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Asthma and Pranayam

Written by drtaradevi, ritasharma.

Effect of Pranayam on Asthma

Yoga breathing exercises, Kapalabhati pranayam, is also known as "skull shining breath," due to it's reputation for opening the nasal passages, and thus making the head clear. It is used as a “cleansing” breathing exercise. The breathing technique uses a forced exhalation with the premise of ridding the lower lungs of “stale” air, allowing the intake of oxygen-rich air, thereby purifying the body. A passive inhalation is followed by forceful exhalation through the nostrils, as if attempting to blow out a candle through one’s nose. It is recommended that one should gradually increase to an active breath at a rate of 45 to 60 exhalations per 30 seconds.

Since this breath emphasizes exhalation, it has been found useful for reducing wheezing in asthmatic patients.

Read more details about Pranayam.

Research Evidence on Pranayam

Several scientific studies conducted in India have shown a correlation between yoga breathing exercises and various physiologic improvements. Some of these improvements include:

  • Increased exercise tolerance
  • Lowering of serum glucose and cholesterol levels
  • Decrease in urea levels
  • Slowing of the heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reduction of asthma symptoms

Some studies on yoga breathing have also demonstrated positive effects on patients with asthma. Two studies showed the beneficial effects of yoga breathing exercises for asthmatic patients. In the first study, peak expiratory flow rate values improved after yoga. PEF is used to monitor the effectiveness of asthma treatments and medications. A majority of the patients were able to reduce or eliminate their cortisone medications.

The second study showed overall decrease in asthma attacks and medication usage in patients using yoga breathing. This study demonstrated an improvement in the measured breathing parameters of all patients over baseline. It also showed a statistically significant increase in the dose of histamine needed to cause a 20% reduction in FEV1 during pranayam, demonstrating a tendency towards reduction in allergic asthma.

The above-mentioned studies were conducted using the pranayam called "khapalbhati."

How to Use Pranayam

Instructions for khapalbhati pranayam

  1. Sit up in a comfortable position in a chair or cross legged. If you are unable to sit on the floor with your spine erect, then sit upright in a chair with your bare feet flat on the floor.
  1. Elongate your spine upwards, lengthen your neck and subtly bring your chin back and in like a soldier at attention. This will align the spine and the back of your head.
  1. Close your eyes.
  1. Keep your hands in a relaxed position, your thumb tips and index finger meeting, with the wrists resting gently on the knees and the palms turned slightly upwards.
  1. Relax your stomach muscles.
  1. Now expel the air as forcefully as you are comfortable with through the nose. This should cause the abdominal muscles to contract sharply and should draw the abdomen inwards towards the spine (like when you suck in your stomach). Then allow the inhalation to occur completely passively without any additional effort.

To repeat, the exhalation is done using conscious sharp force, while the inhalation is just a recoil action bringing the air back into the lungs. All the breathing takes place through the nose. Right after the passive inhalation, exhale again forcefully and continue at a steady rhythm.

  1. Do a round of 15 repetitions. Increase to 30-45 repetitions with daily practice.
  1. Work your way up to doing 5 rounds, while taking a brief break of 2-3 normal breaths in and out through the nostrils only between each round.

Don’t do this if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke or epilepsy or gastric issues such as ulcers. As with any exercise or activity relating to your body, you should consult your health care professional before using these methods.


  1. Raju, PS, Madhavi, S, Prasad, KV, et al Comparison of effect of yoga and physical exercise in athletes. Indian J Med Res 1994;100,81-86
  1. Naruka, JS, Mathur, R, Mathur, Effect of pranayama practices on fasting blood glucose and serum cholesterol. Indian J Med Sci 1986;40,149-523
  1. Desai, BP, Gharote, ML Effect of Kapalabhati on blood urea, creatinine, and tyrosine. Act Nerv Super (Praha) 1990;32,95-98
  1. Stanck, A, Jr, Kuna, M, Srinivasan,, et al Kapalabhati: yoga cleansing exercise; I. Cardiovascular and respiratory changes. Homeost Health Dis 1991;33,126-134
  1. Nagendra, HR, Nagarathna, R An integrated approach of yoga therapy for bronchial asthma: a 3–54-month prospective study. J Asthma 1986;23,123-137
  1. Nagaranthna, R, Nagendra, HR Yoga for bronchial asthma: a controlled study. BMJ 1985;291,1077-1079
  1. Singh, V, Wisniewski, A, Britton, J, et al Effect of yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) on airway reactivity in subjects with asthma. Lancet 1990;335,1381-1383

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1 Comment

Posted 10 years ago

I have been working with Ayurveda to improve my asthma (newly acquired in the last 3-4 months) with some success, but it continues to be a work in progress. According to Ayurveda, asthma is caused by excess congestion and digestion issues. As such, I have been using a combination of diet modification (primarily eliminating gluten and dairy which are considered congesting elements), herbs, and breathing/yoga to address the issue. I also, did a 7 day Panchakarma treatment to cleanse toxins out of my system - a truly amazing experience if you have the right practitioner. Overall, I can definitely say I feel better. Though the asthma hasn't gone away yet, I fully believe that it will and in the meantime, I feel mentally and physically better and have lost some weight.

1 0
mat.j.collins 10 years ago

Fantastic! It's amazing how many conditions can be improved with diet, exercise, herbs, and other natural remedies. Your story is inspiring. Which of the Ayurvedic treatments do you feel has been most beneficial.

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