Battling bronchial asthma

Asthma is a chronic illness with intermittent exacerbations. Due to exposure to certain known or unknown allergens (substances producing allergy,) there is allergic reaction in the body. 

Asthma is a chronic illness with intermittent exacerbations. Due to exposure to certain known or unknown allergens (substances producing allergy,) there is allergic reaction in the body. 

This causes closure of the airways, that is, the tubes through which air passes to and fro from the lungs, manifesting as cough and shortness of breath.

This is a problem inherent to the body and there is no root cure available in medical science for total cure. The patient has to take medicines periodically, at times regularly to keep moving and working.

These medicines also produce some unpleasant short term or long term side effects. Considering the chronic nature of the illness, it is desirable to control it by non pharmacological means as far as possible.

Yoga has some exercises which are useful to control bronchial asthma. Those who do it regularly get fewer attacks and the intensity of attacks is also reduced.  

Exercises should be done on an empty stomach, i.e. before breakfast or 2 hours after any meal.

These exercises are as follows:

-Pranayama or breathing exercises
– These are the simplest and can be done very easily by the old and young alike. The simplest one of them is, one can sit on a mat cross legged or with legs spread straight in front. It can be done sitting on a chair also but best position would be to sit down as one can focus more on breathing.

Back should be straight in any position. One nostril is closed by the thumb and deep inspiration is done through the other nostril. Then thumb is removed and the inspired air is exhaled through this nostril. Same process is then repeated with other nostril, as shown in the picture below.

- This exercise can be done from
- 10 to 100 times but one should start
- With few and then increase number.
- Another type of breathing exercise useful for asthma patients is known as, “ Kapalbhati pranayama”.

After taking a deep inspiration or 2 normal breaths, one has to exhale forcibly using the abdominal muscles. Rhythm of expiration has to be kept steady.

This exercise can be done from 10 to 20 times.

-“Sarvangasana”  This exercise is also useful for patients of asthma  – Lie down straight on the back on a mat. Then gradually raise both legs with support of hands on hips, straight up to 90 degree.

Maintain body in this position for about one minute and then lower the body slowly.  Come back to lying position “Surya namaskar” or salutation to sun lord is  a very  useful exercise for entire body and also for asthmatics.

The exercises should also be done slowly. Movements should be slow and not jerky. Joints should not be stressed. That is one should stretch the limbs initially only to the extent what he or she can do comfortably.

Gradually as the body becomes adapted, range of movement and number of times of exercise can be increased. But 4 to 6 times is the limit and it should not be done more.

There are some other exercises also useful for bronchial asthma, but I have mentioned the simplest ones. After doing the exercises body should be relaxed by simple deep breathing or relaxation techniques.

As such attacks of bronchial asthma are known to be exacerbated by mental tension. Therefore relaxation techniques if done regularly will greatly help people suffering from asthma.

One of these techniques is to adopt the position of a dead body (“shavasana”). One has to lie down on the back on a mat, with arms lying loose at sides and legs spread apart.

For few minutes try to fill the mind with some positive and pleasant thoughts or if possible keep mind without thoughts. This technique when done for five minutes, experienced people say that it provides same relaxation as after sleep of few hours.

“shav” is Sanskrit word for corpse and “ asan” means position. Thus if patients of asthma do the above simple exercises regularly they would definitely get fewer attacks of asthma.

But after starting doing exercises they need to be patient to get the results. Because, like with any other exercise, results do not appear overnight after doing it.

It can take few weeks or months depending on many factors like one’s stamina, regularity of exercise, smoking, alcoholism and stress.

Some of my staff members who suffered from asthma have benefitted from pranayama, so I think others can also use these techniques and obtain the benefit.

The writer is a specialist in Internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital.