Yoga for Sinusitis: 7 Yoga Poses to Relieve Nasal Congestion

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Sinusitis sits heavy in the head; quite literally. A throbbing headache with a blocked and runny nose are frustrating symptoms of sinusitis that get a person begging for relief. And the situation worsens if the inflammation is caused by an infection, or it develops into a chronic condition. Over-the-counter medicines help but they come with their own range of undesirable side effects. Yoga is a way out of this suffering. In sinusitis, the relief that yoga provides is almost instantaneous.

Sinuses are hollow spaces located behind your forehead, nose, and in between the eyes. They produce mucus and protect the body by trapping and moving germs away.

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the inner surfaces of the nose sinuses that cause mucus and fluid to back up in the nose. This inflammation can be caused by irritation from allergies, infection, and chemicals, combinedly called sinus infection. The symptoms include headache, nasal blockage & discharge, painful and stuffy sinuses, ears and teeth, sore throat, cough, fever, and swelling of the eyes. Among all the symptoms some are more common than others, for example, headache and nasal blockage.

Can yoga cure sinus infection?

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How effective is yogic treatment for your sinusitis and relieve nasal congestion depends upon how long the condition lasts.

Sometimes sinusitis is the result of an allergy or just an irritant in the environment, doesn’t last more than 2- 4 weeks, is known as acute sinusitis.

In acute sinusitis, yoga is a highly recommended therapeutic practice in its prevention and management. Yoga breathing exercises help ventilate the sinuses which prevent infections from settling down in a healthy nitric oxide (NO) rich environment in the sinus cavity 1.

But, often sinusitis is also caused by an infection, viral, or bacterial 2, and it may take about 12 weeks or longer to recover, known as chronic sinusitis 3.

You will have to make systematic efforts with yoga to heal your condition in chronic sinusitis. Apart from regular asanas you practice, practicing hatha yoga shatkarma kriyas like Jala Neti using a neti pot, sutra neti, kunjal kriya, and Kapalbhati would be more beneficial in curing such sinusitis conditions. These kriyas will focus on improving the functioning of your body organs and boost your immunity.

In cases of infections, antibiotics are often used. But, remember antibiotics work by killing bacteria, and while doing so, they may kill friend and foe alike. And your respiratory walls are lined with plenty of such friendly bacteria. Antibiotics killing these friendly bacteria can put you at risk of other respiratory ailments. 

What yoga exercises are good for sinus relief?

Yoga includes different nasal cleansing exercises that specially designed to open up clogged mucus lining and clear your nostrils before pranayama. You can use such yoga exercises in sinusitis.

One such yoga exercise for sinusitis is Jala Neti in which we wash the sinuses and the nasal cavity with saline solution. This practice is very effective in reducing the inflammation and headache caused by the mucous layer within the sinuses. It’s found in a 2020 study in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 4, on practicing Jala Neti daily for 2 weeks, patients got relief from 70% of symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

Moreover, pranayama breathing exercises can clear up your nasal and respiratory tracts, and give you instant relief from acute sinusitis. A study from International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER) reports 5 that Nada pranayamas (which on exhalation generate active vibrations within the skull) such as Bhramari and Pranav Pranayama keeps the nitric oxide levels within the sinuses high that prevents any infection from taking roots in these cavities.

Above that, Yoga poses in which the head is positioned lower than the heart, for example, all forward bend and inversions, are very good for frontal sinusitis headache 6. These poses force drain the accumulated mucus, so relieve the sinuses problem. Last but not the least, with yoga you can calm your mind that gets badly vexed by the torturing symptoms. Apart from the mental relief, the physical relief will also be much appreciated.

Sinusitis and its symptoms can exhaust you physically, but yoga, with its many restorative and relaxing poses, can rejuvenate your physical vigor.

Yoga poses for sinus relief

1. Upward Plank – Purvottanasana

purvottanasana practice guide
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Upward plank is generally a core and strength building exercise, but the stretching it gives to your upper body, shoulders, neck, and head, will be well appreciated. It also brings mild levels of inversion to your head, increasing blood flow to the head, and thus reduced headache. Upward plank’s chest stretch could also help clear out respiratory congestion. This pose will mostly act as an instant relief to sinusitis. 

  • Sit in a staff pose, on your sitting bones with your back straight and legs stretched out Infront
  • Now place your palms by the sides of your sitting bones, and let your elbows fall back on the ground.
  • Now exactly where your elbows are, remove your elbows and bring your hands to this exact position. This will give you the right placement of your hands required for a proper posture.
  • Now push with your hands against the floor and pull your body up in a plank position.
  • Straighten your hand and push your pelvis upwards to lift in a plank pose.
  • Let your toes fall to the ground and your head arch back in the final plank position.
  • Let the final plank position be such that your body is in a downward slope from your chest to toe.
  • Keep your hamstrings, buttocks, abs and lower back active to hold the pose.
  • Take 5-10 breaths and release. Repeat the pose 3 times.

Upward plank is a good place to start as it will get you accustomed to the strength and dexterity needed, even with a condition such as sinusitis, to execute more holistic poses of yoga for sinusitis. 

2. Shoulder stand pose – Sarvangasana

salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand)
Image: Canva

Inversion poses are always one of a kind, and to top that, shoulder stand pose is probably one of the most popular in its genre. The simple fact of inversion opens up your upper body to a strong flow of fresh and oxygenated blood. It increases blood flow, which is otherwise impossible in an erect position, enhances the performance of all organs in your upper body. Inversion poses can also help clear out mucus congestion of respiratory tracts. Shoulder stands will also open up the stiffness of your shoulder, head, and neck. This pose is uniquely diverse in its benefits for all kinds of sinusitis.

  • Lie supine on your back.
  • Lift your chest, abdomen and legs and raise it straight up and balance on your shoulders.
  • Bend your hands from your elbows and support your hips.
  • Then gently push your hips forward, to push your chest towards your head. At the same time extend your legs up nicely to create a well defined inversion.
  • This pose will need your entire body muscles to work in coordination to hold and balance the pose.
  • Now look towards your heart and breathe for 10 seconds, or take 10 breaths.
  • Gently fold your knees and bring down your legs, and go back lying to supine.
  • Rest for a few seconds before getting up.

you should definitely not try this pose on your own if you’re a beginner. Especially with sinusitis, when your head, neck and shoulders are stiff. Either get a partner to help you balance, or practice it against a wall for support.

3. Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana

cobra pose bikram yoga
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Cobra pose is definitely a pose you want to try if you have a sinusitis infection or chronic sinusitis. This pose can boost the functioning of multiple organs including your abdominal organs, cardiovascular organs and respiratory organs. A benefit you will need if you have a chronic condition. The cobra pose can also increase your immunity, that will come handy when having a sinusitis infection.

  • Lie on the floor on your front.
  • Join your legs from thighs to feet. Set your toes against the floor.
  • Place your hands by the sides of your chest, push against the floor with your knees and hands and arch up your upper body.
  • Keep at arching till your hands are straight and you are looking directly in front.
  • You don’t need to arch back your head
  • Keep breathing steadily.
  • As you arch up be very aware of your arch. Think of the name of this pose, and rightly so, imagine a cobra lifting up its upper part of the body from the ground.
  • The arch should start only from your hips. Your body from hips down should be stuck to the ground.
  • To make a conscious arching, use your abdominal muscles to guide your arch from your lower back to upper.
  • Hold the pose for 10 breaths, and then release.
  • If your body permits, make 3 repetitions

Cobra pose might not give you instant relief like some of the other poses on the list. However, this pose is targeted more for the longer run, to heal a chronic or infectious condition of sinusitis. 

4. Fish Pose – Matsyasana

fish pose instructions
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Fish pose is a relaxing pose, along with certain stress-relieving benefits. The fish pose will mostly act as an instant relief in sinusitis. The fish pose has two essential parts that will help with your condition. One, it includes pushing out of your chest, which can manage your respiratory congestion. And two, it inverses your head quite a lot, as compared to other poses, to rid of your congestion in your sinuses and headache. 

  • Sit straight in a staff position
  • Place your elbows on the ground, exactly under your shoulders and recline back.
  • Now inhale and push out your chest, and press your shoulder blades inward.
  • Now exhale and arch your head backward, and try to touch the floor with your crown.
  • If reaching the floor seems difficult, then do try adjusting your elbows back and forth.
  • While releasing, instead of getting up back to the staff pose, better recline all the way back to lying supine.

The fish pose might be difficult to perform on your own when having severe sinusitis symptoms. Find a partner to support your lower back as you recline further to touch the ground with your head.

5. Camel Pose – Ustrasana

camel pose
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The benefits of camel pose are simply too diverse. So let’s keep it short and just focus on the benefits you will get in case of your sinusitis.

The camel pose is a holistic pose that can help with chronic sinusitis. The pose stretches your cardiovascular and respiratory muscles for strength and flexibility. It also acts as inflammatory for your sinuses. Camel pose arches your spine for a better nervous function. And, finally arching your head backwards will help you deal with your nasal blockages and stuffiness.

  • Kneel on the floor on your knees, with your upper body straight, or start the pose from Vajrasana ( sitting knees folded, on your heels ) and then get upto kneeling on your knees.
  • Now our spine isn’t that used to arching backwards, so you will have to try warming up a bit, before the final pose.
  • Gently massage your buttocks and hips, and stretch back and forth, whilst breathing steadily.
  • Now push your hips Infront with your hands, inhale and arch back.
  • Make sure the arch is even in your spine, equally opening up your abdomen, chest and your shoulders.
  • Now exhale and arch your head backwards as well, and touch your heels with your hand
  • Hold your pose with steady 10 breaths. And then release your pose.
  • Do not repeat the pose.

The main challenge if this pose is to arch back all the way to touch your heel. Do not force this pose, rather allow your body to gradually adapt to the flexibility required for the pose. Take sufficient warm ups. Remember, this pose has a great potential to injure your hip, practiced forcefully.

6. Nadhi Sodhana Pranayama

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Source: Fitsri

Sinus is essentially a problem of the respiratory and nasal tracts, and thus, a yoga routine without Pranayamas will be incomplete.

The Nadhi Sodhan uses alternative breathing techniques that focus on tracts on both sides of your body separately. These exercises not just clear out any blockages or irritants in the tracts, they also exercise the muscles regulating their functioning. Nadhi Sodhan Pranayama will relieve the nasal stuffiness of sinusitis, relieve headache and enhance respiratory functions.

  • Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, with your upper body straight, and shoulder blades spread.
  • If you have any severe knee issues, sit on a chair.
  • Now place your right right index finger on your left nostril, and inhale deep, hold your breath, close your right nostril with your right thumb and exhale with your left nostril.
  • Now once again breath in deep, with your left nostril, hold your breath and close your left nostril with your right index finger, and exhale with your right nostril. 
  • This completes one round of nadhi Sodhan, do 10 rounds of nadhi Sodhan.

Nadi Sodhan is an easy breathing exercise, however that is no reason to overdo it. Remember, even breathing exercises employ certain muscles in your nasal and respiratory region. Over exhaustion of these muscles can increase your sinusitis inflammation. If initially 10 rounds seem like a stretch, 5 rounds are perfectly alright. 

7. Bhramari Pranayama – Humming Bee Breathing

bhramari pranayama
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Bhramari Pranayama is the best Pranayama to relieve you of your sinusitis. The vibrations of Bhramari Pranayama accompanied with the exhalations, will instantly clear your nasal blockages and heal your throbbing headache. The bhramari Pranayama will also help you manage your stress and remain calm in a frustrating condition such as sinusitis.

  • Sit in easy pose, and close your senses with shanmukhi mudra
  • In shanmukhi mudra, both your little fingers below your lower lip, your ring fingers above your upper lip, your middle fingers on your nose bridge, your index fingers gently on your closed eyes and thumbs closing in your ears.
  • This inward withdrawal of senses is supposed to focus better.
  • Now inhale and then exhale making a grave humming bee like sound. Make this sound at the back of your mouth, and create prominent vibrations.
  • The vibrations are really important, and you must concentrate on it.
  • Do this pose for 10 rounds maximum

Do not cross 10 rounds that can stress your sinuses. Further, don’t force the vibrations, keep it low and steady.

Conclusion

Remember sinusitis is fundamentally an inflammatory condition, even when on medication, you will need to supplement it with exercises and lifestyle changes. Exercises like yoga, when practiced in the right fashion can have a great impact on sinusitis. Further, medications mostly provide therapeutic relief, except for sinusitis caused by infection, in which case you will be give antibiotics which have their own dreaded set of side effects. The bottom line is medication or no medication, yoga is something you should definitely consider with sinusitis.

References

  1. Assessment of nasal and sinus nitric oxide output using single-breath humming exhalations https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/22/2/323
  2. Microbiology of Sinusitis https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1513/pats.201006-038RN
  3. Chronic sinusitis https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091674900405087
  4. A review on the therapeutic effects of Neti Kriya with special reference to Jala Neti https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0975947617306216
  5. Scientific basis some yoga practices in sinusitis http://www.icyer.com/documents/22.pdf
  6. Yoga therapy for frontal sinusitis headache: A research-based study https://www.theyogicjournal.com/pdf/2018/vol3issue1/PartM/3-1-110-789.pdf

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