Can You Relax Your Asthma Away?

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 29, 2002 -- Medical research has long sought the link between asthma and the mind. Two new studies of how our psyche can affect our breathing show that a particular type of yoga might help, but the final answer still evades us.

Anxiety and emotions are thought to play some role in asthma. But what role, we don't know. Several different methods of relaxation -- hypnosis, Buteyko breathing, yoga breathing methods -- have been shown to benefit people with asthma, according to researchers in the new issue of the journal Thorax.

Guy Marks and colleagues tested the effect of Sahaja yoga in people with asthma. Participants were taking inhaled steroids to calm inflammation and prevent attacks but still had symptoms.

Sahaja meditation aims for practitioners to develop a state of full or heightened mental alertness, without mental "busyness."

The researchers found that this therapeutic exercise could improve lung function and reduce frequency of attacks, according to the researchers.

Each person in the study attended a weekly two-hour session for four months, in addition to continuing medication. The researchers assigned 21 people to the yoga group. Another 26 people with asthma were trained in general relaxation techniques.

Sahaja yoga improved the airways and had some benefits on quality of life and mood. Yoga had more positive effects than the relaxation techniques alone. In fact, the improvement seen was equivalent to that seen with inhaled steroids, according to the researchers.

But these improvements did not affect lung function or symptoms. And the benefit seemed to diminish over a two-month period after the yoga was stopped.

In the second study, U.K. researchers from the University of Exeter's complementary medicine department looked at a variety of relaxation treatments for asthma.

They looked at 15 separate studies evaluating the effects of transcendental meditation, biofeedback, and other types of relaxation and mind-body exercises.

Two studies showed muscle relaxation brought some improvement in asthma symptoms, where muscles from 15 different groups of them were tensed, then relaxed, while the person concentrated on the sensation.

But overall, the evidence to support relaxation techniques for asthma is lacking, according to the researchers. The studies have problems with how they were designed, which makes them inconclusive.

Emotions are thought to play a role in asthma, but we'll have to wait for more research to know which relaxation techniques -- if any -- may help.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
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