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Asthma Answers

Following an emergency visit to an intensive care unit, yoga teacher Barbara Benagh pledged to beat her asthma. After extensive research, she discovered the key to overcoming asthma is retraining the breath.

By Barbara Benagh

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 5
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 be 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 seconds, exhale for two to four seconds, and then pause. During the pause you may feel an urge to exhale a bit more, which is OK; in fact, the overall feeling of 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 five 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. I am still an asthmatic, but I haven't been hospitalized or on prednisone for a very long time.

The results of my efforts have been nothing short of exhilarating. Though I continued to practice yoga throughout my worst asthma years, my practice has become stronger as a result of the breathing exercises, which have helped me develop a greater sensitivity to the role of breath in asana practice. Also, I've been able to return to cycling, a favorite pastime I'd given up for a decade. Less than one year after adopting this program, I was able to cycle over Colorado's Loveland Pass (11,990 feet) and to ride from Boston to New York City in a weekend without taking a single breath through an open mouth!

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Reader Comments

Sam P.

Wish there was a video to show how to do these exercises more efficiently.

Retha

Thank you!! I developed asthma later in life and have been aware that my breathing patterns tend to be forced. I will start these breathing exercises NOW. I appreciate B.K.S.Iyengar's yoga and feel immensely fortunate to have found your article! Thank you so much!

rahul kumar

Thanks a lot for for sharing your valuable experience. I'm going to start these exercises from today as I have developed asthma symptoms a couple of months ago and am really very disturbed by them. I know I was anxious and had disordered breathing earlier. Now I'm sure and I'll cure my breathing with these exercises.

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