Yoga Shown to Help Reduce Asthma Symptoms

A study presented this week at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting shows that a regular yoga practice can help reduce the severity of asthma symptoms.

Participants in the trial, which studied the effects of Hatha yoga, were able to lower the use of their asthma medication through a yoga routine that consisted of yoga 3 times a week for 10 weeks. Participants were regularly given questionnaires that measured the frequency and severity of their asthma symptoms, as well as their social and psychological functioning. On average, the yoga participants improved a significant amount—by almost 43 percent.

Although previous studies had shown some positive results, they were focused on the immediate physiological responses following a more rigorous practice of yoga twice a day for 10 days. This demanding physical practice did not prove as feasible for the average participant, and thus provided less realistic results.

So how does yoga help to reduce symptoms of asthma? The practice is effective because of its emphasis on controlled breathing and movement. “Breathing symptoms are such a big part of asthma in terms of gaining control over them,” said Dr. Jonathan Field, director of the Allergy and Asthma Clinic at New York University School of Medicine/Bellevue Medical Center. “Yoga enhances awareness of breathing, and you may be able to recognize early on when breathing is not at a level it should be, which would promote earlier care. Also, it’s been recognized that deep breathing in athletes—swimmers or runners—actually improves asthma. When you have more functional use of lungs, it protects against asthma.”

Yoga asanas that emphasize stretching the lungs and opening the respiratory system will provide the best results for asthma relief. Backward bends and chest expansions such as Ushtrasana, or camel pose, improve oxygen supply by expanding the lungs and flushing out impurities from the respiratory organs.

For the more advanced and flexible, try the Matyasana, or fish pose—it broadens the shoulders and chest, opening the lungs for greater oxygen capacity. In general, slow, controlled movements and focused breathing in your yoga practice will provide the greatest results.

Poses to try:

  • Ushtrasana (camel pose)

  • Matyasana (fish pose)

  • Ūrdhvamukhaśvānāsana (upward-facing dog pose)

  • Dhanurāsana (bow pose)

  • Setubandhasarvāṅgāsana (bridge pose)

  • Bhujaṅgāsana (cobra pose)

  • Bitilasana (cow pose), combined with Marjaryasana (cat pose)

  • Ūrdhvadhanurāsana (wheel pose)

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