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My daughter is one of the 2 million Australians with asthma. She was just three years old when she was diagnosed and we were gob-smacked. None of the usual contributing factors applied to Ruby and we didn't know how to help her beyond ensuring she took her medication correctly. Fortunately her condition is now stable, but for many people asthma is a serious condition that has a major impact on quality of life (not to mention scaring the pants off anxious loved ones).

 

As a yoga teacher, I knew instinctively that yoga could help my daughter’s asthma. Her diagnosis set me off on a path of discovery and now, over a decade later, I teach many asthmatics the simple techniques that can help them manage their condition. There are many yoga tools that can make a big difference to asthma sufferers - here are just three ways that yoga can help.

 

  1. Follow your nose

Like many people with asthma, my daughter is a mouth breather. Mouth breathing has many disadvantages and is linked to anxiety, sleep problems and reduced immunity. When we breathe through the nose, tiny particles in the air are filtered out by nasal hair and the air is warmed and moistened before entering the airways. Mouth breathing allows cold, dry and unfiltered air into the lungs, irritating the sensitive membranes of the airways. Yoga offers many techniques for encouraging nasal breathing and one of the most effective is Jala Neti – nasal irrigation. Regular Neti keeps the nasal passages clear of pathogens and makes it easier to breathe through the nose. You can buy a Neti pot in most yoga studios and many pharmacies and this video shows you how to do it.


2. Take a deep breath 

One of the distressing symptoms of asthma is the feeling of not being able to get enough air into the body. The solution? Exhale more deeply.  It seems counter-intuitive, but learning how to breathe out fully can help you breathe in more easily. Asthmatics are often diagnosed using tests that measure how fast and hard they can exhale. Weak, slow exhalation is a key indicator of asthma and improving the quality of your exhale can improve the symptoms of asthma. Here’s a simple technique that will help you learn to increase your exhale. If you want to use the correct mudra, or hand position, for this breathing practice, you can see a picture of it here

 

  • After doing Jala Net, sit comfortably and take a natural inhale.
  • Press your right thumb gently into the right side of your nose, blocking the right nostril. Exhale through the left nostril only.
  • Lower your right hand and inhale through both nostrils.
  • Press the tip of your right ring finger into the left side of your nose, blocking the left nostril. Exhale through the right nostril only.
  • Lower your right hand and inhale through both nostrils.


3. Relaaaaaax

Asthma and anxiety often go hand in hand. Several studies have shown that learning to relax the body and mind can improve asthma symptoms. Here’s a very simple relaxation that will help you manage stress, anxiety and asthma symptoms.


  • Lie down on your back. Make sure you’re on a comfortable, flat surface and that you’re warm and comfortable. Put a pillow under your head or a cushion under your knees if it helps.
  • Feel all the points on the back of your body where it meets the floor – the backs of your legs and arms, the back itself, the back of the head. Drop your whole bodyweight down through these points into the floor, letting go of all muscle tension. Relax your jaw and throat.
  • When you inhale, imagine that your body is gently inflating like a balloon. When you blow into a balloon, the air goes straight into the centre of the balloon, which expands outwards in all directions simultaneously. Do the same with your inhale – breathe into the centre of your body and feel it expand outwards in all directions. As you exhale, simply let go and feel the body soften and relax as the breath flows out.
  • Repeat for 12 breaths.

 

There are many specialized yoga practices that are very helpful for asthmatics. My daughter has a regular practice that makes a real difference to her symptoms. They key is to find the techniques that are right for you and then practice them regularly. Working with an experienced yoga teacher or yoga therapist is highly recommended and always make sure you check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program (and remember, while yoga can help you manage your asthma, you should always consult your doctor before changing the way you take your medication).


Founder and Principal Teacher at Adore Yoga in Sydney, Nikola Ellis (E-RYT, IAYT) is a leading international yoga teacher trainer and yoga therapist. She leads yoga therapy trainings, mentoring programs and retreats throughout Australia and Asia.

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