Review of Research Finds Yoga Relieves Asthma Symptoms

By: 
B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500

Asthma is a severe, chronic condition characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness that affects an estimated that 300 million people worldwide.  At least 250,000 deaths are attributed to the disease annually. A new review of the research published in Cochrane Database Systemic Reviews suggests that yoga may provide some relief from asthma symptoms.

The review examined 15 randomized, controlled trials published before July 22, 2015. To be included, trials needed to compare a yoga intervention to either usual care, no intervention, or a placebo condition, and assess at least one of the following outcomes: lung function, asthma symptoms, asthma control, medication usage, quality of life, and adverse events.

All tolled, the 15 trials included 1048 participants, who were predominantly adults with mild to moderate asthma ranging from 6 months to 23 years in duration. Studies were conducted in India, Europe, and the US.

Yoga interventions were highly variable, some included yogic breathing alone (5), while others offered breathing, postures and meditation. Length of training lasted from 2 weeks to 54 months, with frequency of intervention per week varying as well.

Yoga May Improve Asthma Symptoms

Of the studies that examined asthma symptoms (3), most showed a trend toward improvement in those with an asthma diagnosis. Reductions in medication usage were also noted in 2 trials. A total of 5 studies offered some evidence for yoga being related to improved quality of life.

Relative to lung function, 7 trials noted improvements in forced expiratory volume in one second (increased exhalation capacity), however these findings were not statistically significant. Two additional trials noted some improvements in overall asthma control in the asthma group compared to controls, however the samples and methods used varied considerably, limiting our ability to make definitive conclusions about these results. No adverse events were reported in the few studies that provided those data.

Based on their findings, authors of the review concluded that there is moderate-quality evidence supporting the link between yoga practice and improvements in symptoms and quality of life in adults with asthma. Further, high-quality studies with larger sample sizes and well-specified interventions will be needed to assess the extent to which asthma is safe and effective for asthma sufferers.

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B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, yoga and mindfulness expert and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success - Integrating the Science of Mind, Body and Brain. Her mission is to reduce stress, increase health and well-being and improve the quality of relationships. She offers classes, workshops, writing and research that combine the wisdom of applied neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychology and contemplative science and practice. Her goal is to empower individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication to strengthen relationships, release dysfunctional patterns and unlock new and healthy ways of being. Dr. Bullock is also the Founding Director and Principal Consultant of the International Science & Education Alliance, an organization devoted to exceptional research, program evaluation, assessment design, strategic planning and capacity building to support equity, programmatic diversity and scientific integrity, and promote effective leadership, decision-making and social change. Bullock is a Certified Viniyoga Therapist and Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy (IHYT) Training program. She is the former Senior Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute and former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. For more information see www.bgracebullock.com.

Sources

Yang, A., Zhong, H., Mao, C., Yuan, J. Huang, Y. et al. (2016). Yoga for asthma. Cochrane Database Systemic Reviews, 4,  DOI: 10.1590/1516-3180.20161344T2

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