Disorders of the breath affect almost every human being at some time in their lifetime. Whether due to a common cold resulting in bronchitis or something more serious such as asthma or emphysema, the ability of people to simply breath is not always as easy as it seems.
Ayurveda refers to breathing disorders (dyspnea) as “swasa”.
Types of Swasa:
There are five basic types. They are characterized by the type of breath they create, rather than the doshic disturbances that create them. The five types are called:
Ksudra svasa: is the name for heavy breathing such as might occur after exercise. However, the condition can also arise from anything that taxes the respiratory system resulting in increased respiration, including heavy eating.
Tamaka svasa : is the name for forceful respiration that leads to great distress. The condition is due primarily to kapha doshs vitiation and results in the eyes opening wide and gazing in an upward direction during an attack. The condition term is used synonymously with bronchial asthma. Ayurvedic folklore attributes Tamaka svasa to past life karma resulting from the indiscriminant killing of animals.
Chinna svasa: is the name for interrupted breathing such as that which is seen in the terminal stages of illness. The term is used synonymously with “Cheyne – Stokes”, respiration which occurs somewhat near the time of death. When Chinna svasa occurs the eyes gaze downward and one eye often appears red. Chinna svasa often preceeds the onset of coma.
Urdhva svasa : is the name for prolonged expiration and an inability to inhale. Like tamaka svasa, patients eyes gaze upward and the eye balls may even roll back. Often times the mouth is covered with mucous. It should not be surprising that the patient is described as being in great fear.
Mahan svasa : means “The Great Dyspnea” as this is the most serious of all breath disorders. The condition occurs shortly before death. The breath is described as being similar to a bull in heat. There is a sound which accompanies the breath which is high pitched. Patients with mahan svasa are usually delusional, there urine and feces are often obstructed, and death is impending.
Purva Rupa (Prodromal Symptoms) Common purva rupa of svasa include chest, heart and flank pain, headaches, and gas.
Nidana (etiology) and Rupa (symptoms): The presentation of Tamaka svasa (asthma) varies according to the doshic dominance of the condition.
Vata type asthma is precipitated by physical or emotional stress along with a diet that is light, dry and cold. Vata type asthma presents with a dry cough following the asthmatic episode. There may also be accompanying weight loss which can be quite profound. Additional signs of vata vitiation may be present in any system of the body.
Kapha type asthma is the most common. The condition is precipitated by an excess of cold, heavy, moist foods, and over-eating. Attacks present with a moist, productive cough following an asthmatic episode. Mucous appears cloudy and white in color. Patients may be overweight and additional signs of kapha vitiation may present in any system of the body.
Pitta vitation may combine with either a vata or kapha type asthma. Attacks are precipitated by exposure to allergens or microbes. Inflammation of the bronchial passages reduces airway patency. Coughing following an asthmatic attack may produce yellow or green mucous. Additional signs of pitta vitation may be present in any system of the body.
Samprapti (pathogenesis) The breath is disturbed when vata is obstructed by kapha. Vitiation is classically stated to occur in the pranavaha srota (respiratory system), the ambuvaha srota (water metabolism system) and the annavaha srota (stomach). Kapha is given the greatest role in the pathology. Vitiation of kapha results in obstruction to the movement of air in and out of the respiratory system. This condition has its origin in the stomach, the site of kledaka kapha. Hence, kapha accumulates and becomes aggrevated in the stomach, overflows into circulation and relocates into the respiratory system where it obstructs the movement of vayu (air.) Tamaka svasa, while classically dominated by kapha in the pathology also has a vata presentation.
These patients present with weight loss and extreme sensitivities to the environment. These patients suffer not only from vata vitation but from low ojas. Hence, vata accumulates and becomes aggrevated in the purishavaha srota (large intestine) overflows to the rasa dhatu (plasma) and raktavaha srota (circulatory system) and relocates into the pranavaha srota (respiratory system)
Chikitsa (Treatment) The classical management of tamaka svasa is the management of kapha dosha. Proper management requires an appreciation of the patients agni, ojas, and whether or not ama is present. Purification therapy should be performed in accordance with the patients strength. Following proper preparation, strong patients may undergo vamana, virechana, and niruha basti as well as nasya therapies.
Agni can be improved with the use of dipana (pungent) herbs. These herbs allieviate kledaka kapha at the origin of the condition. Many pungent herbs also dry up excess mucous secretions in the pranavaha srota (respiratory system). Espeically effective are cloves and black pepper.
Weak patients require either tonification or palliation therapies. Tonification is required for the weakest patients whose ojas is depleted or where there is significant weight loss. Patients with moderate strength may undergo palliation therapy. All patients benefit by following the principles of samsarjana karma following any kind of purification.
Common Herbs For Easing the Breath