If you have asthma you know how harsh the cold, dry winter air can be. Not only does the cold on our skin elicit a reaction to pull away, constrict and curl inward, but the cold in our airways does the same.
Looking at Our Experiences as It Mirrors Nature
In the winter our muscles feel are tighter, tempers may become shorter, breath stifled. Our bodies veritably want to shut down and hibernate… but the show must go on!
Most of us wake up and go to sleep at the same time during all seasons – sunrise/sunset be damned. While I’m not suggesting that we live by candlelight every day of the year and wake up with the roosters, I am saying that when we become so disconnected with nature our bodies yell and scream and try to tell us to pay attention. Pay attention to the signs during winter that you feel tired a bit earlier, want to eat a little more and overall turn inward (ie: Anyone: “Hey, do you want to hang out on…” Me: ::car screech and speed away::).
It’s no surprise that during this time of year we tend to get sick more often. Lack of vitamin D, increased sugar consumption (hello, month-long excuses to imbibe and sustain oneself on baked goods) and a slower, more sedentary lifestyle all play a part in this. Add living in a Petri dish of warmth surrounded by those you love (and can’t stand) and we’ve created the perfect atmosphere for getting under the weather.
Whether you have stuffy sinuses, inflamed airways, a wet cough, a dry cough or anything in between, you’ll be well supported by breathing in steam. (Yes, I did that on purpose…)
Herbal Steam Inhalation for Winter Asthma
I’m here to admit, I’m an herbal steam inhalation addict at this point. I’m truly not sure why it took me so many years to realize that this was THE answer to any of my winter woes. Since falling into the habit of steaming almost daily I have found that my winter asthma is kept at bay and I can sometimes prevent a cold when it is beginning.
The secret is understanding what your body is asking for. Some things I ask myself: Do your airways feel swollen and dry? Do you feel a cold brewing? Is your chest tight? Are you wheezing? Identifying if the nature of what you’re dealing with is rooting from a place of dryness (most often this is the case in the winter) or excess mucous, will guide your herb of choice for your inhalation. Some suggestions:
- Dealing with Dryness If you are dealing with dryness you’ll notice that your airways feel tight, but not with congestion. Your inner nostrils might crack easily or be scabbed inside. Your chest might feel heavy or tight (this should not be confused with symptoms of heart problems, if that is the case seek medical help). Your throat may be dry… These are all good signs that you have dryness resulting in inflammation of your mucous membranes. Some herbs to choose for your steam inhalation are: chamomile, calendula, lavendar, mullein – these will all help soothe and relax your inflammation.
- Dealing with Potential Infection Many times dryness irritates the mucous membranes leaving them open gateways for infection. This means a few things. First, your inflamed airways are easily broken/split/cut. While mucous membranes have the ability to heal quickly, once moisture is reintroduced and inflammation lessens, when they are dry it takes a bit for them to recover. Steam inhalations can assist with this. Second, your mucous membranes work as guards, protecting your body by capturing bacteria and viruses from entering your body. When they dry up they arne’t as, how do you say, equip with being the bouncer to the club that is your immune system. Since at this point you’re juggling dryness and potential infection you want to combat things a bit more aggressively. Some herbs to choose for this type of steam inhalation are: rosemary, thyme, yarrow, chamomile – these will help to fight off invading microbes.
Once you’ve chosen your herb(s) throw anywhere from 3 tbsp to a handful (I am a loose measurer) in the bottom of a medium-large bowl and pour some boiling water over top. Sit at a table, or somewhere you can relax, and place your bowl of hot water. Cover your head with a towel or a blanket and breathe deeply. Make sure to truly breathe deeply, from the root of your stomach. Alternate long, deep breaths through your mouth and through your nose.
When it comes down to it, if you have nothing available but some hot water, a bowl and a towel – go for it. Steam is still helpful for a myriad of benefits and provides for a cheap relaxation tool as well.
*Disclaimer: nothing about this article is trying to tell you that if you have a hounding, wet cough, allergic asthma that affects your ability to breathe all day, or anything of that nature, that it’s probably just winter weather. This article is to shine some light on the nature of winter asthma and benefits of herbal steam inhalations. There is no shame in going to your doctor and taking medication if you feel that is necessary. The good part is you can still enjoy herbal steam inhalations!