If you have asthma, you’re not alone. Approximately 300 million peopleTrusted Source around the world have this chronic inflammatory disorder. Typically, asthma treatment involves medication and preventive measures like avoiding triggers. Some say yoga can also help alleviate asthma symptoms. To date, yoga isn’t a part of standard asthma therapy. But it’s possible that a regular, gentle practice could provide relief. Plus, if yoga improves your symptoms, there’s generally no harm in doing it.
Read on to learn about the current research behind yoga and asthma, along with the best yoga exercises to try.
Can yoga alleviate asthma symptoms?
Yoga is often recommended for controlling asthma symptoms. But there isn’t an established link between yoga and asthma relief. In a 2014 reviewTrusted Source, researchers analyzed 14 studies with a total of 824 participants. These studies had tested the effect of yoga on symptoms, lung function, and quality of life in people with asthma.
The researchers found minimal evidence that yoga can help. They concluded that yoga can’t be suggested as a routine treatment. However, it could supplement existing therapy, especially if it helps a person with asthma feel better.
A 2016 reviewTrusted Source found similar results. Researchers examined 15 studies on how yoga breathing, poses, and meditation affect asthma symptoms. The researchers found moderate evidence that yoga could provide minor benefits.
According to these reviews, there’s little proof that yoga has a definite benefit. Larger reviews and studies are needed to understand how yoga can help asthma, if at all. But if you’ve been properly managing your asthma, it doesn’t hurt to try it. Many people with asthma report feeling better by doing yoga. It’s said that yoga may help by improving posture and opening the chest muscles, which encourages better breathing. It could also teach you to control breathing and reduce stress, a common trigger of asthma symptoms.
When trying these yoga techniques, keep your rescue inhaler nearby. Move gently and slowly.
If you’re new to yoga, check with your doctor first. They can explain how to safely do yoga.
Breathing exercises are designed to help you gain control of your breath. When practiced correctly, these techniques can promote more effective breathing.
1. Pursed lip breathing
Pursed lip breathing is a technique that relieves shortness of breath. The exercise brings more oxygen into your lungs, which slows down your rate of breathing.
- Sit in a chair. Relax your neck and shoulders.
- Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of two. Keep your lips puckered, as if you’re about to blow out a candle.
- Exhale slowly through your lips to the count of 4. Release all the air from your lungs.
- Repeat until your breathing returns to normal.
2. Diaphragmatic breathing
If you have asthma, your body must work extra hard to breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces this effort by opening the airways, strengthening your abdominal muscles, and increasing your lung and heart function. This exercise may help soothe your asthma symptoms.
- Sit in a chair or lie down in bed. Place one hand on your belly so you can feel it moving in and out.
- Inhale slowly through your nose. You should feel your stomach move out, filling with air like a balloon.
- Exhale through pursed lips, two or three times longer than your inhale. Your stomach should move in as the air flows out.
During this exercise, your chest should stay still. You can place your other hand on your chest to make sure it doesn’t move.
3. Buteyko breathing
Although not traditionally taught as part of a yoga practice, Buteyko breathing is a set of exercises that can help improve asthma symptoms. Here’s one technique that’s used to calm coughing and wheezing.
- Take a small breath and hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat several times.
- Exhale through your nose.
- Pinch your nose with your pointer finger and thumb.
- Hold your breath for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Breathe for 10 seconds. Repeat if your symptoms continue.
If your symptoms don’t improve within 10 minutes, or if your asthma symptoms are severe, use your rescue inhaler.
Asana yoga moves
Some yoga poses can relieve asthma symptoms by opening your chest muscles. You can try:
4. Bridge Pose
The bridge is a classic yoga pose that opens your chest and encourages deeper breathing.
- Lie on your back. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent. Place your hands on the floor, palms facing down.
- Inhale and move your pelvis up, keeping your shoulders and head flat. Take a few deep breaths.
- Slowly lower your pelvis to the floor.
5. Cobra Pose
Like Bridge Pose, Cobra Pose expands your chest muscles. It also promotes blood circulation, which supports better breathing.
- Start on your stomach. Place your palms on the floor beneath your shoulders, fingers spread wide and facing forward. Straighten your legs behind you, hip-width apart.
- Press your pelvis into the floor. Press into your hands and lift your upper body, keeping your hips still. Roll your shoulders back and keep your chin parallel to the floor so that the back of your neck stays elongated. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Lower your upper body to starting position.
6. Seated spinal twist
To stretch your respiratory muscles, try the seated spinal twist. The pose also stretches your back muscles and reduces tension in the torso.
- Sit up straight in a chair. Plant your feet on the floor.
- Rotate your torso to the right, shoulders parallel. Place your hands on your right thigh. Pause for 3 to 5 breaths.
- Return to center. Repeat on the left side.
Pranayama yoga moves
You may also benefit from yoga breathing moves. These techniques can be done on their own or as part of a gentle yoga routine.
7. Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a popular yoga technique for relieving stress. It can also decrease shortness of breath due to asthma.
- Sit on the floor or bed, legs crossed. Exhale. Place your right thumb on your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
- Place your right ring finger on your left nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril, then close it with your right thumb. Exhale through your left nostril.
- Repeat as necessary.
8. Victorious breathing
Victorious breathing is a yoga technique that may help improve lung function, especially when done with diaphragmatic breathing. The technique also involves an audible breath, which is thought to promote relaxation.
- Sit up tall, cross-legged on the floor.
- Inhale slowly through your nose.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, creating an “aah” sound.
As you master this breath, try exhaling loudly with closed lips. Exhale through your nose while releasing an audible breath from the back of your throat.
In addition to potentially relieving asthma, yoga offers many health advantages. This includes physical and mental benefits, such as:
- better respiration
- improved cardio and circulatory health
- increased breathing awareness
- improved flexibility
- increased range of motion
- better balance
- improved muscle strength
- toned muscles
- stress management
- anxiety relief
- improved focus
While you may experience some of these benefits after one session, it’s best to practice yoga regularly. A routine practice will help you consistently enjoy these benefits.
Though yoga may offer some asthma relief, the most effective way to treat your symptoms is to take your medication. It’s also essential to follow your doctor’s orders, especially if they ask you to avoid certain triggers. Your doctor can provide guidance during routine checkups.
You should also talk to your doctor if you experience:
- severe asthma attacks, even with medication
- frequent flare-ups (more than twice a week)
- worsening asthma symptoms
- increased need to use your rescue inhaler
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might recommend daily long-term medication as a preventive measure.
Yoga isn’t a standard asthma treatment. However, when combined with medication and lifestyle modifications, it could have a therapeutic effect. The key is to make sure your asthma is already controlled before trying yoga and other exercises.
Your doctor can determine if yoga is appropriate for you. When learning breathing techniques or yoga moves, be sure to consult a specialist who’s knowledgeable about asthma. Keep your rescue inhaler nearby and do each exercise gently.