Being confronted with asthma in my close surroundings, I decided to have a look at it with regards to yoga.
After reading up about it and drawing on my own knowledge about yoga I’ve come to the conclusion that yoga can definitely alleviate symptoms and sometimes prevent them. With a regular yoga practice and breathing exercises, after some time, it might be possible to diminish your intake of medication and — who knows? — down the line stop taking them altogether. Always in consultation with your general practitioner of course.
To explain how yoga helps when you suffer from asthma, we first have to take a closer look at what asthma is exactly.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition that causes the airways of the lungs to tighten.
An asthma attack occurs when your lungs aren’t getting enough air to breathe. You might be having an asthma attack when you have:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
Asthma attacks are caused by certain ‘triggers’.
These triggers can be different for everybody. Triggers can be everywhere. Different triggers can be mould, dust mites, cats and dogs, secondhand smoke. Other asthma triggers may be air pollution (such as ozone, small particles and pollen), allergies to foods, and respiratory infections. Exercise can trigger an asthma attack, as well. Stress or strong emotions can trigger an attack or episode.
You are breathing too much oxygen
From what I understand, you can safely say that when you suffer from asthma you breathe too much too quickly, drawing too much oxygen into the body, and as a result of that you breathe out too much carbon dioxide. Most likely, then, your carbon dioxide levels are getting too low.
If CO2 levels get too low, the hemoglobin that carries oxygen through the blood becomes too “sticky” and doesn’t release sufficient oxygen to the cells. In essence, when you take in too much oxygen, paradoxically enough, you deprive your body of oxygen. This oxygen deprivation has a debilitating effect on your overall health and can cause asthma and other (airway) diseases in the long run.
Becomes a habit
So somewhere down the line, you started to breathe too quickly — which becomes a habit in itself. Your body got used to drawing so much oxygen in, a habit formed and your body needed to keep breathing too much, just to maintain the levels.
To counteract this we need to change our breathing pattern, relax the body and balance the body so that we don’t need to take in that amount of oxygen anymore. That’s where yoga can come in.
How yoga can help
A daily routine of yoga exercises and specifically some exercises that work on relaxing your nervous system, opening your chest, and balancing you in general will be beneficial. Although breathing is an involuntary action in our body – like other essential functions – it is possible for us to change patterns and habits. However, it’s important to have patience and try things gradually. Asthmatics are often quite understandably anxious about the breath and breathing patterns may have been in place for many years so it can take time to change them in a safe way.
For specific breathing exercises that will help you breathe less, raise the C02 levels in your body, and through that improve the delivery of oxygen to the body cells, I recommend reading about the Buteyko breathing method. You can find information about it online or, most likely, find books about it in your local library.
Hope this helps,
Andrew Wrenn – one of our great yoga teachers here on the site, used to suffer from Asthma and has created a great class for you to try: Yoga for Asthma.
You can also read more about Andrew’s experience of how yoga helped his asthma in this interview with him.
Other classes to try:
Strengthen your body, increase your breath
with Sandra Carson, Anusara, Hatha, Yoga Therapy, 45 mins
Neti pot cleansing with Andrew Wrenn, Hatha, Yoga Therapy, 10 mins
Originally published 6th March 2012, updated 12th February 2015