Conquering asthma through meditation


DR RAJA AMARNATH and CHITRA RAJAN talk about the science of relaxation and meditation and how they help asthma patients to regain a quality of life that supports a normal lifestyle.

Emotions influence breathing. Balance your emotions….
you will breathe better.
– Anonymous

The beginning and end of life is breath. We die if we cannot breathe even for a few minutes. Breathing is vital for maintaining life by giving oxygen and removing toxins from the blood.

Asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease that restricts air flow in the airways of lungs, is an age-old disease. In ancient times the Egyptians recorded the use of inhalers to treat restricted breathing.

The use of the herb ephedra to treat asthma-like symptoms is prevalent in traditional Chinese medicine. Asthma comes from the Greek verb aazien, which means to pant, to exhale with an open mouth, to have sharp breath.


Asthma is generally triggered by allergens in the environment, physical exertion, infection and changes in weather, temperature or mental stress.

Not all people are prone to this disease. It so happens that among a group of people, one person who is allergic may have coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, etc., and the next person is less affected by these things while breathing the same air.


Emotional stress is the main contributor to the worsening of asthma symptoms for most people. Constriction of air passages is made worse by panic or anxiety attacks.

Scientists have documented a range of stressful events that have been associated with asthma symptoms. These include school exams, public speaking, family conflict, public disasters, and exposure to violence. Work pressure, anxiety due to impending layoff, high stake job interviews and deals, and financial worries are also some of the common asthma triggers.

The most distressing symptom of asthma is a sense of suffocation resulting in panic attacks. Over a period of time, this develops into the fear of not being able to lead a normal life. These negative and limiting thoughts drive asthma sufferers to give up on their pursuits in life.

During periods of stress and anxiety, asthma attacks occur more frequently and asthma control is challenging.

Medical conditions such as obesity, heart and lung diseases, low immunity and lack of sleep are also stress triggers for asthma.


Asthma is a chronic recurring disease that requires long-term management. As in the case of any other chronic disease, it’s preferable to minimise the use of medications as over time they lead to undesirable side effects and dependency. Lifestyle modification is increasingly being advocated as a complementary treatment to pharmacological remedies. These include:

Identification of the cause of stress and resolution through self-help or professional advice,
Delegation of responsibility,
Exercising to burn the effects of stress, and
The practice of proper breathing and relaxation techniques.

When an asthmatic experiences breathing difficulty and panic attack, the stomach muscles tighten increasing the workload on the body. The most effective way to stabilize breathing in such situations is to relax as much as possible


The act of relaxing your whole body and mind is often used as an asthma breathing technique to teach asthmatics how to breathe properly.

Through relaxation, you are letting all the uneasiness in the body go for the moment. To do this, focus on your breathing, spending at least a minute starting out simply observing your breathing and feeling the passage of air through your body as it goes in your nostrils and throat to when you exhale through your mouth. In this way, you won’t have to purposely slow down your breathing; it slows down on its own.

Our breath is literally our life force.
It is therefore vital that we seek
to restore the rhythm of breathing through
the assimilation of physical, mental and
emotional energies within us.

Relaxation techniques encourage slow and more controlled breathing. To make a healthy breathing pattern a habit, be mindful of the way you breathe at all times.

Meditation is also an effective tool to thwart asthma attacks. During meditation the physical body goes into a state of deep relaxation. It is a wakeful state similar to deep sleep, and this is medically termed the ‘relaxation response’. As the body progressively relaxes, the air passages open and breathing becomes easy. This helps in overcoming panic.

By teaching us to regulate the mind, meditation enables us to focus voluntarily and take control. With practice, we can intentionally relax the body and breathe deeply even at the onset of a panic attack.

These techniques of relaxing and regulating the mind, will also give a boost to our energy levels, facilitating better sleep and directly reducing stress.


Anxiety is an outcome of asthma, particularly in young people. When psychological distress accompanies asthma, there is financial and productivity loss. Meditation is useful in treating depression, because it regulates the whirlwind of negative thoughts and removes the need to ruminate and brood over problems. It also helps in promoting attention. Among young smokers with asthma, meditation is used as a tool for controlling substance addiction.

The regular practice of meditation has helped women in prevention and management of asthma attacks during periods of hormonal imbalance, when they are likely to have strong emotional swings such as fear, apprehension, anxiety, exhilaration and anger.

Among elderly patients with asthma, anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear of death and lack of psychosocial support from their families contribute to the worsening of symptoms. Research shows positive outcomes in elderly patients with asthma by the regulation of the automatic nervous system through meditation practices.


There is compelling evidence to recommend meditation as a complementary therapy to treat asthma. Meditation is also useful in reorienting our lifestyle, and this improves adherence to a long-term treatment. The crux here is the need for a very simple, easy-to-practise form of meditation that is suited to a modern day lifestyle, is capable of providing instant relief and can be practised anywhere. Heartfulness Meditation ticks all these boxes. In Heartfulness, regulation of mind happens by gently turning one’s attention to the heart. Regular practice of meditating on the heart helps us reduce thoughts and balance emotions without any force. A healthy human body follows the rhythms of nature. Its life-supporting rhythm is breathing. Every minute we breathe is an affirmation of our desire to continue to live. Our breath is literally our life force. It is therefore vital that we seek to restore the rhythm of breathing through the assimilation of physical, mental and emotional energies within us.

Amarnath, R., et al. 2017. Mechanics of Heartfulness Meditation in Improving Outcomes of Bronchial Asthma. International Journal of Scientific Research 6 (3): pp. 274-277. journal-of-scientific-research-(IJSR)/file. php?val=March_2017_1491818280__101.pdf


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