May, it turns out, is devoted to a slew of health-related causes, including raising awareness about asthma and spring/summertime allergies (check out our feature: 10 reasons to stick with Bikram Yoga this summer). While practising Bikram Yoga can help alleviate some symptoms of asthma and certain seasonal allergic reactions (like congestion, for instance), if you suffer from either condition (or both!) there are certain factors you should consider before heading into the hot room.
Bikram Yoga & Allergies
May means budding flowers, blooming trees and, if you’re one of the millions of North Americans who have seasonal allergies, sneezing, congestion, a runny nose and other annoying symptoms. These reactions (also known as hay fever and allergic rhinitis) can no doubt make you miserable. Bikram Yoga may be able to help.
While evidence that a hot-yoga practice can relieve the symptoms of hay fever is, thus far, purely anecdotal (i.e., it hasn’t yet been scientifically or medically proven), online testimonials from Bikram Yogis indicate that regular stints in the studio this season may help to relieve some of their symptoms:
“I find that the humidity in [Bikram] Yoga really helps clear up the sinuses. But I’ve heard that some people find their allergies worse in humidity, so it depends on the individual. For me it helps that the breathing exercises force you to breathe through your nose. Yoga helps get rid of the general stress and misery of being itchy, stuffy and sneezy all summer.”
Another stuffed-up practioner says: “I have been doing [Bikram] Yoga since college and I love the way that it can relax my body. Yoga is great for stress relief.”
In fact, many experts point to stress as a factor that can actually worsen your allergies by causing “physiological responses, including the release of stress hormones and histamines.” A stress reaction can also trigger inflammation. According to some doctors, relaxation – which diminishes the “fight-or-flight” response, may be the answer: “Through relaxation, the nervous system basically tells the immune system to hold its fire. Once the immune system backs off, the inflammation and mucus decrease, and symptoms diminish.”
While most longtime practitioners will tell you that Bikram Yoga constitutes their daily dose of relaxation in a big way, some beginners may find getting used to the heat and humidity – not to mention the challenging nature of the series – a little less than laid back (at least for the first little while). If this sounds like you and you also happen to suffer from seasonal allergies, you don’t necessarily need to cut back on classes. Just start paying closer attention to how you’re feeling while you practice. If you find your symptoms getting worse, this may be an indication that you need to ease up on some of the postures and be gentler with yourself in general, especially on days when you feel stuffed up. You may also want to heighten the level of relaxation you experience in class by concentrating more on your breathing, taking calm, slow, deep breaths by your nose throughout the 90 minutes; we’re not kidding when we tell you let go of all your stress and leave it in the hot room!
Speaking of breathing, here’s what one more seasonal allergy sufferer says about Bikram Yoga: “Simply the combination of heat, exertion and focus on breath allows me to clear my sinuses. Any exercise should help do something similar, but the heat and focus on breath in [Bikram] Yoga compounds that effect for me. I’ve also found yoga to be very good for my asthma … due to the disciplined breathing. My asthma tends to get worse when my allergies are bad, so that’s another benefit.”
Bikram Yoga for Asthma
When it comes to asthma – a breathing disease that affects almost 3 million Canadians – the official word from Bikram HQ is as follows:
“Without knowing the cause of your asthma, we can tell you that Bikram Yoga will be good for you in several ways. It is done in a warm room, which promotes relaxation of the muscles and nerves, and is the type of exercise that you can do with as little or as much intensity as appropriate for your needs.
In other words, you can do each posture with less effort if you’re concerned about overexertion triggering an attack, or you can sit down and rest whenever you need to during the class.
It will relax your mind and help let go of tensions, toxins and negativity. It also strengthens your heart and lungs, improving your lung function. You will breathe easier and deeper than you ever have before.”
Having said that, it’s important to remember that each case is different; what works for one person may not work for another. If you’re looking to use Bikram Yoga to relieve symptoms of asthma, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor first and, as usual, listen to and take heed of what your body is telling you. If the practice seems to be aggravating your symptoms, you may want to adjust your approach.
Still, some of the unique elements of Bikram Yoga are said to be helpful for asthmatics. Since environmental pollutants and allergens may trigger certain types of asthma, the excessive sweating promoted by the practice can help your body expel toxins more efficiently. And, because cold and dry air can bring about exercise-induced asthma, the heat and humidity serve extra purpose. Also, a regular Bikram Yoga practice can increase your cardiovascular fitness, expand your chest and lung capacity and help you develop healthy breathing techniques in general.
To get the full benefit, asthma sufferers may want to spend extra time focusing on postures that target the respiratory system specifically:
- Pranayama Breathing: Helps prevent respiratory problems such as bronchitis, emphysema and shortness of breath.
- Triangle Pose: Benefits the heart and lungs, forcing them to work together.
- Full Locust Pose: Opens up the rib cage and increases elasticity there.
- Floor Bow Pose: Opens up the rib cage, which allows the lungs to expand more fully.
- Half Tortoise Pose: Stretches the lower part of the lungs, which is therapeutic for asthma.
- Blowing in Firm Pose: Increases the elasticity of the lungs with every forceful exhale.
As with seasonal allergies, relaxation is a big piece of the puzzle. The relaxation techniques incorporated into each 90-minute class (particularly during Savasana see: Savasana Posture Clinic) can aid in controlling the physical and emotional triggers that bring on an asthma attack.
Finally, remember that it’s perfectly OK to bring your inhaler with you to class. And, like Bikram says, you can sit down and rest whenever you need to during the 90 minutes.
Have you experienced benefits through Bikram Yoga when it comes to seasonal allergies and/or asthma (or improved breathing/respiration in general)? Let us know by leaving a comment below!