Archive for the ‘Yoga for asthma’ Category

This post, following up on the previous post, offers specific suggestions and a process for safe breathing for pranayama and increasing lung capacity.

Asana: Some gentle movements can definitely help loosen muscles and help tone the diaphragm and lungs for better breathing. Refer to the movements of the Upper Body on Mahasri Yoga.

A few other movements are palm tree pose (tadasana), swaying palm tree pose (tiryaka tadasana), waist rotating pose (kati chakrasana) cat/cow (marjariasana), cobra (bhujangasana), fish (matsyasana), bow (dhanurasana), shoulder pose (kandharasana), bridge (setu). This blog uses asana names from the Satyananda Yoga style.

Body Relaxation: After doing 15-20 minutes of simple physical movements or asanas of your choice, we suggest the following audio tracks that are free downloads (like podcasts) from Mahasri Yoga–you can hear everything directly from your computer speakers. Try one track for a week or two (practicing five days a week). This will take four to eight weeks. It is our belief that it is important for those new to this to go slowly and establish a firm foundation for most gain.

  • Base Position:
    A proper physical posture can be important for practicing pranayama and meditation. Three different positions are described here to accommodate varying needs: sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, and lying down. They can be tried out to determine which one is the most comfortable for your body.
  • Body Stillness:
    The first step to having an effective pranayama practice or meditation practice is learning to use the breath to still and calm the body. As long as the body is restless or tense, the mind is drawn to the body and distracted by it. Making any progress in pranayama is difficult in the agitated or distracted state.
  • Deepening Body Awareness:
    After establishing a base position and learning to still the body, we deepen body awareness. The process of witnessing the body as a spectator deepens the process of relaxation, and that in turn facilitates more efficient rhythmic breathing.
Observing the breath: Before any attempt is made to control the breath, there must a strong awareness of the breath–how it moves in the body, how it feels. The following audio track may be of help.
  • Breath Awareness:
    With this practice we continue the process of deepening awareness of the breath by becoming more sensitive and observant. This can help curb the constant vortex of thoughts that spin around and around. We observe more deeply when the mind is becoming inert and sleepy or going off in tangents. Then through the will power of the witnessing awareness, the mind is trained to stay anchored and focused on the breath. It learns to rest on the breath.

The next post will provide links to audio tracks that begin controlling the breath gently at an individual pace, not a given count.

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Over the years, I have found that some yoga practices have been helpful to people with asthma. Everybody is different and what works for one does not always work for another. From my own experience as well as reading, there is no one particular set of uniform practices.

No one should ever give up their medications and use yoga as a substitute for medical care! I suggest that these practices be tried when the breathing is fine, NOT during an asthma attack. If there is any discomfort, shortness of breath, tightness in chest, stop the practice immediately. The supervision of a yoga therapist is ideal.

Relaxing the respiratory system and its muscles is a good first step. Try a Yoga Nidra, which is done lying down. Use a comfortable pillow under your head and keep yourself comfortably warm. Keep both legs bent at the knees (keep knees hip-width apart) and the feet flat on the floor or bed. Any emotional triggers to asthma may work themselves out through a regular (3-5 times a week) practice of Yoga Nidra.

Learning to breathe right, through the nose, can also be helpful. Abdominal or belly breath,  full yogic breath, and samavritti pranayama/balanced breath  can facilitate nose breathing. Do not breath in ujjayi for any of them. These practices may be helpful in regulating the rhythm of the breath.

Some of my students have found kapalbhati pranayama (skull-shining breath) very helpful–but it is done slowly (15-20 per minute as opposed to 70-90 per minute) so there is no hyperventilation. Here the exhalation is active and short and the inhalation is passive.

Kapalbhati done in cobra (bhujangasana), or the sphinx, has been very effective for some. The chest opens up allowing for fuller breathing.

This can be followed by buzzing bee/bumble bee breath (bhramari pranayama) where the inhalation is shorter than the long, slow exhalation which is done with a slight drawing in of the belly. Again, the exhalation is active–but long instead of short as in kapalbhati. The link is to Calming the Storm track and it takes the listener through the pranayama after a short story.

There is an interesting article, Asthma Answers, in the Yoga Journal by Barbara Benagh that may be worth reading. The author had her own experiences and lists a set of breathing exercises that worked well for her.

The latest issue of the newsletter by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) states it has found no evidence of significant improvement in asthma patients using breathing exercises or acupuncture.

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