Science of Yoga Series
Yoga and Asthma
This Science of Yoga chapter is about the practice of yoga and pranayama and their potential benefits for individuals suffering from respiratory problems such as asthma. We will focus this article on several peer-reviewed journals and research findings from three countries.
Some of the available research on this topic originates from smaller teams with less resources. However, the 2017 study headed by Kaminsky, along with other Researchers at University of Vermont College of Medicine and the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas certainly doesn’t seem small. Kaminsky, et al., “successfully demonstrated that pranayama was associated with improved exercise tolerance in patients” suffering from moderate-to-severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD. Furthermore, the study’s results were obtained by individuals who were trained to teach pranayama but who were not professional yogis (meaning that learning the techniques does not require a complex set of teachings or long commitment). Kaminsky, et al., presented a very optimistic prognosis: “pranayama may have significant clinical benefits for symptomatic patients with COPD”. As usual, the study ends with a disclaimer about the need for additional studies with more resources (Kaminsky).
Researchers from the Respiratory Medicine Unit, City University, Nottingham, focused on pranayama breathing as well. Practitioners of yoga tend to experience the benefits of pranayama breathing techniques exercises directly but for individuals with pulmonary problems additional tools had to be included in the research. The team led by Singh, et al., used a Pink City lung (PCL) – a device which mimics pranayama breathing exercises – to measure the effects of controlled breathing in a hospital trial. The primary effect of asthma is the restriction of the airways, which in turn limits the amount of breath one can inhale. It is estimated that 4,000 individuals die from asthma in the United States alone. Singh, et al., noted improvements resulting from yogic techniques but – as usual – make a call for additional research on the topic of yogic breath control and asthma. The study notes that Western medicine has largely ignored this all-important topic (Singh).
In another experiment at the Central Research Institute for Yoga in New Delhi, forty-six children with asthma were trained in yoga in a controlled trial. Yoga training appeared to provide a “significant increase in pulmonary function and exercise capacity” (Jain).
The peer-reviewed journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published research with asthmatic children, which generally supported Jain’s findings. The Turkish team, led by Fulya Tahan from the Erciyes University School of Medicine “observed a significant improvement in maximum forced expiratory volume” (Tahan).
At the Northern Colorado Allergy Asthma Clinic, researchers attributed yoga to a “significant” change in students’ ability to remain mentally positive, feel more relaxed and to tolerate exercise longer as compared to the non-yoga group. The yoga group was able to use their beta adrenergic inhale less often, as well. Thus, yoga was shown as a beneficial addition to a medical treatment plan of asthma (Vedanthan).
Similarly, and even more directly, researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Science in New Delhi noted the benefit of yoga’s relaxing effects. Specifically, Khanam, et. al, state that yoga provided “the reduction in sympathetic reactivity and improvement in the pulmonary ventilation by way of relaxation of voluntary inspiratory and expiratory muscles” (Khanam).
It should be noted that some of the research on asthma and yoga is not fully conclusive due to a lack of resources and data. However, the results look promising for those who suffer from asthma and are considering yoga as a form of exercise, therapy or just as a way to stay active and be more social.
We can likewise conclude that the practice of yoga and pranayama will not be a cure-all for asthma but will likely be a good complimentary treatment for your already-existing medical and exercise regime.
Jain, S. C., Rai, L., Valecha, A., Jha, U. K., Bhatnagar, S. O., & Ram, K. (1991). Effect of yoga training on exercise tolerance in adolescents with childhood asthma. The Journal of asthma : official journal of the Association for the Care of Asthma, 28(6), 437–442. https://doi.org/10.3109/02770909109110627
Kaminsky, D. A., Guntupalli, K. K., Lippmann, J., Burns, S. M., Brock, M. A., Skelly, J., DeSarno, M., Pecott-Grimm, H., Mohsin, A., LaRock-McMahon, C., Warren, P., Whitney, M. C., & Hanania, N. A. (2017). Effect of Yoga Breathing (Pranayama) on Exercise Tolerance in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 23(9), 696–704. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2017.0102
Khanam, A. A., Sachdeva, U., Guleria, R., & Deepak, K. K. (1996). Study of pulmonary and autonomic functions of asthma patients after yoga training. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 40(4), 318–324.
Singh, V., Wisniewski, A., Britton, J., & Tattersfield, A. (1990). Effect of yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) on airway reactivity in subjects with asthma. Lancet (London, England), 335(8702), 1381–1383. https://doi.org/10.1016/0140-6736(90)91254-8
Tahan, F., Eke Gungor, H., & Bicici, E. (2014). Is yoga training beneficial for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction?. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 20(2), 18–23.
Vedanthan, P. K., Kesavalu, L. N., Murthy, K. C., Duvall, K., Hall, M. J., Baker, S., & Nagarathna, S. (1998). Clinical study of yoga techniques in university students with asthma: a controlled study. Allergy and asthma proceedings, 19(1), 3–9. https://doi.org/10.2500/108854198778557971