Try to take a deep breath in. Do your lungs fill fully, without making you feel tight or constricted in your chest? Can you inhale and exhale like you are taking a deep, luxurious breath of a fragrant flower? If you can do this, consider yourself lucky. Many people suffering from asthma have a hard time doing something many of us take for granted. Yoga can be a wonderful way to relieve the symptoms of asthma for those who do suffer from this respiratory condition that includes spasms of the lungs, coughing, wheezing, an inability to take in a full breath of air, a test chest or shortness of breath.
Asthma can be triggered by irritants in our modern environment, such as pet hair, airborne toxins, or seasonal allergies, but many asthma sufferers have been trying to manage their symptoms since childhood. They can’t take anything for granted – including a brisk
Walk in the park under newly blooming trees and flowers, or other physical activities like participating in sports. Although symptoms can range from acute to mild, most often asthma is treated with corticosteroid inhalers that help to send medication into the airways and bronchial alveoli. Over 300 million people are affected with asthma worldwide, and while some of the triggers are unavoidable, yoga can provide an alternative means to treat symptoms.
Asthma: Replacing Panting with Pranayama
Since the word ‘asthma’ comes from the Greek, meaning ‘panting,’ one of its primary therapies is the exact opposite, or deep breathing, one of many types of breathing exercises in pranayama, a Sanskrit term which doesn’t translate smoothly into the English language, but comes closest as ‘cultivating and controlling the life force through breath.’ Many people breath in a shallow manner throughout the day, utilizing only the top portion of the lungs, and never filling the lungs completely. The diaphragm, an important supporting organ for a deep breath, is rarely used fully.
When utilizing a yogic breath to help counteract this bad habit of shallow breathing, often called a panic breath, we help to reset the physiological triggers that cause asthmatic symptoms. This type of breathing enhances overall lung function but also has a profound effect on the nervous system and brain, inducing a more relaxed state of mind.
Yoga Asthma Tools For a Deeper Breath
Another tool in yoga, that can help with asthma are asana, or gentle stretches that help to re-establish proper energetic flow of life force or prana throughout the body, including in the heart and lungs. The parasympathetic nervous system is crying out for relief when we are stressed out, and asthmatic symptoms are often worsened in people who are emotionally upset. By learning to use slow, mindful movement to work through tension in the body, we allow a release of stored up emotion in the muscles and joints. Asana like Halasana, (plow pose) or Paschimotasana (forward fold) should be bypassed for other postures which help to open airways instead of constrict the cervical and thoracic spine. Heart openers like backbends, are wonderful for asthma patients as well as asana like Bhujangasana (cobra), and Savasana (corpse) will open the heart and chest and then instill relaxation respectively.
Keep in mind, that your yoga practice should be done in tandem with your Doctor’s advice, and that while you may not be able to throw away your inhaler forever, you might find that you need it much less often. Yoga is a wonderful alternative therapy to reduce the symptoms of asthma. Just focus on going slow, and calming the heart and mind for the best results.
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