Asthma Triggers in a Yoga Class
Yoga can be a wonderful way to connect to your body and breath. Since I started practicing yoga, I have lessened my anxiety and become strongly connected to my body. For those with asthma, yoga can be beneficial for relieving stress, especially if this is an asthma trigger for you.1
Learning breathing techniques in yoga can bring your awareness to your breath and give you more control over your daily patterns. However, if you have exercise-induced asthma, or are triggered by things such a fragrance or temperature, there are certain situations to watch out for when taking a yoga class.2
Hot yoga asthma triggers
Hot yoga classes, also called Bikram yoga, take place in a studio heated anywhere between 85-105 degrees. The amount of humidity in the classroom can also reach up to 40%. On top of this, the yoga sequences and poses practiced in a hot yoga class can be intense. The hot air temperature or humidity in the classroom could definitely be a trigger for those with exercise-induced asthma.2
A crowded classroom
A popular yoga class time is after work, around 6 P.M. on weekdays. Another popular time is mid-morning on the weekend. Classes during these times fill up quickly and can include anywhere between 10-30 people. Having both attended and taught classes during these popular time periods, I can confirm that it can get very crowded and nearly overwhelming.
Even in a non-heated classroom, the temperature of the classroom can easily rise to make the room feel warm or even hot. With so many people inhaling and exhaling in a small room, this could cause you to feel shortness of breath. Ironically, a yoga class is supposed to encourage deep breathing, but a crowded classroom could have the opposite effect.
Many yoga instructors will use essential oils throughout the duration of the class. Essential oils are botanical extracts, like lavender or tea tree, that come in a tiny glass bottle or as a spray. Some teachers will walk around during class and spray the essential oil or offer it as a topical. While essential oils are more natural than many perfumes and room sprays, they can still be a trigger.
An intense yoga flow can exacerbate asthma
Certain yoga classes can be much more challenging than others. If you are a beginner or prefer a more gentle class, be sure to read class descriptions before attending. For those who have exercise-induced asthma, the more intense classes may be best to avoid, at least until you have established a consistent yoga practice. Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga consist of more challenging sequences and poses and are typically fast-moving. Some studios offer beginner versions of these yoga styles, so look for Vinyasa 1 or Ashtanga Series 1.
Other types of yoga that would be considered more mellow are Yin, Restorative, Hatha, and Kundalini. Hatha yoga is a great type of yoga to build a foundation for your yoga practice. When looking at a yoga schedule, search for these styles of yoga, or classes with names such as “slow flow”. Once you have taken a few classes and gained familiarity with the poses, sequences, and breathwork, don’t be afraid to try a more challenging class!
Sage or palo santo
Before, during, and after class, it is not uncommon for a teacher to burn sage or a wood called palo santo. Sage and palo santo smell earthy and can provide a soothing scent throughout the classroom. As nice as this sounds, the smoke could be a trigger for your asthma. Some studios don’t allow the burning of sage, incense, or palo santo, so you can call a studio ahead of time to check. Additionally, you can let a teacher know before class if smoke is a trigger for you.
Talk to your yoga teacher
A yoga teacher’s job is to facilitate a safe environment for you to practice. Many yoga teachers will approach you before class starts, and ask if you have any injuries or conditions they should know about. This is your opportunity to let them know you have asthma and what your triggers are. Let them know if you are sensitive to fragrances, smoke, or exercise. Yoga instructors and studios strive to accommodate all conditions, so don’t be afraid to tell them about your asthma!
I have been teaching yoga for 4 years, and dating someone with asthma has definitely influenced the environment I create in my classes. If I see a new student in my class, I’m always sure to ask if they have any conditions I should know about. I no longer burn sage in class, and I always ask the class if anyone has a sensitivity to whatever essential oil I bring. I encourage you to find a yoga teacher you resonate with and continue to return to their classes so they know how to accommodate you in your practice.
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