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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

If you feel anxious, nauseous, or short of breath while doing the following exercises, STOP. Get up and walk around. You are probably hyperventilating and need to burn off some energy. Don't try to continue your exercises immediately, but come back to them the next day.

Remind yourself often—especially if you get frustrated—that the way you breathe now is making you ill; that it's learned behavior; and that it can be changed.

Practice the exercises once or twice daily. When you are exhibiting symptoms, exercises 4 and 5 can be done more frequently.

There is one final guideline that may seem like a whole program in itself, since it can be so hard for an asthmatic to do: It is very important to breathe through your nose during all the exercises, even though asthmatics are often chronic mouth breathers. In fact, it is important to breathe through your nose most of the time. Air breathed in through the nose is filtered, warmed, and moistened, making it just right for sensitive airways. Nose breathing also promotes correct diaphragmatic action since it makes hyperventilation more difficult.

You may protest that you have to breathe through your mouth because your nose is always blocked. But did you know that a chronically blocked nose can be a result of poor breathing, instead of the other way around?

Here are a few tips to help unblock that schnozz and keep you breathing through it. After an exhalation, hold your nose and shake your head up and down for a few seconds, stopping when you need to inhale. This can be very effective, especially if you repeat it a few times.If you do Headstand in your asana practice, you may find that it helps, too. Using a mild saline solution to wash out your sinuses is also a great habit to develop. (Neti pots are designed for this purpose.)

When you're trying to breathe through your nose, don't pull the air into the nostrils; instead, open the throat. I do this by imagining my mouth is located at the hollow of my throat.

My last suggestion is an unorthodox but highly effective way to break the mouth-breathing habit. Tape your mouth closed with surgical tape! It's a bit weird, but it really works—especially at night, when you can't use other strategies.

Be very patient with your chronically stuffy nose; you will gradually feel improvement.

Exercise 1
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. If 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 (or several sessions) to relax deeply. Give yourself time.

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Reader Comments

Sam P.

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


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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