A reader’s recent question:
“I suffer from asthma every winter. Last year I tried yoga for 5 weeks. I tried various styles, but it did no good. Have you heard of any success in treating asthma with yoga?”
Asthma is a chronic disorder in which the airways and lungs become inflamed. With inflammation, the smooth muscles in the airways constrict causing decreased air flow (NHLBI, 2004). Asthma attacks can cause a multitude of symptoms including wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing (NHLBI, 2004).
Avoiding contact with environmental “triggers” can control asthma. Tobacco smoke, dust mites, cockroach allergen, outdoor air pollution, pets and mold are considered important triggers of an asthma attack (CDC, 2003, 2004; U.S. EPA, 2005, 2007).
Yoga can also help to control asthma. Specifically, the technique of neti can help one to avoid inhalation of environmental triggers and infectious microbes which exacerbate symptoms. Please see our in-depth article on neti.
Beyond neti, Yoga has been shown to alleviate asthma through asanas, pranayama meditation, and relaxation with stress reduction.
Here’s an article published in the reputable British Medical Journal about Yoga and asthma. The authors found a positive effect. Note that they included relaxation therapy (10 minutes in savasana daily), pranayama, and neti.
Below is an abstract from the Journal of Asthma:
J Asthma. 1986;23(3):123-37. An integrated approach of yoga therapy for bronchial asthma: a 3-54-month prospective study. Abstract: After an initial integrated yoga training program of 2 to 4 weeks, 570 bronchial asthmatics were followed up for 3 to 54 months. The training consisted of yoga practicesyogasanas, pranayama, meditation, and kriyasand theory of yoga. Results show highly significant improvement in most of the specific parameters. The regular practitioners showed the greatest improvement. Peak expiratory flow rate (PFR) values showed significant movement of patients toward normalcy after yoga, and 72, 69, and 66% of the patients have stopped or reduced parenteral, oral, and cortisone medication, respectively. These results establish the long-term efficacy of the integrated approach of yoga therapy in the management of bronchial asthma.
Heres a link to another article supporting the efficacy of Yoga for asthma.
Although savasana is a great asana to help control symptoms, practice of Yoga for asthma should include bhujangasana, the cobra pose, as it also is a good one for symptom reduction. It helps to expand the chest.
To round out a natural approach, consider the effects of food on asthmatic symptoms. There are indications that up to 15% of asthmatics have a dietary component to their disease. The milk protein, casein, is the biggest culprit. A trial of avoiding it in milk, cheese, yogurt, semi-sweet chocolate, etc for at least two to three weeks might be worth a go. If that doesnt help, a similar trial of excluding eggs or wheat from the diet might be of benefit.
A daily practice of Yoga for asthma includes neti, bhujangasana, meditation, at least 10 minutes in a progressive relaxation sequence in savasana, and at least five minutes of pranayama will help to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.