When Asthma Gets Scary: Meditation and Relaxation Practices

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Asthma touches so many people—if you don’t have it yourself, there’s a good chance you know at least one person who does. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 25 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma—and there are likely many who endure its symptoms (wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath) but haven’t been diagnosed.

Managing the Attacks

Asthma is a chronic respiratory, or lung disease caused by inflammation of the small airways. Symptoms usually begin in childhood, but adults can develop asthma later on in life. It can’t be cured, but you can usually manage asthma with medications—most often inhalers (or “puffers”). However, people with asthma may be able to reduce how often they have an attack (called exacerbations) with some simple lifestyle changes. These won’t eliminate the attacks completely, but they can make a difference.

Asthma Diagnosis and Action Plan

So, what kinds of activities are we talking about? The obvious ones are to avoid triggers, such as cigarette smoke and allergens, and to be careful when suddenly exposed to cold winter air. Participating in physical activity is good for people with asthma, but you should speak with your doctor about what type of exercise is best for you, especially if you have exercise-induced asthma.

Another lifestyle change that is getting more popular is relaxation exercises and meditation. This is because emotional and psychological stress affects us physically. For some people with asthma, stress can make symptoms worse.

Different Types of Meditation

Meditation means different things to different people—no one method is better than another. It all boils down to what works for you. You can learn most of these methods on your own, in classes, or with individual instruction. Instruction—class or individual—is often a good idea at first, especially with the more physical practices like yoga.

Instructors can help you learn the proper poses with the right techniques, helping reduce risk of injury. Instructors can help you pace yourself through the meditative processes, coaching you and encouraging you as you learn the new techniques.

Here are a few examples:

  • Guided meditation, or guided imagery. Often described as a vacation for your mind, guided meditation or imagery may a good place to start in your meditation journey. Choose an image that is pleasing, either a fond memory or an imaginary place, then imagine being there, bringing to mind the sounds, smells and sensations of the memory or place. Once you’ve practiced this, it becomes easier to call on those sensations when anxiety comes over you.

  • Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a way of saying “being in the moment.” It’s a form of meditation that brings you to the here and now: what you smell, feel, hear, and more. By practicing mindfulness and concentrating on what is happening at that moment, you can pull on your inner resources when you feel stressed, anxious or depressed.

  • Yoga. Yoga is seen in many ways, from a form of gentle exercise to meditation. In this case, you can use yoga as a way to help calm your body and your mind as you meditate and relax. Some people get more out of the physical aspect of the practice, while others benefit from the breathing and meditation side.

  • Tai chi. Tai chi is an ancient martial art, but unlike the ones most people may be familiar with, like karate, tai chi is gentle and slow, allowing you to focus on your body and your thoughts. Practitioners consider it ‘meditation exercise.’ Although you are constantly moving, nothing is forced or rushed, and your body is kept in a relaxed manner throughout.

Living with a chronic illness like asthma can be stressful. By learning a few basic relaxation or meditative techniques, you may be able to reduce that stress, which may also lessen the frequency and severity of your asthma.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 4

  1. What Is Asthma. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma

  2. Stress & Physical Health. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Stress_and_Physical_Health

  3. Stress & Asthma. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Asthma_An_Overview/hic_Understanding_Asthma_Triggers/hic_Stress_and_Asthma

  4. Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858

  5. Mindfulness Audio and Video Exercises. The University of Vermont. http://www.uvm.edu/~CHWB/psych/?Page=exercises.html&SM=mindfulnessmenu.html

  6. Learn About Mindfulness. University of Missouri System. https://www.umsystem.edu/curators/mindfulness/mindfulness

  7. Hatha Yoga Classes. University of Missouri System. https://www.umsystem.edu/curators/mindfulness/yoga

  8. The health benefits of tai chi. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi

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