An average of 300 million people around the world suffer from asthma. This chronic inflammatory disorder very often causes difficulty breathing, wheezing and chest tightness, stopping many from leading normal lives. Those with asthma will often think before participating in any sports, taking a trip to the mountains or cold places, or even being in the dusty outdoors during Spring, among other activities.
What causes asthma
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways. Those with asthma have swollen and sensitive airways which are narrow and clogged with sticky mucus. The airways become narrowed and inflamed, and the muscles surrounding them tighten and squeeze, resulting in symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. Thus, when there is a trigger, it becomes difficult to breathe, and a shortness of breath and coughing occurs.
Symptoms of asthma
Common symptoms of asthma include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, wheezing when exhaling (a common sign in children). There is also trouble sleeping due to shortness of breath or coughing or wheezing, and attacks that get worse during a cold or flu.
Asthma attack triggers
Asthma attack triggers might be different for different people. Common triggers include viruses that cause a cold or flu, allergies to pollen, dust, animal fur or feathers, smoke, fumes and pollution. Certain medicines such as anti-inflammatory painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen, excessive stress or a strong emotion like even laughing really hard can also cause an attack. Weather changes - especially sudden changes in temperature - cold air, wind, heat, humidity are also triggers. Mold and dampness also affect some people. Exercise, when done very vigorously and without mindfulness, can also trigger an attack.
Yoga for Asthma
Yoga is often recommended as a practice to complement other treatments in relieving asthma symptoms and aggravation. A 2016 review of clinical trials involving 1,048 participants found that yoga somewhat improves quality of life and symptoms in people with asthma. Another study on the clinical effects of yoga found that yoga decreased the number of day and night asthma attacks, use of drugs especially salbutamol puff and improvement in the peak flow rate. Practices such as yoga asanas, breathing exercises, cleansing techniques and even meditation can help relieve the symptoms and triggers. Yoga will also boost immunity and strengthen the lungs as well as respiratory system which makes one less susceptible to asthma. Take a look at these yoga asanas to help asthma patients.
How does Yoga help in managing Asthma?
- Yoga postures help in training breath in difficult and restrictive physical positions. Back bending Asanas and spine lengthening asanas help improve one’s posture and improve breathing. Asanas also help improve respiratory and cardiac function, which are essential to manage symptoms during asthmatic attacks.
- Breathing practice in asanas and as pranayama (breathing exercises) help in drastically improving respiratory capacities. Pranayama’s slow and gradual training of the breath will gradually build lung endurance that will manage restricting during the asthamtic attacks. Pranayama helps one become aware, connected to breaths and aids in controlling breath. This habit to connect to breath comes in handy while managing asthmatic attacks (as conscious effort to connect to breath and slow it down won’t work during the attacks)
- Training to keep the mind grounded and calm is one of the most important skills to have during asthma. Many times, the emotional state of mind is a trigger to these attacks. Yoga Nidra and meditation practices not only help gain control over the mind during challenging circumstances but also help in proactively dealing with symptoms of the attack.
- Yoga cleansing practices (known as Shat Karmas) like Neti help in desensitizing the inside of the nostrils that prevent the unnecessary trigger of asthma or trigger to insignificant stimulus. Regular practice of Shatkarma keeps the respiratory system strong and prepared to handle any attacks during the unfavorable seasons.
Yoga poses to help with asthma
Here are a few yoga poses to relieve asthma.
Half lord of the fishes pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This posture opens up the chest, improving oxygen supply to the lungs. It relieves restrictions in the respiratory tract reducing the probability of asthma attacks. It also helps correct posture, helping one breath deeper and better.
How to do Half lord of the fishes pose:
- Sit in Dandasana with your feet together and spine straight.
- Now bend the left leg and place the left foot flat beside the right hip.
- Take the right leg over the left knee and place the left hand on the right knee and the right hand behind you.
- Now slowly twist the waist, shoulders and neck to the right and look over the right shoulder.
- Ensure your spine is straight.
- Now look over the right shoulder while taking slow deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, as you breathe out, first slowly release the right hand (the hand that is behind you), release and turn the waist, chest and neck.
- Sit up straight and relaxed.
- Now repeat this on the other side.
Bound angle pose (Baddha Konasana)
This asana is particularly useful in improving blood circulation and releasing fatigue. It also corrects postures, keeps the spine straight and chest open, which is good for asthama.
How to do Bound Angle Pose:
- Sit with the spine straight and legs wide apart.
- Now bend the legs and bring the feet as close to the groin as you can. Join the soles of the feet together.
- Grab the feet or the toes tightly with the hands. You can place the hands on the mat, below the feet, if you need more support. Ensure your back remains straight.
- Now slowly try to bring the feet closer to the groin if you can.
- If you are comfortable, you can also try to slowly push the thighs and knees towards the mat. Remember to be gentle and do as much as possible.
- Engage the core so you are able to hold the posture. Keep your attention on the stretch in the groin, inner thighs and back.
- Stay here for a few slow, deep breaths. This will help you relax in the posture.
- To release the posture, slowly, exhale and release the toes or feet.
- Extend the legs forward into the staff pose (Dandasana) and relax here.
Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This posture induces blood flow to the brain, calms down the system and releases stress, often a trigger for asthma. This calming effect is therapeutic for asthma.
How to Downward facing dog:
- Come onto your fours. As you breathe out, lift the hips up, straightening the knees and elbows, forming an inverted V-shape with the body.
- Ensure your hands are shoulder width apart and feet are hip width apart and parallel to each other.
- Press your hands into the ground. Widen through the shoulder blades.
- Hold the downward dog pose and take long deep breaths. Look towards the navel.
- To release, exhale. Bend the knees and come back to table pose.
Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
This cobra pose opens up the chest and improves blood circulation. It also encourages deep breathing and strengthens the chest muscles. It, therefore, is good for asthma.
How to do Cobra Pose:
- Lie on your front on your mat with your feet pointed behind you and place your hands on either side. Palms are down on the floor, right beneath your shoulders.
- As you begin to lift up, slide your elbows under your shoulders and reach your fingers forward. Roll the shoulders back, ensuring they are not near the ears.
- Stay here and keep breathing deeply.
- To release, gently bend the elbows and lower your chest.
Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana)
The bridge pose also opens up the chest and lungs, and improves respiratory function. It is good for asthma, thyroid and digestion.
How to do Bridge Pose:
- Lie down on the back and bend the legs. Place the heels on the mat in line with the knees.
- Extend the arms down alongside the body. Palms will be beside the feet.
- Press into the feet, engage the core, and lift the hips.
- Pull the shoulders back, keeping the shoulder blades on the mat.
- Take a deep breath and lower back down slowly.
Breathing exercises for asthma
Oceans breath (Ujjayi)
Oceans breathing has a tranquilizing effect on the mind and body, reduces stress and tension. It balances the body, and is extremely useful in managing many diseases.
How to do Ujjayi pranayama:
- Sit comfortably, keep the mouth closed and relaxed.
- Now, constrict the throat to the point that your breathing makes a light hissing, like a baby snoring.
- Slowly start deepening your breathing to experience more profound effects.
Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana pranayama)
The practice purifies the energy channels (nadis) in the body. This purification thus reduces stress and improves respiratory and cardiovascular functioning. It lowers blood pressure, heart rate and improves lung functioning. Toxins are released, improving blood supply to the brain.
How to do Nadi Shodhana pranayama:
- Sit comfortably with your spine erect, shoulders and facial muscles are relaxed.
- Place your left hand on the left knee with palm facing upwards or in Chin Mudra (thumb and index finger gently touching at the tips). Place the tip of the right index finger and middle finger between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. We will use the ring finger and little finger to open or close the left nostril and thumb for the right nostril.
- Gently close the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
- Now to begin the practice, start breathing in from the left nostril and then close the left nostril gently with the ring finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right.
- Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. This completes one round of the pranayama. Continue inhaling and exhaling from alternate nostrils for a few minutes.
- After every exhalation, remember to breathe in from the same nostril from which you exhaled. Keep your eyes closed and continue taking long, deep, relaxed breaths without any force or effort.
Cleansing techniques for asthma
Frontal lobe cleansing (Kapal Bhati)
Useful for asthma, the frontal lobe cleansing technique helps reduce stress levels, release toxins and blockages. While it cannot cure the condition, it provides a lot of relief.
How to do Frontal lobe cleansing:
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and relax the whole body.
- Inhale deeply through both nostrils, expand the chest.
- Expel the breath with forceful contractions of the abdominal muscles and relax.
- Do not strain or force yourself.
- Continue this active exhalation and passive inhalation.
- Complete 30 rapid breaths, then take a deep breath and exhale slowly.
- This is one round of Kapalabhati. Relax here for a few deep breaths and repeat 2 more rounds.
This is one of the best cleansing techniques for those suffering from asthma. It can be practiced everyday. Both neti practices exert a profound physiological effect on the body, mind and personality. On the physical level, irrigation of the nasal mucosa removes accumulated mucus from the nostrils, associated passages and sinuses, allowing air to flow without obstruction. The practice should always be done under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
How to do Jala Neti:
- Using a Neti Pot for this practice, Jala Neti is done by allowing warm, saline water to pass through the nose.
- Take a standing position, tilt the head to one side to allow the water to seamlessly pass through.
- Throughout the whole practice one must keep breathing through the mouth. Attempts should not be made to breathe through the nose.
Meditation & Yoga Nidra for asthma
Meditation and Yoga Nidra when done regularly are wonderful practices to release stress and keep the mind and body balanced, calm and centered. This helps keep immunity strong and prevents diseases. Practice regularly, under the guidance of a teacher to experience the wonderful benefits.
While yoga cannot cure asthma, it can provide a lot of relief from symptoms and triggers. Making this a habit and sticking to it regularly helps you manage all kinds of concerns in a holistic and sustained manner.