Yoga Benefits for People with Asthma

  • 1st Revision: Ha Nguyen
  • 2nd Revision: Sheza Asim
  • 3rd Revision: Lucy Walker

Approximately 300 million people around the world have asthma, an inflammatory condition of the airways in the lungs. People with asthma can experience shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing during exercise or in daily life due to inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Some people with asthma practice yoga to support their treatment for their chronic condition.1

Yoga is a mindfulness practice that uses movement to improve balance, breath management, and flexibility to name a few of its benefits. There is a significant history associated with traditional Indian yoga practice as a treatment for those with asthma.² Improved physiological, biochemical, and neurological well-being are associated with regular yoga asana (poses) and pranayama (breath) practice.

Regular practice, particularly yogic breathing techniques, may help alleviate asthma symptoms by providing a calm environment for breathing exercises. Some people may find a reduction in the severity of their symptoms. There is some preliminary clinical evidence for this, but the studies reviewed vary in their quality, and the consensus is that the effect of yoga on asthma is minimal and needs further rigorous research.³

Yoga, however, is not and should not be a first-line treatment for asthma, but rather a piece of a holistic treatment plan. There is no evidence that yoga has a negative effect on asthma, and in light of the established value of relaxation and breathing exercises to asthma sufferers, there would seem to be little harm in trying it out.⁴

Yoga encourages better posture, which opens the chest muscles and encourages better breathing. Through the practice, one learns how to breathe deeply and how to find a natural, rhythmic breathing pattern to support movement. Over time, a consistent yoga practice can help  increase lung capacity and improve breathing on a daily basis.⁵

It is important to remind readers that yoga can be a complex discipline and the most basic techniques require supervision by an experienced teacher.

Breathing Exercises and Asthma

During an asthma attack,  the airways narrow and become inflamed. Typical treatment for the condition can involve medications that reduce swelling, mucus, and muscle relaxation.5

A holistic treatment plan would have yoga as a complementary technique to improve symptoms over time in hand with medications. While it does not treat the condition clinically, it can be helpful to some people in a day- to-day management.3

Under the heading of “complementary therapies”, the NHS website names two breathing techniques which may be of benefit in asthma, the Papworth method and the Buteyko method.  Both consist of a series of breathing exercises that control the duration and depth of inspiration (breathing in) and/or expiration (breathing out), and both require specialist training to use.

In addition to these techniques are pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and yogic breathing, the techniques of which range from the simple to the very challenging. Pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing are relatively simple and described here by Healthline.   

Pursed-lip breathing relieves shortness of breath and slows the breathing rate. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces the effort of breathing by opening your airways, strengthening your abdominal muscles, and increasing your lung and heart function. Both may soothe asthma symptoms.  

At its most simple, yogic breathing involves a timed technique where the inspiration (inhalation) time is shorter than the expiration (exhalation) time, i.e., quickly in, slowly out. This reduces the tone of your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) while activating your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and relax response). Anyone can do this exercise without supervision.

According to the Himalayan Yoga Institute, pranayama yoga poses and breathing techniques are thought to help with asthma. Routine practice can help reduce and manage stress, a common asthma trigger. It teaches you to use breathing to come into a calm state, specifically in a challenging time such as an attack.  

Yoga poses to try

Below are a few yoga poses that may assist with opening the chest, encourage deeper, and more mindful breathing. These poses are suitable for beginners, but one should keep in mind any injuries and fitness levels before starting any new program.4

  • Bridge Pose. Opens the chest.
  • Cobra pose. Improves spinal flexibility and encourages deep breathing.
  • Seated Spinal Twist. Stretches the respiratory and back muscles.
  • Supine Spinal Twist. Improves deep breathing.
  • Cat-Cow Pose. Opens the chest and improves lung capacity.
  • Low Lunge. Opens the chest and encourages deep breathing.

Breathing Techniques

The following three breathing techniques may also be helpful for those with asthma.

  • Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing.  Relieves stress and shortness of breath.
  • Victorious Breathing. Promotes relaxation and may improve lung function in combination with diaphragmatic breathing (q.v.)
  • Active Yogic Breathing. Slows the breathing and induces relaxation.

Other Benefits of Yoga

In addition to the benefits yoga may bring to those suffering from asthma. There are also further benefits of the practice to be gained both physiologically and psychologically.4 The physical benefits of yoga include:

  • Increased Flexibility
  • Improved Athletic Performance
  • Maintaining a Balanced Metabolism
  • Improving Cardio and Circulatory Health
  • Increased Muscle Tone and Strength
  • Enhancing Energy, Respiration, and Vitality
  • Weight Reduction
  • Protection from Injury

The mental benefits of yoga include:

  • Mental Clarity and Calmness
  • Stress Management
  • Relaxed Mind
  • Sharpened Concentration
  • Increased Body Awareness
  • Reduced Anxiety and Depression
  • Lower and More Stable Blood Pressure

In conclusion, asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes the airways to constrict and makes it difficult to breathe freely. While medications are used to treat the condition, yoga can be a complementary plan to improve symptoms in hand with various other physical and psychological benefits. While there is some preliminary clinical evidence in support of yoga as a treatment for asthma there needs to be more comprehensive research done to be endorsed as a suitable treatment line for the condition.

To this end, yoga may be a good addition to a holistic treatment plan and should be discussed with a healthcare provider. It is important to check with yoga instructors and inform them of the condition so that poses and or the class can be modified appropriately to support disease management.  It is necessary to keep in mind that some poses and breathing techniques may induce flare ups and should be avoided throughout the practice.


  1. Fitzgerald, G. 2021. Does Yoga Benefit Asthma? Allergy and Asthma Network. [online]
  2. Nagarathna, R. and Nagendra H.R. 1985. Yoga for Bronchial Asthma: A Controlled Study. British Medical Journal, 291: 1077-1079. 
  3. Sherrell, Zia. 2021.  What to know about yoga for asthma. Medical News Today. [online]
  4. Khanam, A.A., Schedva, U., Guleria, R., and Deepak, K.K. 1996.  Study of pulmonary and Autonomic Functions of Asthma and Patients After Yoga Training.  Indian Journal  Physiol Pharmacol, 40(4): 318-324. 
  5. Yang, Z-Y., Zhong, H-B., Mao, C., Yuan, J-Q., Huang, Y-F., Wu, X-Y., Gao Y-M. and Tang, J.L. (2016) Yoga for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 4(4), pp. CD010346
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Dr. Richard Stephens

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Physiology/Child Health
St George's, University of London

Richard has an extensive background in bioscience and bioinformatics with a PhD in membrane transport physiology and 28 years of experience in scientific publishing, bioscience research and computational biology.
On moving to Cambridge, UK, in 2015, Richard took the opportunity to broaden the application of his scientific background as well as to explore new avenues of interest. Among other things he mentored students at the Disability Resource Centre at the University of Cambridge and is currently working as an educator, pro bono for the Illuminate charity whilst further developing his writing and presentation skills.

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