Everyone’s airways naturally narrow when they encounter something that irritates them, like pollen or secondhand smoke. But when you have asthma, you are more likely to experience additional symptoms from the same encounter, like wheezing and tightness in the chest. This is because your airways are more sensitive and prone to inflammation.
While avoiding triggers and regularly taking medication, if they have been prescribed to you, can help to mitigate these additional symptoms, they cannot directly influence the sensitivity of your airways.
However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else that you can do. You can, for example, start by regularly incorporating breathing exercises into your daily life. Pulmonologists and other specialists agree. They recognize breathing exercises as a first-class complementary remedy for asthma, as proven by many scientific studies worldwide  .
It is important to highlight, however, that breathing exercises for asthma are unlike those found in yoga or Pilates classes or meditation apps. Sometimes called ‘breathing retraining’, they are instead designed specifically for people with asthma, with the goal of improving their quality of life including performance in sports and everyday activities.
So, science tells us that the right breathing exercises can improve asthma. But how does that work? Here are the top three ways:
How the right breathing exercises can improve your asthma
- They help you get the most out of your respiratory system
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you breathe too much or breathe in too much air, this can cause you to feel short of breath. While such a dysfunctional breathing pattern is often caused by stress and anxiety, it also disproportionately affects one in ten people who use their respiratory muscles suboptimally. These have a habit of breathing through their mouths or by primarily using their upper chest to breathe.
People with asthma are at an even greater risk of developing such a dysfunctional breathing pattern – one in three people. For example, when an asthmatic person experiences hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, this can cause nasal congestion that is so frequent that it significantly changes his respiratory pattern.
By regularly completing the right breathing exercises designed for asthma, your body will learn how to breathe correctly over time and optimize your respiratory system.
- They can help you control your anxiety in the event that you experience shortness of breath
If you have difficulty breathing, it is very natural for you to feel anxious. This can lead to a vicious cycle because anxiety can exacerbate common asthma symptoms which in turn causes even more anxiety. With the right breathing exercises, you can learn how stop this vicious cycle in its tracks. You will be able to stay calm even when experiencing respiratory difficulties and will be in a better position to take all the necessary steps to manage your asthma. In other words, by training to keep your breath in check, you will be able to better manage the shortness of breath and increased respiratory rate that are often associated with asthma attacks and anxiety. In fact, they can also work if you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, angry, or even if you want to avoid bursting out laughing.
- They can help you stay or become more active
Another vicious cycle that is common among people with asthma is the cycle of inactivity. It works like this: you feel out of breath during an activity, so you start avoiding that activity, and then your fitness decreases, making you breathe less effectively and therefore feel more out of breath. For some people, what they experience with asthma is very different from the shortness of breath or discomfort encountered due to reduced fitness during exercise. For others, the boundaries are blurrier. In some cases, both can also be experienced at the same time. The right breathing exercises can break this vicious cycle of inactivity and additionally help you with muscle relaxation. In fact, if you monitor and pace your breathing during different activities, you may find that you can do more while experiencing fewer asthma symptoms.
How to start doing breathing exercises?
Deep breathing exercises are an effective and clinically-proven method of dealing with asthma. They are safe, and natural and have no contraindications for most people. They are also easy to follow and can complement your asthma action plan. So why not give it a try? A few minutes of your day are enough to help you relieve your asthma symptoms, sleep better and relax. You can start by practising diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing. This exercise is one of the foundations of most breathing exercises for asthma. When you see a doctor, you can discuss to include these breathing exercises in your personal care plan together with your asthma action plan. If you have COPD in addition to asthma and it is considered severe, or if you have other serious health problems, always consult your pulmonologist or GP or asthma nurse before starting anything.