Breath Retraining in the Management of Asthma
by Barbara Benagh
A Holistic Approach
A question had nagged at me ever since I was first diagnosed. What change had occurred in me that now caused me to react so severely to triggers that, in the past, were harmless? I think this is a relevant question whether one has had asthma a few months or for years. What is going on inside this particular body, right now, that causes me to have asthma?
It is so easy to define asthma by its symptoms. The majority of treatments, in both allopathic and complementary medicine, are designed to alleviate those symptoms. However, symptoms are not the cause of asthma, and I knew from years of practicing and teaching yoga that treating symptoms without considering the whole person seldom solves the underlying problem.
So I set out to learn why certain triggers cause the body to react with an asthma attack. As I read everything I could about asthma, I was intrigued to find that several prominent experts on breathing, including Dr. Gay Hendricks, author of the excellent book Conscious Breathing, and Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, a pioneer in the use of breath retraining for asthmatics, consider the malady to be more a disturbed breathing pattern than a disease. I began to wonder if my breathing patterns had been so thrown out of sync by the stress of coping with pneumonia that the the changes had become chronic. Of course, I was acutely aware that my breathing was disturbed when I was having an asthma attack; now I began to consider the possibility that my breathing might be significantly disturbed even when I had no symptoms. Was it possible that my disordered breathing was actually a cause of my asthma and was perpetuating it? Could it also be that disordered breathing was sabotaging my attempts to help myself through pranayama? Not only did these ideas help me to make sense of my condition, they also gave me hope. If the way I breathed was causing my asthma, then retraining my breath might alleviate my problems. Excited by this prospect, I dived into learning more about how the body breathes.