Yoga for Asthama

Asthma is a respiratory disease characterized by chronic inflammation, labored or shortened breathing, wheezing, coughing and sticky mucous from chest. Before we get into discussing the details of this disease, a brief snapshot of what follows in the paragraphs below would be helpful. We will discuss the health benefits of yoga with focus on yoga and asthma with a dedicated section on yoga poses for asthma.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is an ancient Greek word that means "panting, gasping or short-drawn breath." It is one of the most discomforting of respiratory ailments, known to affect around 5% of the world’s adult population and 10% of children. Asthmatics suffer from periodic attacks of breathlessness interspersed with bouts of complete normalcy. 
When normal people inhale, their air sacs fill up with air like small balloons. In exhalation they deflate expelling air. Airways are clear and open in healthy people. In asthmatics, the reverse takes place because their airways and air sacs have lost their shape and have become floppy. Their bronchi and alveoli collapse, rather than expand when air flows through them. As a result, they can inhale and exhale less.

The Symptoms of Asthma

  1. Dry cough
  2. Difficulty in breathing
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Feeling of lightness in the chest 
  5. Wheezing (hissing or whistling sounds during exhalation.)
  6. Sometimes an attack is preceded by a running nose, irritated eyes, or an itchy throat.

Two peculiarities of asthmatics

  1. Almost all patients suffer more attacks at night, in their sleep.
  2. Asthmatics have more trouble exhaling than inhaling.

Causes for Asthma

Factors that precipitate an asthma attack are called triggers. They cause the air passages to get clogged and constricted, making it difficult for the patient to breathe. The inflamed bronchioles generate more mucus and also cause the muscles around them to tighten and get irritated, constricting the airways.  This is called a bronchospasm.

However, asthma has a variety of causes.

  1. Allergy: For most it is an allergy to foods, perfumes, scents, body sprays, deodorizers, the weather, drugs or any other irritants. They vary from person to person. However, dust allergies seem to be the most common factor.
  2. Combination of Factors: For others, it is triggered off by a combination of allergic and non-allergic factors including stress and tension, air pollution or infections.
  3. Abnormal Body Chemistry: Asthma may result from the abnormal body chemistry involving the body’s enzymes or a defect in muscular action within the lungs.
  4. Heredity: In 75 to 100 per cent cases it has been found that when one or both parents suffer from asthma, the children have similar allergic reactions.

What Triggers Asthma?

Some common triggers leading to asthmatic symptoms are allergens like cold, house dust, pollen, animal dander, irritants such as smokes, chemical fumes etc. For some people, in certain cases, stress from emotional and exercising reasons can trigger the symptoms.

Types of asthma

Ayurveda states that there are five types of asthma determined by their range in difficulty to treat and three types based on imbalance of :

  • the air element - dry type asthma,
  • fire element - infection type asthma,
  • water type - congestion type asthma.

Who is at risk? 

Dry type asthma is usually found in people who are tin, frail and who have dry skin and constipation and are sensitive to cold climates.

Infection type asthma is usually found in those who are hot, who are prone to infection in general, who have red rashes on the skin or psoriasis and who are prone to bronchitis. Congestive type asthma is usually found in those who are heavier in body weight, big boned, prone to colds and sinus congestion or chest congestion and water retention and are sensitive to cold and humid climates..

Upon seeing these characteristics what can we do to reduce our chances of developing asthma?

To treat dry type Asthma -

To treat dry type asthma one should increase fluid intake. This will help to increase moisture and oxygen in the body. One should also keep the head, chest and back covered on cool days and avoid exposure to wind. Massage the body daily with sesame oil to add moisture to the body and try to eat foods that are moist and warm rather than raw, cold and rough dry foods. Avoid dairy products and nuts.

For infection type Asthma -

For infection type asthma one should drink plenty of water and avoid eating after 10:00 PM. Eating late in the night can cause the accumulation of toxins in the body due to improper digestion. One should also avoid deep fried foods, exertion in the cold or heat and should try to eat more fruits and vegetables rather than meats and dairy. If a person who is prone to infection type asthma he or she should try to ingest more turmeric, Echinacea in the form of tea and dandelion to prevent infections and boost the immune system. Mediation and breathing exercises are also helpful for such people as their asthma is usually related to stress and anger.

For congestive type Asthma -  

For congestive type asthma one should avoid dairy, wheat products, refined sugar and excess sweet, sour and salty foods. They should try to eat bitter, astringent and spicy foods to increase circulation and flow of mucus and to prevent congestion. They can massage the chest and back with mustard oil to promote circulation in the chest. Balm of Gilead is very effective when rubbed on the chest. It can prevent a chest cold from turning into pneumonia and can dilate the bronchial tubes to encourage deeper breathing. People who are prone to this type of asthma should exercise daily and try to do some cardio exercise for fifteen minutes per day. They should also avoid eating before 10:00am and after 9:00pm to ensure that they do not suffer from weak digestion which is the prime cause of asthma for them. They should keep the head and torso covered on cool days and avoid walking in the rain. It is important for them to drink hot water or Luke warm water rather than cold water and they should avoid iced beverages, ice cream and other cold foods to prevent mucus from becoming clogged.

In general, all people with asthma or chest problems should perform deep breathing exercises daily and can add a few simple spices to their diets to help keep their chests clear.

Ginger, turmeric, black pepper cumin can be ground together and mixed with honey to create a paste. A teaspoon a day of this mixture is very useful in keeping the chest clear. Applying balm of Gilead, eucalyptus oil, cinnamon oil or clove oil to the chest and back also helps to improve breathing. Note, essential oils should be mixed with a base oil - sesame would be the best for those with dry or infection type asthma or mustard for those with congestion type asthma.

Below is a breathing technique than can be used to help increase lung capacity and stamina.

Deep Breath

  • While inhaling, always remember that the body is being filled with air. When something is full it expands.
  • When we exhale we are emptying the body, thus, it will contract or shrink as it is emptied.
  • Also remember that unless otherwise mentioned, all breathing is done through the nose.
  • Sit in a position that is comfortable. The posture should be good. If the spine is not straight, the body cannot fill to its full capacity.
  •   Sit with the hands on the ribs and tummy and inhale. Fill the tummy first and then feel the inhalation filling the rest of the lungs. Continue to breathe until the throat is full and then immediately begin to exhale. Exhale until the body is completely empty.
  • Repeat this exercise four times.
  • This breath can be performed anytime during the day to help you relax.
Benefits - It is very good for those who have asthma as it helps to increase lung capacity and awareness of the lungs and the breathing process. It also helps to soothe both body and mind.
Many ailments can be treated with this breathing exercise because it increases the flow of oxygen to all parts of the body.

Note, for chronic conditions or severe cases of asthma it is always better to consult a qualified helath practitioner, but we have tried to provide you with some simple tips to help improve your quality of living.

Some Yoga Poses that Help in Combating Asthma (Yoga for Asthma)

Here is a list of yoga poses for asthma. Regular practice of these workouts for asthma helps you combat asthma attacks better. There have been debates on how yoga and asthma relate to each other. But studies show that certainly there are definite health benefits of yoga.

Easy Yoga Pose

Sukhasana, is the easiest of the yoga poses for asthma as far as yoga and asthma goes. Sitting erect on the floor, cross your legs and clasp your knees easily and that's it. Breathe easy for 5 minutes.

Shoulder Lifts

Lie down flat on floor on your back with your hands stretched above head. Relax for a couple of breaths and slowly lift up shoulders towards front together with head crouching abdomen as in curls. Inhale as you get up and exhale when retracting.

Sun Salutation

Yoga sun salutation (Surya namaskara) is a combination of 12 poses in a sequence beginning and ending in stand-at-ease pose, the 5th and 6th of them being standing on four limbs with body horizontal to the ground while forehead and nose touches ground. The sequential breathing series during the Sun Salutation prepares respiratory mechanism for the asthma combats. This is also helpful for backaches. This is among the top 10 yoga asana to relive asthma.

Kapalabhati Breathing Technique

Yoga and asthma cannot distance themselves from pranayama, a highly meditated breathing technique. Kapalabhati requires that you breathe rapidly in short sequences and consciously control the movements of the diaphragm (a membrane separating abdomen from chest.) This exercises the entire respiratory system.

Anuloma Viloma Breathing Technique

This is known as alternate nostril breathing technique. You inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other with a long retention of the breath in between. This brings breathing a much needed rhythm.