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How to Decrease Asthma Symptoms With Yoga
If you suffer from asthma, you’ve likely heard how helpful regular exercise can be. Not only does sweat-inducing activity release endorphins and keep your cardiovascular system strong, it can also increase the amount of oxygen that reaches your lungs and energizes your body.
The downside is that exercise can also strain your respiratory system, and in vulnerable asthmatics, even provoke an attack.
But exercise doesn’t have to keep you on the sidelines, even if you’re prone to asthma-induced bronchoconstriction. The level of exertion, type of movement and exercise environment all come into play when asthma is involved, and yoga can help you navigate all the challenges and limitations that might pop up.
In fact, yoga might be your key to better respiratory fitness and a more comfortable life.
How Yoga Differs From Other Exercises
There are dozens of exercise options at your fingertips, but it can be tricky to find the right mix of exertion, strengthening and relaxation to cater to your breathing challenges.
Running, swimming and cycling are good choices, but they can be a bit demanding. Yoga is a great alternative, because it focuses and restores your energy a bit differently.
Yoga Is Highly Adaptable
Plenty of exercises let you adjust your pace, but yoga lets you direct your focus and energy in very specific ways. If you’re feeling particularly lethargic or short of breath one day, you don’t have to give up on your yoga workout — just change it up a bit.
Yoga is unique in how it uses stillness to stretch and strengthen the body: holding a seemingly simple pose for an extended period of time can be quite challenging and incredibly muscle-building without taxing your cardiovascular system too much.
On the other hand, holding a very passive pose for several minutes can be very deeply relaxing and emotionally rejuvenating. You can tailor your yoga to suit your particular needs at any given time.
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Yoga Builds Respiratory Control
All cardiovascular exercise will help strengthen the heart and lungs, but there’s more to consider than aerobic endurance when you live with asthma. Yoga helps you develop cardio strength, but also breath control — and that can change the way your lungs and airways react to triggers.
Since yoga places an equal emphasis on breath control (pranayama) and movement (asanas), you’ll give your lungs and airways more attention than you would during other activities. And as you learn to control your breathing, you also learn to relax your airways and the muscles surrounding your bronchial tubes, which will help air flow to and from your lungs much more easily.
The Best Yoga Poses for Better Breathing
Keep in mind yoga is an incredibly varied practice, and some poses are simply not suited to certain people. Very strenuous practice, including Bikram yoga and other hot yoga styles, can be too demanding and could quickly escalate your asthma symptoms.
However, plenty of postures can help overcome your asthma quickly and safely, and these can be divided into a few categories:
Chest Opening Exercises
Many yoga experts insist physically stretching and opening the muscles in the torso will help open the airways and take pressure off the lungs. Some of the best postures for opening the chest include back bends, forward bends led by your chest and twists.
Cobra pose involves lifting your chest up and back while keeping your hips and legs firmly against the ground. Bridge pose opens your chest with a different approach: with your feet, upper back and upper arms against the mat, you push your hips into the air and hold your back in the arched position.
A sitting half spinal twist can massage the muscles around your spine while it opens your chest to the side.
Before trying any of these postures on your own, be sure to get some one-on-one guidance from a trained yoga instructor.
Asthma can be a stressful disorder, but the symptoms also respond to stress, so anxiety can become a regular part of your routine. Passive postures that allow you to focus on your breath will reduce anxiety and clarify your mind, and both are essential for long-term stress relief.
Savasana, or corpse pose, may look like a simple relaxing posture, but there’s a bit more to it than just lying on your back. The idea is to draw your attention inward, without thinking about any idea or concern.
After relaxing all the muscles in your body, you turn your focus to your breath, slowing it down and using it to guide you into a meditative state. After 10 to 15 minutes in corpse pose, you’ll feel calm and rejuvenated.
Depending on the goals of your yoga practice, breath can be used in different ways to energize or relax. Naturally, the breathing techniques that promote relaxation and control are the most helpful for asthmatics.
Rapid breathing, uneven breathing, and holding your breath for too long can all contribute to an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, an imbalance that could spark an asthma attack. In turn, slow, steady breathing is the most therapeutic, and you should try to always breathe through your nose to warm and humidify the air before it reaches your lungs.
Nadi Shodhan pranayama is another breathing technique that teaches control and patience. Begin with a finger pressing one nostril closed, and breathe in through the open nostril.
Hold the breath for a moment, then breathe out through the other nostril. This method is believed to calm the mind, release pent-up stress and improve circulatory issues.
Using Yoga to Complement Your Asthma Management
Yoga may be able to help you regain some control over your asthma, but be careful not to turn your back on other important management tactics. Medication is important for many asthma patients, and you should stick with your prescribed medication, regardless of the benefits your yoga brings.
The goal is to control your breathing and reduce your symptoms as much as possible, but changes happen gradually. If you commit to your yoga practice and work the breathing techniques into your daily routine, one day you may put your inhaler to rest, but never stop a medication abruptly or without speaking to your doctor.