Ask Manoj: Can pranayama help with asthma?

My friend suffers from acute asthma. Can you recommend any particular pranayama which might be of help?


In a lay sense, Asthma is basically a condition where the air ways are inflamed and constricted, with a tendency for excessive mucus production.

Yoga, can definitely be of help to people affected with Asthma, along with conventional medical treatment .

However the opinions of different yoga teachers might differ as to the techniques recommended. For e.g., Kapalabhathi is one technique which is often suggested for asthmatics. So is Ujjai breathing.

But in our opinion these forceful pranayamas should be introduced to the affected student only later, as in asthmatics there already exists an excess of tension in the muscles around the airways, and sudden practice of such techniques can increase it.
Secondly, most asthmatic are rapid breathers, meaning they breathe short, and hence take much more breaths than a normal person would.

Though the inhales of the breaths bring in oxygen, the continuous exhales release too much carbon dioxide than it should. This in itself is said to be one of the triggers of symptoms of asthma, where the body’s intelligence tries to prevent the loss of carbon dioxide by narrowing the airways, getting the cells to secrete more mucus etc.

So techniques such as Kapalabhathi, which focuses on rapid forceful exhalations can sometimes make the situation worse.

Ujjai too, if the patient over forces the exhalations to its maximum length, can also be counter productive as forced exhalations tend to narrow the bronchi.

So, rather than focusing on one or two specific techniques, the direction of practice in our school would be to make the students aware of their body, breath and habits.
Then they themselves might discover aspects about themselves which might be contributing to the condition, such as

  • chest and rib cage areas are tight and constricted, which is one factor for shallow, rapid breathing.
  • breathing rate is high, much more than the average 15-18 breaths per minute
  • the triggers for asthma attacks. Is it atmospheric irritants, allergies, emotional trauma, etc?

With regards to constricted rib cage, students can be encouraged to a sequence which includes lot of supported backbends. Postures such as supta virasana would be of great help in opening up the ribcage as well as the frontal lungs. Also, the parasympathetic tone tends to be in excess in asthmatics and this too can be countered through backbends, as backbends stimulate the sympathetic drive. In supported backbends, inhalations tend to naturally deepen without strain, and unforced long inhalations are said to improve air passage relaxation.

Once the body and the rib cage is prepared, then slowly the pranayama techniques can be introduced.

Also, in many people, emotional upheavals trigger asthma, due to the neural connection between emotional centers of brain and the airways. In fact neural regulation of the airway and resulting influence on inflammatory processes are now becoming increasingly recognized.

To summarize, there is no direct, simple solution to Asthma through yoga, as by a particular asana or pranayama. But by improving awareness of body through asanas, along with naturally deepening breathing, as well as insights into one’s mind can holistically aid the affected in combating the disease in a very effective manner.


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