by Sarah Kingsley, DPT
Asthma is termed as a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the airways. It is characterized by hypersensitivity to stimuli and widespread intermittent and episodic airway obstruction. Symptoms associated include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing. Incidences are more common amongst young boys, however in adult women as opposed to men.
Many people with asthma have chosen yoga as a form of safe exercise, as it often incorporates attention to breathwork, posture, and a connection between mind, body and spirit. Many studies have shown that yoga can help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. However, until recently the exact safety and effects of yoga on quality of life, asthma control, symptoms and pulmonary function had not been formally assessed. In 2014 a complete meta-analysis of these exact parameters was completed. The results showed positive effects of yoga on quality of life and pulmonary function when compared to other usual and psychological care methods. The benefits were specific to yoga practices that implemented breath retraining.
For example, a 2012 study found that pranayama yoga breathing and practicing stretching postures over the course of 2 months increased respiratory stamina, relaxed the chest muscles, expanded the lungs, improved energy levels, and helped calm the body. If you are struggling with asthma, you will want to avoid especially Bikram or “hot yoga” due to the high humidity and temperature that negatively affects your breathing. Traditional Ashtanga forms of yoga that are intensely physical are also not recommended for those suffering with asthma, as you want to strive for more relaxation in the body to improve your immune system function. If you are congested nasally, avoiding forceful inhalation through the nose is also best, instead aim for a short inhalation with a slow and long exhalation to further stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxing state.
Specific poses that incorporate a standing position with various movements of the spine into each flexion, extension, and especially rotation that help massage your spine, mobilize your thoracic rib cage and help condition your lungs will have a positive impact on your immune system. The following are some examples of beneficial poses for Asthma and Allergy sufferers:
Warrior 1 – This pose utilizes gravity to allow mucus to drain out of the nose and lungs by opening the chest.
To perform: Begin standing with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a large step back with your right foot, opening your hip into external rotation and allowing the toe to turn out to the side at whatever degree is available to you, pressing the heel down into the floor. Your feet should be on two separate lines with your front foot facing forward. Your front knee will bend, and aim to keep your pelvis positioned facing forwards and as neutral as possible. Breathe in as you reach both arms up towards the ceiling, in line with your ears, with your palms facing each other. Exhale slowly and hold this pose for 3-10 breaths. Step back to start with your right foot, and repeat stepping back with your left foot.
High Crescent Lunge – Similar to warrior 1 and allowing for the same benefits.
You will perform in the same manner as Warrior 1, however when stepping back with the right leg, the toes and hip will continue facing forwards. Keep your back heel lifted and a soft bend in your right knee in order to keep your pelvis neutral as your front knee bends. Again, inhale as you reach your arms up towards the ceiling, palms facing each other. Exhale slowly and hold this pose for 3-10 breaths. Step back to start with your right foot, and repeat stepping back with your left foot.
Half Moon – This pose helps in clearing your head from hay fever, alleviating symptoms such as wheezing, runny nose, and watery eyes by opening up the rib cage and lungs.
To perform: Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Bring your left hand to your left hip. Think about energetically dialing your right foot out to the right/pinky toe to aid in externally rotating your hip as you reach the right arm down towards the floor OR a block. The left leg will lift back behind you parallel to the floor with the toe pointing perpendicular to your mat. Pull your left toe up towards you and reach back through your left heel to keep the back leg active. If you are able, reach your left arm straight up towards the ceiling so both arms are wide. You may keep your gaze and neck aiming straight down to the floor which will put less strain on your neck and drain the sinuses in a downward direction out of the nasal canal, OR you can turn your head up towards the ceiling which will drain the sinuses more down towards the cervical lymph nodes. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then return your left leg to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Goddess Squat with Arms Wide and Rib Cage Mobilizations – This move is not one you might find in traditional yoga practices, but a fan favorite in our LYT Yoga method. This is an upright posture that aims specifically to mobilize the rib cage, allowing for good breath expansion and release of any inflammation or fascial restriction limiting breath or contributing to asthmatic symptoms.
To perform: Turn sideways on your mat and bring your feet wider than shoulder width. Turn your toes out to whatever degree of hip external rotation is available to you. No need to force the turnout. Bend your knees, trying to keep your pelvis neutral (not tipping forwards or backwards) sitting down into whatever squat position is comfortably available to you. Bring your arms wide with open palms facing either straight in front of you or down towards the floor. Begin to shimmy your upper torso ONLY from side to side, feeling the mobility come from your rib cage, while attempting to maintain a stable and neutral pelvis below. Continue shifting left to right/side to side about 10 times while breathing. Alternatively, you can count the breaths performing for 5 breaths.
If you want to improve your asthma and allergy symptoms, try yoga today by signing up for our online on-demand platform, LYT Daily: https://lytyoga.uscreen.io/