Breath is something that asthmatics never take for granted. We are in touch with our lungs, our breathing and how important maintaining a clean breath is. Many people with asthma are looking for ways to stay active, but do so with an activity that honors their asthma and doesn’t take their breath away. Yoga is a practice that does just this. In fact, it’s core premise is to honor what we value so much; our breath.
Yoga has become increasingly popular over the past several decades as it has been appropriated more frequently in western culture. Although it has been heavily appropriated, it has not gone without considerable appreciation by those in the west.
Historically, yoga comes from the Indus Valley region on north-eastern India. The poses or ‘asana’ practiced were believed to bring the body and spirit into deeper resonance on the path towards enlightenment. The interpretation of ‘prana’ we have from yoga is: the spirit or energy within us, manifested as our breathing.
Today, yoga’s practice has helped many people to find the connection between their ‘asana’ and ‘prana’. As an asthmatic-practitioner of yoga, the practice has changed my life in as many ways as my asthma. It has helped me to appreciate my breathing, rather than find discouragement in it. It has shown me physical potential which I thought not personally possible. I hope that my advice, from experience over the years of practice, will help others in the community find appreciation and potential in themselves.
Types of yoga
The types of yoga are expansive and can be esoteric for many people looking to try it out. Here’s a quick beginners guide to yoga types; remember in every practice your breath is as important as your body.
- Hatha- The most foundational practice. In this class, you will learn the basics of yoga: asana name, alignment and even some breathing practice. It may also be called yoga 101 or something to that nature a studio.
- Restorative- This class will be very relaxing and will be mostly on the floor and stationary. Props such as pillows, blocks, walls, and straps will be used to assist in safely deepening asana, while using the breath as a tool of tapping into what the body feels.
- Yin- A more relaxed, yet active yoga class. It will focus on warming the body up with light movement, then typically moving into stationary asana and holding for longer periods to deepen the stretch.
- Vinyasa- probably the most common practice of yoga now, ‘vinyasa’ means to move with the breath. This class will move a lot and the movement will be in pace with the breathing to unify the ‘prana’ and ‘asana’.
- Bikram- hot yoga. This is typically a vinyasa-style class meant to help you stretch and go very deep into your asana. However, if you are asthmatic, please be careful as it can be very triggering. Not recommended if heat or humidity are triggers of yours.
- Ashtanga- A more structured practice. Focused on the alignment of the asana, this class will push your body to places you thought it couldn’t. Classes can be intense and it’s recommended that you have a good foundation of yoga before experimenting with challenging sequences of poses meant to deepen your practice.
Tips for asthmatic-yogis
- Watch for aromatic triggers. Many studios use spices or essential oils, but not all do! Some studios have policies against these things to make practice more accessible for others who are sensitive. Call a studio and ask what the situation is before going.
- Teachers also differ, so talk to the teacher before and let them know not to use oils for you. In most cases teachers are very accommodating and are there to help you in any way they can.
- Start slow and move slow, there is no race in yoga. Find a comfortable practice and move with your own rate of progression.
- Celebrate your progression because you worked for it!
- A personal note: I made an affirmation to myself in middle school that I was inflexible and would never touch my toes. After I started practicing yoga, I proved my young, naive, self wrong. It was quite a celebration the first time I touched my toes.
- HOT YOGA! Again, I need to emphasize that these classes can be incredibly difficult for those of us with asthma. I personally avoid hot classes because they are far too intense for my asthma.
- Focus on your breath. Most teachers will remind you of this every class. Be thankful for your breath and remember that working on your breath is literally half of the practice.
- Practice on your own. Yoga doesn't need to be at an expensive studio or at a gym. Yoga can and should be practiced within your comfort; if that's at your home, then that's where you should practice.
- Youtube! There are lots of youtube tutorials and online blogs for yoga, take advantage of the tools at your disposal and learn a bit more.
Yoga has been a transformative practice in my life and in the lives of many others. As an asthmatic-yogi, it has shown me the beauty in my breath. I hope that you feel more comfortable with approaching yoga as an active outlet after reading this. I wish you the best in the pursuit of a healthier self and hope that yoga can be a vessel in that journey. Please reach out with comments, questions, and concerns. We are always here to help.
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