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

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Matthew Kovac
Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Stephen Cooper
Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You! 
Jeffrey Wilson
Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Ludwig Watzal
What Israel is Really All About
Randy Shields
Matters of National Insecurity
Vacy Vlanza
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Through Eyes of an Activist for Palestine
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Martin Billheimer
Lessons Paid in Full
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
David Yearsley
The Brilliance of Velasquez
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail