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Can breathing training help with asthma?

Do you have asthma? If so, you might find that breathing exercises can help. But don’t just take my word for it….

I have been teaching breathing exercises for as long as I have been teaching martial arts- to my mind they go hand in hand. Over the last twenty years or so many of my students have told me that the breathing exercises have helped their asthma. This was not exactly unexpected on my part, but I certainly wouldn’t go about claiming that my breathing for martial arts practice is a cure for the condition. (Before I go on: I’m not a medical doctor. If you have any concerns about your health, go see one. Don’t get your medical advice from swordsmanship practitioners on the internet.)

Last week one of my students, Ilpo Luhtala, sent me this email (edited to remove surnames and email addresses):

You may remember when I told you a story about my asthma and the breathing exercises. I used daily medication for twenty years, I had an asthma, no question about that, it was tested several times. Then I started to do regular breathing exercises, the basic one (does it have a name?) every morning and the 12 step exercise on a weekly basis. Now I have been 7 years without any medication. Asthma has gone away…And it is not about my imagination, it has been tested and confirmed by doctors.

So I have told this story to several people. One of them is Johanna, my colleague from Skanska. And the following story is from her, a message to you:

“My 15-year-old son has been doing breathing practices that Ilpo has taught on a video and has found the technique helpful. We are very thankful for hearing about this technique. My son has had asthma for ten years and has had increasing amount of daily medication. Asthma has been following him on other seasons too, but especially during spring. In previous years he hasn’t even been able to go outdoors during the pollen season because of severe breathing difficulties. He has often been in hospital and doctors especially during spring because of the same reasons and treated with more and more medication.

Last spring my son started doing breathing exercises that Ilpo taught on a video. For the first time in ten years the spring time went without any hospital visits and he was experiencing improvement with his asthma. This summer his medication was reduced for the first time in ten years. Normally his medication has only been increased every year.

My son is keeping up with the routine and we both believe that the technique has really helped him. I am just amazed how doctors don’t encourage people more to try breathing exercises which seem to help with asthma cases and also with overall well-being.

I would like to say big thank you for teaching this technique to Ilpo as I don’t think we would have heard about this from any of the doctors. Thank you!

Johanna.”

You can imagine how pleased I am to have been able to help, however indirectly. However, the plural of ‘anecdote' is not ‘data', so while I'm pretty confident that there is a causal relationship between the breathing training done by Johanna's son and Ilpo, and their asthma improving, I'm obviously biased. But, there is an increasing body of medical research to support the idea that breathing exercises can alleviate asthma: these two studies are a good starting point:

2013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612953/

2014 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25122497/

With any intervention, the key thing is to estimate the costs and risks involved. (As with the corona cures I wrote about a while ago.) There is, as I see it, zero financial cost to breathing better, and a very close to zero risk of triggering an asthma attack with gentle breathing training. The worst case scenario is you try it and it doesn't help. So keep your ventilator handy and have a go at the exercises that Ilpo started with, if you like. I'd recommend doing perhaps 5-10 minutes, once or twice a day.

If you'd like to go deeper, you can find a 30-min class on basic breathing training included in my free Human Maintenance course, which includes breathing, meditation, and joint care. https://swordschool.teachable.com/p/bodymaintenance/

It’s free because your health shouldn’t be kept behind a paywall. I hope it helps.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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