Breath taking techniques

There are two ways to manage asthma: avoid triggers and strengthen your body with the help of breath work and yoga

Woman sitting and breathing

Few of us are appreciative of the easy flow of breath as it is barely noticeable. Unless, of course, if you are asthmatic. For those with asthma, the anguish of being deprived of breath, albeit momentarily, is a much familiar foe.

The reason for breathlessness in asthma is the over-reactiveness of the airways, which causes them to narrow and impede entrance of air. This also causes a feeling of tightness around the chest and the characteristic whistling sound from the lungs [wheezing] that is typical of asthma.

Although asthma is a genetic condition, it can be triggered by various factors, a fact which most asthmatics are painfully aware of. Still, the importance of identifying and avoiding triggers needs to be emphasised for the key role it plays in controlling the condition. That’s the only way for those with asthma to breathe easy and lead a normal life.

Avoiding the triggers

External irritants

Allergens in the air, either indoor or outdoor, are notorious for triggering an attack. Carpets, pet fur, damp rugs, pillows, mattresses, pollen and stuffed toys are the top contributors in the list of indoor pollutants. Ensure that they are vacuum-cleaned weekly and dried completely before use. In simple words, pollutant proof your home.

People rarely associate an attack with the fragrance of a product they use, especially if it’s a cleaning product. But try using cleaning products that are odour-free.

More pollen travel in the air in the afternoon than any other time of day. Hence, it’s best to busy yourself indoors during that time to avoid exposure to pollen.

Air conditioners help keep allergens out. So, use them whenever possible.

Fungus and moulds are arch enemies of asthma and house-plants are the last place people look for, for moulds. Give house-plants a good wash now and then. Also, clean the bathroom tiles on a regular basis with soap and water, they’re another favourite mould hang-out. To prevent the mould from forming, ventilate the bath area and fix leakages promptly.

Things kept outside gather dust, which is a trigger too. So keep much of your stuff in closed cabinets to avoid accumulation of dust or if outside, clean it on a regular basis.

Good ventilation is a saviour for asthmatics. So, switch on the exhaust fan when cooking and keep the storage and other areas of the home well-ventilated.

Internal irritants

Those who suffer from asthma know well that an attack is often brought on not just by external triggers but also by fear, anxiety, anger, insecurity and other strong emotions. Ironically, not just negative emotions, but laughing too much may also bring on an attack in an asthmatic.

In fact, if you’ve been having too frequent episodes of breathlessness, it’s best to avoid situations that you suspect will be high on emotions, either positive or negative, and hence difficult to manage.

Breathing techniques

Breathing exercises, if done on a regular basis, help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. They relax your body and mind, helping you deal effectively with internal irritants. Remember, though, that they shouldn’t be done when the attack is in progress.

Shallow breathing: Also known as the Buteyko method of breathing, this technique was developed by Dr Buteyko, a Ukrainian physician in the 1950s. According to him, asthmatics breathe in about 15 litres of air a minute as compared to the normal five litres. In the Buteyko method, you take in shallow and slow breaths, which helps normalise breathing and the oxygen-carbon dioxide ratio in the body. In this, the breathing rate is consciously reduced and the inhalations are shallow.

Diaphragmatic breathing: Place your hands on the diaphragm, with the middle fingers touching each other and shoulders relaxed. As you inhale, expand the chest and observe the diaphragm stretching. Notice how your fingers slide away from each other. Exhaling, relax the chest and the fingers move back towards each other.

Ujjayi breath: This is also known as the victorious breath. Sit with your legs crossed. Partially constrict the air passage in the throat. Inhale producing a soft hustling sound and exhale in the same manner. The breath should be long and slow and taken without straining the facial muscles. Allow the sound to come naturally and do not produce it using your vocal cords.

Asanas for asthma

Supta VirasanaSupta virasana: Sit on your feet, with your knees touching each other. Now, move the feet away from each other till the buttocks rest on the floor. Elongate and stretch the spine, while resting the hands on the thighs. Now, place the hands behind the feet and recline back on the floor. Rest your shoulders down on the floor, one at a time. Once you’ve rested the back down, straighten the hands behind. Lie in this position for 5 – 10 breaths or till comfortable and then release.

Supta baddhakonasana: Sit on the floor with your soles touching each other and a bolster placed against the back. Hold your feet with both hands and bend backwards, resting the back on the bolster. Allow the head to drop and stretch the hands behind. Try to keep the soles together and lower the knees to the floor.

Parivritta janusirsasanaParivritta janusirsasana: Sit with your legs stretched out and your torso erect. Slide your right hand down your right leg till the right hand touches the right foot. All the while twist the torso to keep the chest facing forward. Stretch the left hand over the left ear to touch the right foot. Place both hands over each other. Avoid curling the back and keep knees straight. Hold for 3 – 4 breaths and repeat on the other side.

This was first published in the May 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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