Julie Wood: Yoga and asthma

Julie-WoodI am not at all surprised that new Cochrane evidence showed yoga may be beneficial to those with asthma. I am a devoted yogi who has practised a combination of hot power and bikram yoga about twice a week for the past two years.

In my early 20s I decided to take up running and noticed that I could hardly breathe by the end of a run. That started my journey of trying different inhalers in an attempt to control my asthma. I have never had a full on asthma attack, but I have for many years suffered from tightness and wheeziness in my chest that will wake me up at night. This used to occur about twice a week even with regular use of my inhalers. My lung capacity is limited to the point that I can’t blow up a balloon. I have to actively manage this condition (and I have to confess that I don’t always manage it as well as I should).

My husband convinced me to try yoga. From the first class, I was completely hooked. I was sleeping better and had finally found a way to work out and relieve my stress.

An unexpected benefit was how much yoga helped my asthma. I have reduced using my inhalers and I find myself coping better when I experience tightness in my chest. I wake up in the night due to trouble breathing only once every two weeks. I honestly couldn’t tell you if that is because there are so many breathing exercises in yoga that my lungs are actually getting stronger or if it has helped foster a greater awareness in my breath and so I feel more in control.

Yoga is not without its detractors, particularly the type of yoga that I do. You can get injured, but as long as you seek your doctor’s advice, have a well trained teacher who can help you make modifications, and don’t try to go beyond your capabilities, there is no reason yoga can’t be practised by most people.

And this is where I think it gets interesting—I think yoga helps me but is this all in my head? Because I think yoga will help me control my asthma, it does, but this effect could all be down to my belief.

According to the evidence published in the Cochrane review, the strength of the evidence isn’t at a point where we can definitively say whether it does help people with their asthma, but the initial signs are promising. And while I feel a marked benefit, the evidence doesn’t necessarily point to as vast a difference across a group of individuals. Again, I think this indicates the difference between what the evidence may say is most likely going to happen and what actually works for an individual.

I will keep doing yoga and enjoy the benefits that I believe it gives me. These initial studies reinforce what I think about yoga, but only more and better studies will prove whether this benefit exists for more people.


This blog was originally published on Evidently Cochrane, a blogs site that usually features new or updated Cochrane reviews on a health topic.

Julie Wood joined the Cochrane as head of communications and external affairs in 2014. Before that she worked in various advocacy, campaigning, and communications roles at Oxfam GB and Oxfam International, including as the director of corporate communications. Her favourite yoga pose is standing bow.

Competing interests: Julie Wood has no conflicts of interest to declare in relation to this blog.