By : Yogi Anil Singh, Yogacharya, University of Lucknow
|What is Yoga Therapy?
Ancient yog techniques, due to their psychological and physical effect on body and mind can be employed in the treatment and management of Physiological and psychosomatic disorders, but it should be remembered, that basically traditional yog was not developed as a system of therapy.
Yoga therapy in its present form is a new discipline,
created by the marriage of traditional yog with modern medicine. By
tailoring yoga practices to individual needs. Whilst taking medical
consideration into account, yoga therapy is more effective than general
yoga practice as a safe means of treating medical conditions and also
applies equal focus on mind, body and spirit, but avoids judgment and
communicates the form and essence of yoga.
|What is Asthma?
Asthma is an ancient Greek word meaning "Panting
Breath". It is the most troublesome of the respiratory diseases. An
asthmatic attack begins when the bronchial tubes in the lungs become
constricted. The tubes having become narrow, the inhaled air becomes
trapped in the tiny air sacs at the end of the tubes, making the release
of beneath difficult.
Asthma attacks occur when, the muscles around the
bronchi go into spasm. The bronchi narrow and breathing becomes
difficult. Inflammation can also swell the lining of the air tubes.
Mucous may increase blockage to the air tubes as well. The reason that
bronchospasms can be triggered by allergies is that histamine, the
chemical most responsible for allergy symptoms, seems to play a role in
asthma attacks as well. But many other things besides histamine can
trigger an attack : strenuous exercise, cigarette some, respiratory
infections, industrial chemicals, aspirin, pet dander, indoor pollution
and the sulfites added to many foods. Stress also plays a role in
asthma. Severe anxiety can trigger attacks, and stress generally
aggravates asthma symptoms.
|Physiology of Asthma
Respiration, like other essential bodily functions,
is involuntary. Our bodies are programmed from birth to perform these
functions automatically, without having to think about them. Respiration
is unique, however, since it can be voluntarily modified by the average
person. This capability is the basis for breathing techniques that have
been part of the yoga tradition for thousands of years. For asthmatics,
these techniques can be the foundation for a program of breath
retraining that can help them manage their disorder. Breathing is
ideally a process of maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Its
efficiency depends on the correct functioning of the diaphragm, a strong
sheet of muscle that separates the heart and lungs from the abdomen.
Each breath starts in response to a message from the respiratory center
in the brain which causes the diaphragm to activate. It flattens into a
disc, making the lower ribs swing out and thus increasing the volume of
the chest cavity. The lungs follow this expansion, creating a partial
vacuum that pulls air into the lower lungs, much like a bellows.
When we exhale, the diaphragm simply relaxes. The
lungs have a natural recoil that allows them to shrink back to their
regular size and expel air. The abdominal muscles and muscles f the rib
cage can enhance this process, but it is the release of the diaphragm
and the recoil of the lungs that are the crucial elements in the
exhalation. After a pause, the breath cycle begins again, a pumping
rhythm we can all easily feel. When our breathing apparatus is working
efficiently, we breathe 14 times per minute at normal condition. In a
healthy person, this rate increases appropriately when the physical
needs of the body require it.
Like other involuntary bodily functions, breathing is
usually controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which enables the
human organism to run like a well-oiled, self-correcting machine. There
are two branches to this system: the parasympathetic and sympathetic.
The parasympathetic branch, known as the "relaxation response," controls
resting functions of the body. It slows the heart and breathing rate and
activates digestion and elimination.
The sympathetic branch has the opposite effect. It
rouses the body and regulates active functions related to emergencies
and exercise. When emergencies arise, the sympathetic branch floods the
body with adrenaline-the well-known "fight or flight" response. The
heart rate goes up and breathing rate increases to supply the body with
an infusion of oxygen. If the danger is real, the increased energy is
used. If not, the including anxiety and hyperventilation
Since few of us are immune to the constant stresses
and strains of modern life, the alarm bells of the sympathetic nervous
system are constantly being rung. It is a real juggling act to maintain
a healthy autonomic balance, a challenge at which asthmatics generally
Although most asthmatics are unaware of it, we tend
to chronically breathe at a rate two to three times faster than normal.
Paradoxically, instead of providing more oxygen, verbreathing actually
robs our cell of this essential fuel. We do take in more oxygen when we
overbreathe; but, more importantly, we also breathe out too much carbon
Most of us learn in school that when we breathe we
expel carbon dioxide as a waste gas, but we don't learn that expelling
just the right amount of CO2 is critical for healthy breathing, If CO2
levels get too low, the hemoglobin that carries oxygen through the blood
becomes too "sticky" and doesn't release sufficient oxygen to the cells.
Eventually, starved for oxygen, the body takes drastic measures to slow
breathing so CO2 and build back up to safe levels. These measures
produce the classic symptoms of an asthma attack: Smooth muscles tighten
around the airways, the body further constricts them by producing mucus
and histamine (which causes swelling)-and we're left gasping for breath.
|Modern Treatment of Better or Worse
Successful treatments for asthma have always been
elusive. Remedies changed little through the ages and have included
herbal tinctures, relocation to arid climates and, believe it or not,
smoking tobacco and cannabis. With the development of bronchodilators or
"rescue" inhalers during the 1960s, everything changed. These
beta-agonist drugs (the most popular is albuterol) bring rapid relief
from the most common symptoms of asthma. Airways quickly reopen,
wheezing stops, and mucus clears. This lets the asthmatic relax and
breathe more easily. These sprays seemed to be the big breakthrough that
would banish asthma forever, but they have a downside. Many asthmatics
overuse their inhalers. Though doctors warn against this, it's easy to
seem how such a pattern develops. People are less likely to avoid the
situations that trigger asthma attacks if they know a puff or two from
an inhaler will magically banish their symptoms. Inhaler overuse can
also mask a silent increase in chronic airway inflammation, giving
asthmatics a blunted perception of how severe their asthma is, so that
they put off getting further treatment until they have a real crisis.
According to the Canadian Respiratory Journal (July/Aug. 98), "regular
use of short-term betaagonists as maintenance therapy for chronic asthma
is no longer recommended." Articles in several other prominent medical
journals have also documented that even normal use of albuterol
eventually worsens asthma. In other words, while inhalers relieve
symptoms in the short term, in the long run they contribute to an
overall increase in the frequency and severity of attacks.
Doctors now recognize the limits of rescue inhalers
and often recommend the use of newer drugs, primarily corticosterids,
which treat an asthmatic's chronic inflammation. With the development of
these anti-inflammatories, medical treatment of asthma has entered a new
era. Prednisone, the most popular of these drugs, is now the last line
of defense against asthma and has saved many lives, including my own.
Regular use can reduce the need for bronchodilators and prevent asthma
attacks. However, prednisone is a potent drug with severe adverse
effects that can include dependence, hormonal changes, weight gain,
glaucoma, and severe bone loss. With long-term use a person can be
affected by problems more crippling than asthma itself.
|Exercise -I : Deep Relaxation
This exercise helps you establish a calm state before
doing the other exercises. Begin by lying down with a firm pillow or a
folded blanket under your head. Bend your knees and rest your feet flat
on the floor. It that is not comfortable, place a bolster or rolled
blanket under the knees. Feel free to shift your position and stretch if
you become uncomfortable. Some people like to play calming music as
well. Place your hands on your belly, close your eyes, and turn your
attention inward. How do you feel? Are you uneasy, uncomfortable,
buzzing, or distracted? Is it difficult to lie still? Is your mind
racing? The goal is to let go of all that, which is not always easy. It
may take several minutes to relax deeply. Give yourself time.
With each exhalation, let your belly sink away from
your hand and into the back body. After a gentle pause, can you feel the
belly rise effortlessly when you inhale? This relaxed action cannot be
rushed, so don't force the movement in any way; an easy rhythm will
settle in as your state of relaxation deepens.
Exercise - II : The Wave
I call this exercise "The Wave" because of the
soothing movement that ripples up and down the spine when the body
settles into your natural breath. This movement helps unlock the
diaphragm and massages the abdomen, chest, and spine, releasing tension
that can interfere with healthy breathing. After Deep Relaxation, place
your arms on the floor alongside your torso. Close your eyes and turn
your attention to the belly and the way it melts into the pelvis each
time you exhale. Begin The Wave by gently relaxing the lower back into
the floor as you exhale, and then lift it a couple of inches as you
inhale. The hips stay on the floor as the lower back rises and falls.
This need not be a big movement, and the pace of breathing should be
slow and easy. Allow yourself to settle into and slightly amplify this
rhythmic wave, and notice if you can feel movement all the way up and
down the spine. Repeat this exercise 10 or 15 times before continuing to
the next technique.
Poor breathing habits may confuse you and cause you
to reverse the coordination of movement and breath, so pay close
attention. If you find yourself feeling tense, take a few normal
relaxing breaths between cycles.
Exercise - III : Softening the Inhalation
In this exercise you will try to soften the effort
you use to inhale, and to decrease the length of your inhalation until
it is shorter than the exhalation by as much as half. When you first try
this exercise, you may feel an urgent desire to breathe in more.
Instead, remember that over breathing is a habit that perpetuates your
To identify your basic relaxed breathing rate, begin
by counting the length of your exhalation, the pause afterward, and the
following inhalation. After several minutes, start to modify your breath
rhythm to emphasize the exhalation. Use the baseline length of your
exhalation as the gauge for any modifications you make : In other words,
don't struggle to lengthen your exhalation; instead, shorten your
inhalation. With practice, this will become easier. In the meantime,
take several of your baseline breaths between cycles if you feel anxious
Exercise - IV : Complete Diaphragmatic Exhalations
An inability to exhale fully is a defining symptom of
asthma. I practice this frequently whenever I feel short of breath. Lie
on your back with your eyes closed and arms stretched out along your
sides. Beginning with an exhalation, purse your lips and blow the breath
out in a steady. Your will feel a strong action in the belly as the
abdominal muscles assist the exhalation. Your exhalation should be
longer than usual, but it is important not to push this too far. If you
do, it will be difficult to pause after exhaling and your subsequent
inhalation will be strained.
Pause for a few seconds after your exhalation,
relaxing the abdomen. Then, keeping your throat open, allow the
inhalation to flow in through the nose. Because of the stronger
exhalation, you should be able to feel the inhalation being drawn down
effortlessly into the lower chest. Count the length of the exhalation,
the pause, and the inhalation. At first, try to make the exhalation at
least as long as the inhalation; do this by shortening your inhalation,
as in the previous exercise. (Unlike the previous exercise, in which you
breathe at your normal resting rate, your breath here will be both
longer and stronger.) Eventually, aim to make your exhalation more than
twice as long as the inhalation and to make the pause after the
exhalation comfortable rather than hurried. Since asthmatics find
exhalation difficult, it may help you to imagine the exhalation flowing
upward, like a breeze within the rib cage, as the breath leaves the
body. Repeat five to 10 cycles of this exercise. As with all the
exercises, I recommend you take several normal breaths between cycles.
Exercise - V : Extended Pause
This exercise is designed to help regulate the CO2
levels in the body. It doesn't give the same quick fix as an inhaler,
but it can turn an asthma attack around if you start it early enough. By
pausing before you inhale, you give the body a chance to slow down and
build up the level of carbon dioxide. An overbreather may find this to
be the hardest exercise of all. At the outset it may the difficult to
pause for even a few seconds, but if you keep trying you will notice
improvement, perhaps even during a single practice session. Eventually,
the pause can extend up to 45 seconds or even longer.,
Position yourself as before : on your back, knees
bent, with feet flat on the floor. In this exercise I recommend that you
consciously shorten your inhalations and exhalations. (Your breath rate
should not become rapid, though; the shorter inhalations and exhalations
are balanced by the longer extended pause.) Inhale for one or two to
four seconds, and then pause. During the pause should be like the
natural relaxation that occurs as you exhale. You can extend the pause
by consciously relaxing wherever you feel specific tensions.
As with all these exercises, patience yields better
results than force. Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times, and feel free to
take normal breaths between cycles.
There are, of course, many other breathing techniques
that can be beneficial in the management of asthma, but I can personally
vouch for the transformative power of the exercises in this program.
Exercise - VI : Catch Your Breath
Once I understood that breaking the cycle of over
breathing is essential to overcoming asthma naturally, I could draw on
all my years of experience with pranayama. I experimented with breathing
techniques to see what would restore my natural breath rhythm. Over time
I settled on a handful of exercises that were both simple and effective
at slowing my breath rate and reducing the incidence and severity of my
asthma. There are certain precautions to consider as you embark on this
program. The program may ultimately reduce your dependence on medication
or enable you to do away with it altogether, but this should not be done
hastily or without the approval of a doctor. If you have diabetes,
kidney disease, or chronic low blood pressure, have had recent abdominal
surgery, or are pregnant, you should consult with your physician before
doing these exercises, I also strongly suggest that asthmatics avoid
additional breathing exercises which call for rapid breathing
(kapalabhati/bhastrika), retention of the inhalation (antara kumbhaka),
or tightening the throat (strong ujjayi). Asthmatics must realize that
many breathing exercises which are quite beneficial for a normal
breather may have a paradoxical impact on an asthmatic, and also do
Jal-Neti, Ghrit-Neti, Gomukhasana, Matshyasana daily with above
Some studies indicate that people with Asthma have
environmental allergies. Although food allergies may also contribute to
the problem, some researchers believe food allergies only rarely
sinusitis. If other treatment approaches are unsuccessful, people with
sinusitis may choose to work with a nutritionist in order to evaluate
what, if any, effect elimination of food and other allergens might have
on reducing their symptoms.
Histamine is associated with increased nasal and
sinus congestion. Vitamin C (2,000 mg three times per day) reduced
histamine levels in people, has been reported to relieve symptoms of
acute Asthma. Eliminate mild and all milk products from the diet,
including prepared foods that list milk as an ingredient. An
overwhelming majority of patients report dramatic improvement in Asthma
conditions after two months of this dietary change.
Do not smoke. Do not spend time around smokers or in smoky
There is an emotional aspect to every illness. Often
times, it is the emotional thoughts or "excess emotions" that will lead
to illness. The following therapies are utilized for calming the mind,
help with stress relief and focuses on our mental powers over any
situation. The ability to balance you emotional, mental, physical and
spiritual self is up to you. Here are some suggestions :
What is your experience with this disorder? Sharing you own
experiences often helps others.
But I also know, from my experience, that if you
make these behavioral changes a daily regimen, you'll gain valuable
tools for managing your asthma.