Yoga, Diet and Asthma

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Many people believe that asthma is incurable. This is a false belief. The science of yoga and the personal experience of this author prove that asthma can be cured through the combination of modern medicine and yoga. Medical therapy is the most efficient and the fastest means of stopping the painful and exhausting breathlessness of an acute attack. In this regard, drugs can be used. Yoga, on the other hand, supplies the techniques to strengthen body and mind, and to relax tensions in the mental and pranic bodies that are at the root of asthma. Over a short period of time, yoga completely removes the deep-seated cause of asthma. Then drugs are no longer necessary and yoga can continue to promote health and prevent recurrence. At the same time it leads on to higher fields of awareness and joyful, creative and full living.

Causes of asthma

The breathlessness and wheezing that are the most agonising part of acute asthma are caused by constriction of the breathing passages (bronchi) which are further blocked by an overproduction of mucus. The bronchial constriction is the result of nervous system imbalance due to an ongoing state of stress and strain in body and mind.

Asthma is the final stage in a long series of events. It is not an entity in itself, but a sign that something is not balanced and harmonious beneath the surface. The basic cause of this disharmony is mental tension. To remove the effect we must remove the cause.

Mental tension affects our subtle energy body, for the fine meshwork of pranic channels which makes up this body is influenced by the mind. If the mind is tense, prana (bio-energy) cannot flow efficiently. This reflects into the brain and nervous system, causing the imbalance that we see as asthma.

A long period of tension compounded with asthma causes four major problems:

  1. Physical and emotional weakness.
  2. Depression, resulting from the interruption of one's usual occupation and activity.
  3. Postural defects, which increase breathing difficulties.
  4. Fear of future attacks which triggers unnecessary use of drugs.

There are two main steps to curing asthma. The first is to deal with the acute attack when it occurs. The second is to increase strength and vitality to prevent further attacks.


During an acute attack there are several steps you should take before reaching for drugs. Firstly, perform kunjal kriya. Then twenty minutes later drink a cup of hot coffee. This heats and relaxes the chest and the caffeine helps to dilate the air passages. If you cannot perform kunjal kriya try to do pranayama (breathing exercises). At last resort use drugs. If you can wait until this point before doing so you will have increased your willpower as well as learning better how to prevent an attack, or how to stop it once it has started.

Most importantly, become an observer or witness of the attack. What feelings, thoughts and memories do you experience? What states of mind? Turn each attack to your advantage so that it becomes a learning procedure, a method to increase your strength and awareness.

The second stage of cure is to practice yoga each day. In this way asanas will help correct posture, improve functioning of the lungs, increase the health of the spine, and improve nervous co-ordination. Pranayama will help to increase the strength of the lungs as well as smoothing the flow of prana. Meditation will help to remove the mental tension that is the basic cause of asthma. Dr P. Korey (USA), has shown that meditation reduces the resistance to the flow of air into the body by twenty percent. That is, meditation makes it easier for the air to get into the lungs. This is unique to meditation and does not occur during sleep or other periods of rest.

Diet and asthma

Diet is a major factor in the cure of asthma. The recommendations made are to eliminate heavy mucus-forming foods which clog the system. The asthmatic is weak and his energies are unbalanced, so the correct foods should be taken to help restore harmony and regain strength.

The best diet is fresh, vegetarian food, accenting whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Home-made bread or chapattis, other forms of wheat, rice, barley and other whole grains are good, especially in combination with legumes (dhal).

The following foods should be eliminated: white bread, cakes, white sugar, canned food and all artificially flavoured and coloured foods, milk products (except yoghurt or dahi), fried food.

Avoid taking too much food and try to eat only two meals a day, at regular intervals. Limit the amount of tea and coffee you take so that the caffeine in the coffee will be effective during an acute attack.

Incorporate diet regulation with the full treatment program given in Asthma, Blood Pressure, Diabetes (available from Bihar School of Yoga). You will lift your whole life to a higher level, free from asthma and full of vitality.