Mucus. Friend or foe?

What is mucus?

Mucus is an important viscous fluid that lubricates and protects the digestive and respiratory passages in the body.  Mucus-producing tissue lines the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, trapping unwanted substances like bacteria and dust. Mucus is more than just sticky goo, it also contains antibodies that help the body recognize invaders like bacteria and viruses. Gastric mucus forms a protective layer about one millimetre thick in the stomach, preventing the highly acidic gastric juice from digesting the stomach itself.

However, an over production of mucus can lead to blocked sinuses with respiratory and digestive problems; the most common symptoms are painful pressure in your head (especially if you bend over), pain in the face or head when outside in the cold, stuffed or runny nose, ear ache, tinnitus, neck stiffness, impaired breathing, bad breath, poor sense of smell, taste or hearing, poor appetite, dullness, lack of energy, feeling depressed.

Mucus is purely of the Earth & Water elements or Kapha dosha and people with a strong presence of Kapha in their body have a tendency to over produce mucus and phlegm, though an Earth/Water imbalance in the other elemental types will also cause excess mucus production. Early spring is the Kapha time of year when the Earth & Water elements have their strongest influence on everyone.  Additionally, springtime pollen is a source of considerable aggravation.  At this time it is good to follow the food recommendations and practices that will bring balance in this area.  These are based on the underlying concepts of stimulating, lightening, warming and drying.

Mucus reducing guidelines

  • Avoid mucus increasing foods such as dairy, chocolate, refined sugars and flours, fried foods (especially deep fried), cold or raw foods, red meat, pork, salt and yeast.
  • Reduce foods that are heavy, oily, and cold as these increase weight and mucus: nuts, tofu, olives, avocados, ice cream.
  • Reduce foods that are sweet, salty and sour as these increase fluids in the body: cakes, crisps, vinegar.
  • Favour foods that are light, warming and dryingmillet, buckwheat, quinoa, spinach, pears, apples, bell peppers, ginger, garlic, beans, potatoes, barley, radish.
  • Favour foods that are spicy, bitter and astringent: beans, lentils, turmeric, cilantro, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and leafy greens.
  • Favour a primarily vegetarian diet. White meat from chicken or turkey is fine.  Cold water fish such as sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon and tuna are also fine, being rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce mucus production.

Cultivate healthy eating habits to aid healthy digestion and reduce the production of excess phlegm and mucus.

  • Take ginger pickle before meals to stimulate your digestion.
  • Eat warm and cooked food as this is easier to digest. Cold food, raw food, ice, cold water can weaken the digestive process.
  • Eat fruit, including juice, away from other foods; i.e. leave a 2-4 hour gap.
  • Do not drink fluids, especially cold water or carbonated beverages, for 1/2 hour before or after a meal as this will dilute your gastric juices. A small cup of hot water or herbal tea sipped during your meal will help to break down your food into a soup like consistency.
  • Avoid overeating, especially at night. Eat only when hungry.
  • Eat the last meal of the day early in the evening before 7pm. Late eating can cause constipation and indigestion, it also interferes with quality sleep and the cleansing and repair cycle of the nighttime.
  • Eat in a peaceful, settled environment; not driving, hurrying or standing.

Cleansing practices to help expel excess phlegm and mucus

  • Rise early (not later than 7am) and cardio exercise (get sweaty!) first thing in the morning to stimulate your whole system.
  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing activates the immune and lymphatic system to remove toxins, phlegm and mucus from your body. To practice the yogic complete breath, breathe first into your abdomen, then middle chest and then upper chest; hold the breath for 6 counts and breathe out for the count of 12. Practice 10 deep complete breaths 3 times per day and watch your general wellbeing improve rapidly.
  • Drink Kapha Herbal Tea, especially formulated to stimulate and energise the Kapha Dosha as well as dry up the mucus.
  • Flushing your nasal passages with warm saline water using a Neti pot alleviates congestion in the sinuses and reduces phlegm and mucus from the throat but can leave the nasal passages dried out. For a more complete therapy, follow Neti irrigation with sniffing a few drops of Herbal Nasal Oil up each nostril to lubricate and protect the nasal passages. Always spit the mucus out into tissues - never swallow it. Regular daily use of Herbal Nasal oil will help to keep your nasal passages clear, nourished and lubricated.

Nasya - A powerful technique to combat excess mucus.

Nasya is one of Ayurveda’s most powerful techniques and a full therapeutic Nasya treatment is recommended when excess mucus overloads the digestive and lymphatic systems resulting in acute or chronic manifestation of symptoms. It is important to realise that when you have old compacted mucus in your sinuses you won’t even feel congested. In my pulse reading practice, clients are often surprised to learn that compacted mucus is contributing to the symptoms that they are suffering.

Perhaps the most surprising effect reported from clients beyond the alleviation of symptoms is the vast improvement in the quality of mental clarity, enthusiasm and energy they feel after a series of Nasya treatments.

What is involved in having a Nasya?

The Nasya procedure takes from one to one and a half hours and begins with drinking a blend of Kapha Herbal Tea that will help to loosen the mucus by heating your system. Next, you will receive a soothing but stimulating face, head and neck massage. This is followed by a herbalised steam inhalation under a steam tent that will heat your face, head, neck and upper chest to further help loosen and liquefy your mucus. You then lie on a massage table with your head tilted back as far as possible and drops of therapeutic Nasya oil are administered to your nostrils for sniffing up into the sinuses while further heating techniques are applied to your face, neck and chest. Specific areas of your face, head & neck are massaged to assist the nasal drops to fully penetrate. The loosened mucus is then expelled by spitting into tissues. The whole sequence of procedures is then repeated as appropriate to your level of congestion and comfort. The procedure may also be altered dependant on the individual nature of where the mucus is located in your system.

What else do I need to know about receiving Nasya?

Do not plan work or social activities for the rest of the day after receiving Nasya as you will feel very tired and need to rest. Wear a top that leaves access to your neck and shoulders. During the steam inhalation your top may become slightly damp so it is important to bring a fresh dry top to go home in. A warm hat, coat and scarf are also needed to keep your head, neck and ears warm, even in the summer. While a shea body butter is provided, you may also wish to bring a favorite face cream to apply after the treatment as your skin may feel dry from exposure to the steam.  Details of dietary recommendations for the week following your Nasya will be given to you on the day.

What contra-indications could prevent me from having a Nasya?

We do not give this procedure if cold sores, eczema or psoriasis are present on the face, head, neck or nasal passages. If you have high blood pressure or are experiencing fever, chills or flu symptoms, this procedure is not recommended. Nor is it recommended for women during menstruation or pregnancy. Children under 16 years and people over 70 years of age are not recommended to have Nasya. As you will be lying on your back on a table with your head tilted backwards to receive the nasal drops, acute trauma/dislocation/damage to the neck, face or head may prevent you from having Nasya. Nasya is not given directly after a meal. Allow at least two hours after eating.

How often and when should I have Nasya?

In most cases we recommend having a series of at least three sessions to gain maximum benefit. Nasya can be done at any time of year as needed and is usually of greatest benefit during the Kapha season of Spring.

Disclaimer: This article was written for educational purposes only and is based on the tradition of Ayurveda. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, prescribe or heal any health condition or to replace standard medical treatment or advice.

February 29, 2016 by Ian Hayward
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