What’s the Deal with Yoga and Asthma?

When I started blogging about asthma, I got a ton of spam comments about yoga, and how yoga would improve my asthma. Obviously—like almost everything—I met these claims with a lot of skepticism and didn’t look at it much further. Here I am though, eight years later, and I’m finally a bit curious—thanks, physical and health education degree!

Personally, I do not know a lot about, nor am I interested in, breathing exercises for asthma because of their questionable efficacy in treating asthma. However, this sort of complimentary treatment does appeal to some people—some forms of yoga are focused on breathing, and this may attract some people to consider the role yoga could have in treating asthma—and why it can be a bit of a hot—or touchy—topic. The science on this? Research indicates that yoga does not provide any greater benefit to other sorts of breathing exercise for asthma. 1

Dr. Foggs, a Chicago based Allergist and Immunologist, has said of yoga "If yoga helps [patients] to feel better and breathe better, [they] should by all means practice it. At the same time, we don’t advise that yoga be recommended to asthma sufferers as a treatment.” 2 Findings from a review of studies including over 800 adults, note that if they do exist, effects on pulmonary functions are minimal for people with asthma practicing yoga vs. a control who did not practice. 2 This indicates that asthma likely does not respond to yoga as a treatment intervention as many people interested in these alternative or complimentary therapies might believe.

Of course, you might wonder how muchyoga is required to receive benefit. A 2010 study on 24 participants indicated that—while larger scale studies are needed—that the yoga group in the study experienced a 67% reduction in use of rescue inhalers (salbutamol), a decrease in asthma symptoms, and a 10% improvement in peak expiratory flow 3. The study took place in Ethiopia, where 75% of the participants were farmers; all of the participants in the yoga group took part in 50 minute sessions with an instructor3. Considering the relatively small sample, and the high number of farmers (the group was equal men and women), I would wonder how much the change in environment away from the farm and potential triggers that would abound in such an atmosphere, would have been able to account for some of the benefit these individuals experienced.

Yoga, may—of course—be a more asthma-friendly activity, focusing on building strength, flexibility, and balance, than ones that include more pure “cardio” activities, like running, cycling or even walking, but, each type of exercise has different benefits for your health. Yoga, in my opinion, is a good add-on to a routine that includes cardio activities like listed above, or sports, but for full fitness benefits, you’ll probably want to partake in a variety of activities—plus, it’s less boring that way, too!

The take home? Yeah, you and I knew it all along—yoga does not help those of us with asthma at all, per research done at the University of Duisburg-Essen, in Germany 1. So, while it’s a great choice to improve your balance, flexibility, and strength—and thus among great exercise choices for those of us with asthma—they’re not likely to improve your asthma, so—as always!—take your inhaler with you.

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