Yoga for Asthma
Asthma is a respiratory condition where the airways become inflamed, constricting breathing. Often the wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath associated with the condition, occurs suddenly as an “asthma attack” in reaction to an external trigger, including an allergen, irritant, exercise, or even emotions. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies such as herbal therapy, acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic, relaxation techniques, nutrition and dietary supplements, continue to gain popularity as treatments for asthma. Practicing yoga can provide unique benefits for the asthma sufferer and avoid the potential side effects often associated with pharmaceutical drugs.
How Can Yoga Help Asthma?
Preliminary studies investigating yoga and breath work for treating asthma have been promising. Several randomized controlled trials have shown a benefit from yoga postures and breathing. Yoga may reduce asthma symptoms, increase exercise tolerance and decrease the use of asthma medications.
Research suggests that yoga might:
- Improve mood and sense of well-being
- Counteract stress
- Increase lung capacity
- Improve muscle relaxation
- Help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia
- Improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility
Breathing exercises used in yoga have been found to help some asthmatics control breathing and reduce stress, a common asthma trigger. Breathing techniques and improved control of breathing by yoga may contribute to the control of asthma symptoms in some people. Breathing exercises emphasized in yoga have the potential to improve lung function and quality of life in persons with asthma.
In addition to general relaxation and reduction of stress, several studies of people with asthma have suggested that lung function and exercise capacity may improve with the regular practice of yoga. A majority of yoga users (61%) felt yoga was important in maintaining health, though only 25% disclosed yoga practice to their health professional.
Due to the small number of controlled trials and due to the small number of patients studied, it is not possible to make firm judgments regarding the long-term efficacy of using yoga to control or prevent asthma attacks. More carefully constructed randomized controlled trials using strict methodological quality are required to allow generalized conclusions. Studies in the pediatric population that have shown that yoga may help children, but again larger clinical trials are needed.
Which Type of Yoga is most effective for Asthma?
The type of yoga that has been practiced in most studies on yoga for asthma has involved breathing exercises (called pranayama), stretches (known as postures in yoga), and meditation.
There are also certain specific breathing techniques that are associated with yoga for asthma, such as the Anuloma Viloma and Kapalabhati breathing techniques. These techniques involve taking both long and short breaths for certain intervals of time in order to help exercise the lungs and regulate breathing.
A randomized controlled trial has shown that the practice of Sahaja yoga does have limited beneficial effects on asthma. Sahaja Yoga is a traditional system of meditation based on yogic principles which may be used for therapeutic purposes. Another study on Iyengar yoga, a form of yoga known for using props such as belts and blocks as aids in performing postures, conferred no appreciable benefit in mild-to-moderate asthma.
Overall, the relaxation and stronger connections to one’s body that are developed through yoga practice can help to decrease anxiety and increase physiological control, helping to manage and avoid mild asthma attacks. Other studies have indicated the immune enhancing effects of yoga, which can increase an asthmatic’s defense against common colds that may exacerbate asthma.
Which Yoga Poses Are Most Effective for Asthma?
Yoga poses (asanas) for asthma include shoulder lifts, which help to elongate the torso and relax the top of the body, and the sun salutation, a stretching exercise to ease muscle tension. Asana, or yoga poses for asthma, are designed to help with performing daily activities. Poses like the Pada Hasthasana, Ujjayi, and the Suryabheda are designed to extend the capacity of the lungs, tone muscles and increase strength and stamina. Remember to build up slowly in your practice of these postures, and do not overstrain your body. Seeking the guidance of an experience yoga instructor can help to ensure proper form during yoga practice.
Should Anyone Avoid Yoga?
Pregnant women and people with some medical conditions should seek advice from their yoga instructor regarding postures to avoid. Although yoga during pregnancy is safe if practiced under expert guidance, pregnant women should avoid certain poses that may be problematic. People with certain medical conditions should not use some yoga practices. People with disc disease of the spine, extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, retinal detachment, arterial disease, blood clots, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, or neck problems should avoid some inverted poses.
Exercise and Asthma
Exercise can be a trigger for asthma in some people. However, with appropriate treatment, even vigorous exercise is possible. The benefits of yoga postures can be helpful for people who don’t live active lifestyles. According to Yoga philosophy, a calm mind produces regular breathing and a relaxed body, which could benefit persons with asthma.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system, affecting about 20 million Americans. Breathing difficulties in asthma are caused by blocked or narrowed airways. The airways become inflamed and irritated in reaction to some kind of substance or situation, called a “trigger.” Although there is no cure for asthma, most people can control the symptoms and lead active lives.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Allergens, such as pollen, mold, dust and dust mites, cockroaches
- Irritants, such as pollution, cigarette smoke, cold air, strong odors, stress
- Sulfites in food or beverages
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
Not everyone experiences all the symptoms of asthma. The frequency and severity of the symptoms will also vary from person to person.
The five most common symptoms are:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
Only a doctor can diagnose asthma. If you have not been diagnosed with asthma, but are experiencing any of the above symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
- Inform your yoga instructor that you have asthma.
- Ask about the physical demands of the type of yoga in which you are interested.
- Inform your health care practitioner of all Complementary and Alternative (CAM) practices used.
- Medications should never be adjusted or discontinued without consulting your doctor.
- Do not use yoga as a replacement for conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor.
- All children should have an Asthma Action Plan on file at school with detailed instructions to assist personnel in managing asthmatic episodes.
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