FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Yoga? It Just Might Take Your Breath Away

by STEWART J. LAWRENCE

It would seem like the perfect medical “marriage”.   Those born with asthma, a chronic respiratory disease that afflicts an estimated 29 million Americans, have lungs and bronchial passages too constricted to allow for healthy breathing.   Long-acting drugs like Fluticasone are known to ease asthma symptoms, as do portable, steroid-laced inhalers, but there’s no known permanent cure.   Surely yoga, an ancient mind-body discipline that facilitates deep breathing and breath control, can help?

India’s own Hindu yoga sages clearly think so.  A medical ashram based in South India, near Bangalore, claims to have “normalized” tens of thousands of asthma sufferers in recent years using yoga asanas and the breathing exercises known as pranayama.   And, as early as 2003, with publication of Stella Weller’s Yoga Beats Asthma, numerous American yoga teachers without extensive medical or spiritual training have proclaimed yoga a veritable “miracle cure.”  Surf the web and you’ll find scads of You Tube videos with yoga teachers demonstrating their favorite poses for asthma.

But consult the latest findings of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a federal research division of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, and you’ll find no such ringing endorsement.   NCCAM, citing a 2011 review of the latest peer-reviewed scientific research, says there’s no credible evidence that yoga poses or breathing techniques can alleviate the symptoms of asthma, as there might be for arthritis or for a vast array of other conditions.

On closer examination, not all asthma studies, even in the West, say yoga is ineffective.  But even those that do suggest a possible modest benefit conclude that it’s not known how and why yoga works, if it really does.  If Hindu sages say it’s due to the complex and mystical ways that yoga poses work on the body’s lymphatic and digestive systems, among others, Western doctors aren’t buying it – not yet, at least.

Some of the Hindu treatments for yoga hardly seem focused on asthma at all.  The South India ashram cited above recommends a full complement of poses, including Sun Salutations and other poses that comprise any standard yoga practice.  In fact, even the “special” breathing or neck exercises they recommend are part and parcel of any good yoga regimen.  On its face, to say there’s a distinctly — or at least, widely recognized – yoga “regimen” for asthma appears completely far-fetched.

In fact, Western skepticism is sufficiently deep that even some popular American exponents of yoga cures don’t mention asthma as a candidate for one.  In her recent book, entitled Yoga Cures, for example, yoga’s leading pop-celebrity, Tara Stiles, freely prescribes asana poses the Plow and the Headstand to cure some 50 common ailments, including serious illnesses like hypothyroidism, ADHD, and depression.  But she fails to deal with asthma.   Neither does another rising yoga superstar, Kathryn Budig, in her own just-published treatment compendium, The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga.

Ironically, while much of the debate over asthma still focuses on its genetic origins, the latest research suggests that environmental causes, especially the rising use of household sprayers, as well as air pollution, may be chiefly to blame for today’s skyrocketing rates of asthma.  Much of the prevention literature, in fact, assumes that asthma is largely under control or at least treatable now – but that the threat of sudden attacks remains, largely due to “triggers” like dust, pollen, smoke, pet dander, or perfume.    And that attack threat even extends to yoga class, apparently, where heavy incense burning, despite its documented contribution to lung cancer, is still widespread.

The upshot?  Asthma, like so many modern ailments, is complicated, and that’s means there’s no quick fix.  Barbara Benagh, an American yogi asthmatic writing in the industry trade publication Yoga Journal, argues that yoga’s a mixed bag: some recommended deep breathing practices can actually make the condition worse, but others can genuinely help, but only if they are carefully adapted to your condition.  Consult a specialized yoga therapist, she suggests — hopefully, a fellow asthmatic.  In the meantime, pending further research – with better experimental controls and a more precise yoga regimen, perhaps – hold on to your trusty inhaler.  Even in yoga class, it turns out you may need it.

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

 

 

 

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail