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Air is perhaps one of the most abused elements. Overcrowded cities, disappearing greenery which are capable of purifying the atmosphere, multistoried building, industrial and vehicular pollution, all have contributed to air pollution. As a result, respiratory diseases are increasing at an alarming pace. More than half the population suffers from one or the other type of respiratory disorders.

The mechanism of respiration

The main organs of the respiratory system are the lungs and air passages. Respiration consists of two acts, inspiration and expiration. During inspiration, we breathe in oxygen through our nose which passes to the mouth, then on to the pharynx and larynx and the windpipe and finally the lungs. The dust particles are filtered by the fine hair found in the nostrils. During expiration, we exhale carbon-di-oxide.

The vibrations of the vocal chords are caused by the current of air exhaled from the lungs to produce voice.

We find tonsils near the pharynx, which arrest the germs that enter the body. Tonsils are located one on each side of the throat at the root of the tongue. Tonsils produce some of the lymphocyte type of cells designed to resist germ invasion. When they become enlarged they obstruct the passage of air from the nose into the lungs or the food from mouth into the food pipe.

The upper respiratory organs are the nose, the larynx, the pharynx, the windpipe and the throat. The irritated tissues of the upper respiratory tract become vulnerable to invasion by common bacterial always present in the air passages causing complications. Lack of body resistance, lowered vitality through faulty eating habits and living under unhygienic conditions are a few factors.

Inspiration and expiration

The exchange of gases from the air we inhale and exhale, takes place within our respiratory system. The windpipe consists of the bronchial tubes lined with mucus membranes that are kept moist. The interchange of oxygen and carbon-di-oxide take place between the air cells in the air sacs and the blood. The lungs need more of oxygen to expand and contract in the normal way. During inspiration, the pressure in the lungs is decreased for proper expansion when air rushes to fill up the space. After inspiration, the pressure is extended to squeeze the lungs when some air is pushed out. So inspiration and expiration are automatic and they go on alternately.

Other respiratory acts, apart from breathing in and out, are coughing, sneezing, sighing, yawning, etc. In normal circumstances, none of these acts of our respiratory system bother us, but when there is an upset in the normal inspiration and expiration, problem occurs causing respiratory disorders.

What is asthma and what happens during an asthmatic attack?

Asthma is one disorder that is common to both the young and old. The word “asthma” means to breathe with open mouth or difficulty in breathing. If difficulty in breathing during childhood is attended to in natural way and certain precautions taken, it can be completely cured. If neglected during childhood, it becomes chronic and difficult to cure.

A healthy person breathes about 16 to 18 times a minute, young children nearly 20 to 25 times and infants around 40 times a minute. An adult inhales about 230 to 250 cubic of air during each inspiration and exhales an equal quantity during expiration. When an asthmatic coughs, there is a deep inspiration followed by an interrupted or obstructed expiration. An increase in pressure is exerted with much effort to exhale, which opens the vocal chords producing a wheezing sound.

Bronchial asthma

When a person sighs due to distress in the chest, the prolonged deep inspiration does not match the shortened expiration that follows. Gasping for breath also occurs when there is much constriction or congestion in the chest. These are the symptoms of Bronchial asthma.


Muscular spasm occurs in the bronchial tubes due to the sudden swelling of the mucus membrane found around these tubes. A tightness is felt across the chest and at the end of each spasm, cough accompanied by wheezing, discharges some phlegm. Too much inflammation in the mucus membranes causes frequent asthmatic attack.

Asthma due to allergy and hay asthma

Breathing difficulty also occurs due to hyper-sensitiveness to dust, irritants, odour-both foul and pleasant, drugs, certain types of food, pollens, strong odour of paper, cotton lints, contact with pet animals; fungi, proteins, etc.

Uterine asthma

Disturbance of the hormones in some females during menses associated with anxiety and stress cause asthma. Breathlessness commences as premenstrual symptom and may be relieved once the menses starts.

Psychosomatic dyspnea

Emotional stress and other psychological factors also cause asthma. In some young children, emotional insecurity is the largely known reason for the onset of an attack of asthma. Suppressed emotions or an outburst of the same in adults are also the culprit in bringing about an attack. A sound mind and a healthy body can never harbour asthma. There are several other causes for asthma which cannot be contained in this small volume.

Asthma associated with indigestion

Improper and incomplete digestion cause difficulty in breathing in some persons. This type of asthma does not occur during all seasons. But if the cause for digestion is not treated or if an item that upsets digestion is not eliminated from the food the attacks persist throughout the year.
By and large, asthma is a consequence and not a cause, be it allergy, emotional upset or infection or indigestion. Consequence is difficult to handle unless the cause is removed.

Preventive measures

Avoiding the things that trigger an asthma attack is the best solution to minimize the discomfort caused by breathlessness. These are, the types of food that cause allergy, the type of persons and situations that upset the emotions, type of climate that does not agree with the person, and the pattern of life that is difficult to adapt. While it is possible to change places, climate and environment, one gets helpless when it comes to the matter of seasons. For instance, hay asthma is caused by the pollen when trees and plants bloom in spring, grass pollen during rainy days and even during autumn. This allergy is extremely bothersome with bouts of sneezing, swollen eyes and watering of nose and eyes.

Though it becomes extremely important to relieve severe breathlessness due to the lack of oxygen during suffocative attacks modern drugs lower body resistance. So much so that an attack later does not respond to the same type of treatment again.

A variety of medicines, inhalers and cortico-steroids fail to cure asthma. Even an acute attack in the childhood, which is capable of disappearing after the child grows, is suppressed by such drugs and allowed to become chronic because it is not handled wisely by regulating the diet or employing natural methods of treatment.

General instructions in the treatment of asthma

Asthma is a respiratory disorder that tends to become chronic and it is therefore necessary to follow some dietary rules. For those who suffer from respiratory disorders, especially asthma, a vegetarian diet is always the best. However, there is always a variation in the pattern and type of food that suits an individual, because the cause in each case may vary too. For instance, one may be allergic to rice and milk, another may be allergic to odours or his surroundings.

There are cases of young children, who out of their natural instinct, refuse to touch either milk or rice as long as there is severe cough and rattling in the chest cavities. But elders, in their ignorance, force the child to eat what they feel is good.

There are two valuable rules to be followed by those who suffer from respiratory disorders regarding their diet. First, they should never eat a full stomach and secondly, they should never eat their last metal after 7 or at the latest 7.30 p.m. At least tow hour should elapse after diner before they go to bed.

Diet for asthma.
See page 199.

Common cold

Common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tracts which causes a variety of viruses that are easily transmitted from one person to the other by infected droplets of moisture floating in the air or by contaminated dust. The infection is capable of getting transmitted to others, even few hours before the symptoms manifest on the affected person.

Lack of resistance and want of physical exercises, lowered vitality due to faulty eating habits, overeating, eating artificial food, living in badly ventilated and over heated places are the predisposing factors for common cold. The symptoms are running nose, congestion in the head, mild fever and fatigue with body ache. Common cold starts with a slight irritation or roughness in the throat followed by running nose.

There are no effective means of prevention except to build the body’s defense mechanism. When the ability to fight the invading germs is sound, common cold causes minimum discomfort and runs a short course during which time the morbid waste from the body is discharged effectively.

Common cold often causes either throat cough or chest cough, sometimes both alternately. It can cause laryngitis, (inflammation of the larynx or the voice box). The common symptoms of laryngitis are obstructed breathing and hoarseness of the voice which may increase if overused, abused by faulty eating, heavy smoking, breathing fumes, etc.

Pharyngitis or sore throat is another disorder caused by acute cold, breathing stale air and deviation from good health habits like oral hygiene and proper eating. The symptoms include difficulty in swallowing, dryness of the mouth and severe pain.

Treatment for respiratory disorders


  • Steam inhalations four to five times a day.
  • Hot fomentation on the affected area twice daily and heating compresses during night.
  • Hot fomentation to face and chest together with a cold compress to the back of the neck and a hot foot bath until perspiration starts.
  • Hot fomentation to the throat during the day and heating compress in the night for throat cough.
  • For chest cough, asthma and bronchitis, hot fomentation to chest and throat twice a day and heating compress to the throat in the night and friction rub.
  • To reduce the severity of the asthmatic attack dip both the hands in warm water during the attack.
  • In respiratory disorders due to extreme weakness, physical exercise may not be possible, but once the acute symptoms subside, they can be encouraged with beneficial effect.


Parvatasana, Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana, Yogamudra, Matsyasana, Pavanamuktasana, Simhumudra, and Suptavajrasana.


Refer to the chapter massage under respiratory disorders.

Breathing exercise

Cough, common cold : Exercises 1,2 and 3.
Pharyngitis : Exercises 2,3,6,7 and 8.
Laryngitis : Exercises 2,3,6,7 and 8.
Swallowing difficulty
and fever : Exercises 4,6,7 and 8
Asthma : Only Exercise No. 1 and No. 2 till the acute stage is overcome and Exercise No. 3 if the chest is congested. (See page 189-190)

Patients suffering from asthma must develop the habit of breathing in the following pattern for ever :
When you walk inhale as you take two steps and exhale for the next two steps. After a few days of regular practice the shallow breathing will reduce and you will be able to breathe in for the first four steps and breathe out for the next four.

Manik Ram, a chronic asthmatic for over forty years, a victim of heavy bronchodialatory drugs and steroids was a living corpse who spent most of his prime life jobless, and in and out of hospitals where he was seen with oxygen masks and drips. His determination to undergo natural treatment under my guidance in hydrotherapy, natural diet and above all breathing exercises and yogasanas has transformed him into a new person entirely, and in his late fifties he lives a better life free from his attacks and has vowed to remain addicted to natural way of life for ever. His main secret is, however, yogic breathing exercises and the special four-step inhalation and exhalation while walking.

Household remedies

1. Cough and Bronchitis

  • Boil mint leaves in which powder of three to four pepper and a small pinch of salt is added and take the same two three times a day.
  • Roast turmeric and powder it. Mix half a spoon of this to one teaspoon honey and lick the same little by little.
  • To half teaspoon ginger powder add powder of four to five pepper and mix in one teaspoon honey and take twice daily.
  • Juice of onion, tulsi leaves and ginger – one teaspoon each, with one teaspoon honey to be taken three times a day.
  • Boil one part lemon juice and three parts honey. Take two tea-spoons four times a day. This is an effective cough syrup which has no side effects or any other reaction.

2. Common Cold

  • Take three to four spoons of juice extracted from betel leaves, add honey in equal proportion and take sip by sip twice daily at the onset of common cold.
  • Take juice of one lemon added to a glass of very warm water and one spoon honey added to it at least three times a day.
  • Soak half teaspoon tamarind in water and extract the juice. Add two glasses of water, quarter teaspoon black pepper powder, a pinch of turmeric powder and a little rock salt. Boil this mixture, and sip steaming hot slowly. This drink will relieve the nasal congestion and ease heaviness in the head as well.
  • For dry cough boil two teaspoons sesame seeds in a glass of water, reduce to half, add one spoon honey and take three times a day.
  • For bronchitis and cough with excess sputum in the chest, roast two teaspoons of linseed till it splutters and powder it. Powder 3-4 peppers and add to it. Add a teaspoon of honey to this mixture and take three times a day.

3. Pharyngitis and swallowing difficulty

  • Boil half a teaspoon of tea leaves in a glass of water. Let it coo a while and gargle it warm. Gargle with this solution three times a day. Prepare the solution fresh every time. This reduces the inflammation and pain in the throat.
  • Pre-heat a vessel and add one teaspoon turmeric powder and when the powder becomes hot add one cup milk. Boil on a low fire two minutes. Consume it sipping slowly before it loses warmth. Do not gulp. Have this drink in the morning and at bed time and prepare the drink fresh every time. This drink is useful for cold and cough too.

4. Laryngitis, hoarseness, loss of voice and dry cough

  • Take one teaspoon ginger juice added to half teaspoon honey drop by drop retaining the juice in the mouth and throat.
  • Add few drops of garlic juice in a cup of very warm water and gargle three times a day.

5. Asthma

  • Include figs, grapes, dates, papayas and apples in the diet. Take any of these fruits during breakfast regularly for some days.
  • Juice of tulsi leaves, ginger juice, juice of onion and honey to be mixed one teaspoon each. Take this mixture twice daily for one month at a stretch. Prepare the mixture fresh every time.
  • Take fresh unboiled cow’s milk twice a day i.e. in the morning and at bed time. Those having low tolerance to raw milk, should avoid taking it unboiled. Instead, they can boil milk with garlic added to it and take such a milk.
  • One piece of ginger and three garlic cloves should be boiled in water for five minutes and this solution should be sipped steaming hot.


Tonsils are four little lymph glands located at the entrance of the throat. The function of this invaluable organ is to prevent the entry of germs and bacteria.

Tonsillitis is caused in conditions when the body’s defence mechanism is extremely poor and resistance is low. Children who develop the habit of breathing through the mouth especially in the night, are more prone to this problem.

Tonsillitis also occur in acute rheumatic fever and acute inflammation of kidneys.

Treatment for tonsillitis


  • Hot fomentation should be given on the affected part if high fever is not present and cold fomentation if there is high fever.
  • Gargle six to eight times a day with half a teaspoon of salt and half teaspoon baking soda in very warm water.
  • Take plenty of warm water and fruit juices (warm) till the swelling subsides.
  • Be on only liquid diet for a few days.

Breathing exercise
Nos. 4 and 6. (See page 190)

Massage for respiratory disorders
Refer to the chapter Massage under respiratory disorders. (See page 194 under the headlines of Treatment for respiratory disorders.

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  • About The Author


    Gopakumar Nair belongs to a Hereditary Ayurvedic family of Kerala who were Practising Ayurveda and traditional Medicine for 200 Years . They can be traced back to over six generations. His experience under the guidance of his guru Valiya thampuraan has earned lot of trust and popularity.

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