (Cico Books)
Aromatherapist Eileen Mallard.
Accredited practising dietitian Georgie Rist.