Asthma comes from the Greek word for “panting”. In Ayurveda, it is named ‘shwasa’. Asthma is a condition where the air passages in the lungs become inflamed. The air passages are the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs. When the air passages get inflamed, it becomes red and swollen. It starts to swell and sticky mucus or phlegm is produced. All these factors cause the airways to become narrow and make it difficult to breathe. This results in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest. Asthmatic attacks can be triggered by allergies, over exercise, cold air, pollution and stress related disorders.
The prevalence of asthma has increased significantly in recent decades. Asthma symptoms vary over time and also differ in severity from one individual to another. When it is not effectively treated, asthma often leads to hospitalization, missed work and school, limitations on physical activity, sleepless nights and in some cases death. Asthma is often treated with steroids that actually weaken the lungs when used for long term and comes with many side effects such as dryness, yeast infection, lowered immunity, thinning of bronchioles, rashes, psoriasis and much more. The science of yoga and Ayurveda suggest that there are many ways to prevent asthma and treat it as well. Several studies have shown yoga treatment for asthma as an alternative therapy to cure asthma.
The benefits of yoga, or any other relaxation techniques, are additional, to the benefits of conventional drug treatment, and it is vital that patients continue to take their prescribed medication. Yoga asanas with its gentle stretches and poses help one to gain flexibility and strength. Pranayama helps to focus on proper breathing, which is an integral part of all yoga exercises. It helps in breath control and helps one to stay calm during an asthma attack. The relaxation aspects in yoga help in calming the nerves. Thus, the practice of yoga helps to combat stress, reduce physical tension and muscle tightness.
Yoga can help beat the symptoms and make your lungs stronger. To incorporate yoga into your natural asthma relief plan, start with these recommended poses:
- Surya Namaskar
- Utthita Trikonasana
- Virabhadrasana 1
- Virabhadrasana 2
Surya Namaskar: Surya Namaskar is obeisance or prostrations (Namaskar) to the sun (Surya). It implies that we are supposed to rise before the sunrise in order to perform this exercise to pay obeisance to the rising sun. This exercise is good no matter what time we may use it, but it is best done while the stomach is empty, before eating. Shown below is the step by step poses of Surya Namaskar.
Step 1: Stand erect, feet together. Place the palms together in front of the chest (as shown below).
Step 2: Raise the arms overhead, lock thumbs. Keeping the arms alongside the ears, bend backward, looking towards the hands.
Step 3: Keep the head between the arms and fold forward, knees straight. If possible place the palms on the floor on either side of the feet and try to bring the face towards the knees.
Step 4: With palms beside the feet, stretch the left leg back, placing the left knee on the floor. Leave the right foot between the hands, right knee to the chest. Look up.
Step 5: Bring the right foot back to meet the left, raise the buttocks so the body forms a triangle (inverted V-shape). Stretch the heels towards the floor and look at the feet.
Step 6: Lower the knees, chest, and chin to the floor, leaving the pelvis slightly raised. Palms are now beneath the shoulders.
Step 7: Lower the pelvis to the floor, stretch up the head, neck, and chest.
Step 8: Pressing with the palms and feet, lift the buttocks high, back into the triangle as in Step #5. Press your heels towards the floor and look your feet.
Step 10: Bring the right foot forward to meet the left, straighten the knees. Let the upper body hang down. If possible, place the hands beside the feet and try to bring the face towards the knees
Step 11: Lock thumbs and with arms alongside the ears, stretch up and bend back, looking towards the hands.
Step 12: Place the palms together in front of the chest.
Utittha Trikona Asana: Inhale deeply. Legs apart. Turn right foot sideways 90 degrees to the right. Arms stretched. Exhale; bend the trunk sideways to the right. Bring right palm down by the right side of right ankle. Stretch left arm up. Look at your left palm. Knee straight. Repeat on the left side.
This asana tones up leg muscles, remove stiffness in leg and hip. Relieves a backache and neck pain, also strengthens the ankle and develops the chest.
Veerbhadrasana – I: Spread both the legs apart and inhale deeply. Turn to the right. Bend the right knee and right thigh parallel to the floor. Stretch out hands sideways. Look to the right and look at your right palm.
This pose helps leg muscles become shapely and stronger. Relieves cramp in the calf and thigh muscles, brings elasticity to the leg and back muscles and tones the abdominal organs.
Veerbhadrasana – II: Bring your feet together. Inhale, arms stretched over the head, and join your palms. Turn to the right. Bend the right knee and right thigh parallel to the floor. Stretch out the left leg and tighten at the knee. Head up, look at the joined palms. In this pose, the chest is fully expanded it helps deep breathing. Relieves stiffness in shoulders and back, tones up ankles, knees, and cures stiffness of the neck. Also, reduces fat around the hip.
Ardhachandrasan: To do this pose one must stretch up and join their palms and move sideways till they can stretch their sides completely by pushing the hips out. Side-way movement can be combined with backward bend and head to knee pose. This pose helps you tone up your abdominal muscles and helps you open up your spine and lower back.
Tuladandasana: Stand with feet together. Stretch with feet together. Stretch arms up, join your palms, elbows locked. Take a step forward with right leg. Point left toe behind you. Inhale, keep your hips level and muscles tight, raise your left leg behind you, completely parallel to the floor, arms outstretched. This asana perfects control and balance by improving physical and mental strength. It also firms hip muscles, thighs and legs.
Vriksasana: Stand straight, feet together. Bend right knee and place right heel at the root of the left thigh. Spine straight, balance on left leg. Join your palms, arms stretched over the head. This asana tones the leg muscles and gives a sense of balance and poise.
Bhujangasana: Lie on the floor, face downwards. Feet together, knees straight, toes pointing. Rest the palms by the side of the pelvic region. Press palms firmly on the floor, pull the trunk up. Weight on the legs and palms. This posture helps improve an injured spine and also displacement of spinal discs. The spinal region is toned and chest gets fully expanded.
Purnasalabhasana: Lie down on your stomach. Chin on the floor, arms stretched by the both sides of your body. Both legs up. This pose opens the rib cage and increases elasticity there. It also firms the abdominal muscles, upper arms, hips, and thighs.
Dhanurasana: Grab your ankle and try to pull your heels as far away from the hip as possible. Lift your chest and your knees as well. Good for your back, spine, shoulders, rib cage and knees.
Suptavajrasana: Sit in vajrasana and then spread your legs apart, and sit with your hips touching the floor. Grab your heels and lie down with the help of your elbows. Take your hand over your head and grab your elbows tightly. Now push your chest up. Without lifting your shoulders.
Sarvangasana: Lie flat on the back. Stretch legs straight up with toes pointing up. Lift your hips and back from the floor. Only the back of the head and neck, shoulders and upper arms to the elbows will b the on floor. Use palm pressure and raise the trunk up and legs up vertically.
Simhasana: Sit in padmasana. Extend the arms in front and place the palms on the floor. Stand on knees and then push the pelvic region to the floor. Stretch the back, contract buttocks and keep arms fully stretched. This pose exercises the liver and controls the flow of bile. It also relieves a painful coccyx and helps to set it when displaced.
Matsayasana: Sit in padmasana. Lie flat on the back. Legs on the floor. Arch the back by lifting the neck and chest. Rest the crown on the floor. Bend the arms, hold the elbows with hands and rest the forearms on the floor behind the head. This pose improves breathing, thyroids benefit from the pose, pelvic joints become elastic, relieves inflamed bleeding piles.
Ushtrasana: A very effective pose against back related problems. Sit in kneel down position and grab your heels. Push your lower back as far ahead as you can. Target is to look at your own toe.
Below is a breathing technique that can be used to help increase lung capacity and stamina:
- 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 correct with a straight spine. 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 can be performed anytime during the day to help you relax
These techniques are very good as it helps to increase lung capacity and awareness to the lungs and the breathing process. It also helps to soothe both body and mind. If done with proper care and mindfulness many ailments can be treated with breathing exercise because it increases the flow of oxygen to all parts of the body.
Among the many health benefits of exercise is natural asthma relief. But people with asthma may find some forms of physical activity challenging if they experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. That’s why yoga is prescribed for people with asthma. Yoga asanas provide an all-round stress-relieving technique with spinal and muscle stretches along with rhythmic breathing exercises – scarcely possible through any other form of workout.
Ayurveda states that there are five types of asthma determined by their range in difficulty to treat and three types based on an imbalance of:
i. air element – dry type asthma,
ii. fire element – infection type asthma, and
iii. water type – congestion type asthma
Dry type asthma is usually found in people who are thin, 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 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.
Tips for relief and cure:
To treat dry type asthma – one should increase fluid intake. This will help to increase moisture and oxygen in the body. Also try to eat foods that are moist and warm rather than raw, cold and rough dry foods. Avoid dairy products and nuts if they create gas, acidity or indigestion to the body. Also, protect the body from catching a cold.
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. Preferably, one should avoid eating solid foods after sunset as our digestive system works best during the day and slows down after sunset. 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. A person who is prone to infection type asthma should try to ingest more turmeric in the form of tea to prevent infections and boost the immune system. Meditation and breathing exercises are also helpful for such people as their asthma is usually related to stress and anger.
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 eucalyptus 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 after sunset 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 torsos covered on cool days and avoid walking in the rain. It is important for them to drink hot or lukewarm 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. Applying balm of eucalyptus oil, cinnamon oil or clove oil to the chest and back also helps to improve breathing.
Proper ways of breathing can cure serious disease like asthma. One should pay attention to breathing along with practicing yogasana. Some important exercises are being mentioned underneath, which are helpful in controlling the disease.
- Always sit straight. Whenever you stand, keep your back straight. Fold your lips in the manner they are folded to blow whistle. Then apply pressure and exhale. Count the breaths and slowly double the capacity to stop the breath but do not do it forcibly. Do not stop breath in between the process of inhaling and exhaling because irregular breathing pattern should not be followed in case of asthma.
- If you are unable to breathe and the shoulders and neck muscles become stiff then follow this technique. Bend the left ear downwards so that it touches the left shoulder – repeat the same technique with the right ear. Lift the shoulders in such a way that they touch both the ears. Slowly bring down the shoulders as far as possible and rotate them forward, backward, up and down in a circular motion. Keep the pace of rotation fast at times and slow at other times. When the muscles get relaxed the breathing also becomes normal and stops the irregular respiration pattern, congestion in the chest and anxiety.
- Lie down straight and keep a book on the stomach. Breathe through the diaphragm and see that the book moves upwards when you exhale and comes down when you inhale. This exercise should be done every day for five minutes; it improves the health of the lungs and strengthens the muscles. Gradually increase the duration of the exercise and the weight on the stomach.
A simple exercise to expand the skeleton:
- Spread the legs equal to the distance of the shoulders, take the hands forward and exhale, then spread the hands and take them on either side of the body and then backwards. Keep the elbows on the back and try to expand the skeleton and inhale slowly.
- Spread the legs equal to the distance of the shoulders, and stand straight. Now lift both the hands upwards and try to contract the body in the same position. Take slow and deep breaths in this position. You should feel that the upper body is moving above the spine. Exhale while bringing down the hands and concentrate only on exhalation.
Among the many health benefits of exercise is natural asthma relief. But people with asthma are likely to find certain forms of physical activity challenging, especially if they are experiencing exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. That’s the reason yoga is catching on among people with asthma as yoga is an all-round stress-relieving technique comprising of gentle stretches and done at a slower pace than other workouts. To incorporate yoga into your natural asthma relief plan, start with the poses recommended in this article. Usually all asthmatic patients breathe incorrectly and so it is pertinent to start by learning some breathing exercises mentioned herein for your perusal and usage.
Note: Please do not over strain yourself, and if you find your symptoms becoming worse or persisting please visit a doctor immediately. This is an article on yoga poses that can help relieve symptoms of asthma and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.