“Take five deep breaths through the nose before bed each night…”
As a child, I was diagnosed with chronic asthma (or assmar, as I lovingly referred to it as.) I took up to three daily medications (Alubuterol, Combivent, Advair, Singulair, etc.) to control my breathing and prevent the dreaded “assmar attack.” Even given this medication, I consistently found myself low on lung capacity and was subject to bouts of extreme respiratory strain; sometimes leading to hospitalization.
Despite the relative effectiveness of medication, I was constantly trying to avoid it. I hated being dependent on drugs, and worried about the long term effects. In addition, the $40-60 a month was putting a hurt on the ol’ pocket book.. I took numerous breaks in my medication routine to see if I could manage. Numerous attempts provided the same results- I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breath, until I found yoga.
At one of my first yoga classes I was asked to breath through my nose. After a lifetime of mouth breathing, I was incapable of doing this. I simply couldn’t get enough air through my nostrils to provide adequate oxygen. I was also asked to breath deeply into my lower lungs. This was impossible. I strained and tensed my body in desperate attempt, but no go. My choppy, pitiful breaths were interrupted by deep gasps through the mouth. The simple act of breathing proved to be one of my largest obstacles in my yoga practice.
As I continued my exploration of the breath, I realized how little coordination I had in my respiratory process. My diaphragm and intercostal muscles were not conditioned and “awake” enough to truly expand my ribcage in order to allow room for my lungs to expand with air. My inhales were significantly shorter than my exhales and I couldn’t establish a circular rhythm. Tired of this, I began my own “pranayama” practice of taking 5 deep, full breaths through the nose prior to bed. This was typically when I would take two puffs of my inhaler. After only a few weeks of practice, my inhaler was no longer necessary.
Fast-forward through many yoga classes and countless complete breaths and I am no longer spending $60 a month on asthma medication. I hardly get sick anymore, my stress/anxiety levels have reduced considerably, and I can’t remember the last time I “weezed.” I look back on my many trips to hospitals, physicians and specialists and wonder how no doctor ever said, “You have asthma. But, with practice, you can help yourself. Here’s a breathing technique. Take 5 deep breaths before bed each night….” Instead I heard, “You have asthma. Nothing you can do about that. So take 5 puffs of this each day.” On one hand, this is an astounding case of neglect on the doctors’ part. On the other, we live in a society dependent on “instant gratification.” Patients most often go to doctors to “get fixed,” not to find advice about how life changes can help them.
After letting the drugs do the work, and doing the work myself, I can tell you that the latter has been entirely more effective, cheap and rewarding. Not only are my breaths free and easy now, I realize how central the breath is to every aspect of my being. Through breath practice I have improved my posture, my confidence and my general attitude. Anyone can do this. You don’t need money, insurance or a white coat. It all starts with a breath.
For more information on the medically proven benefits of pranayama for asthmatics visit this study on the National Institute of Health’s website.