Roselle Gould teaches Natal Yoga at Ashram Yoga and around Auckland (www.yogajoy.co.nz). In this interview she tells us how she overcame her lifelong asthma condition with yoga.
In the Beginning
From about age two and a half the doctors diagnosed me with asthma and started giving me drugs for it.
I remember being at school and taking Ventolin which is a bronchodilator used during an asthma attack. And everyday I used another bronchodilator with a steroid in it to prevent asthma.
I went to hospital a couple of times. I can remember going to A&E when I was a teenager. They put a mask over my face and administered a drug to open my airways. I haven’t been near death, but I have had quite severe symptoms of asthma and definitely was on constant medication for as long as I can remember.
When I was a teenager I smoked – and I smoked a lot. I would smoke every day. It made my asthma worse but I didn’t care. I tried to limit myself, but I would smoke more when I went out with my friends.
When I was quite young I had a family so I cut back in lots of areas in my life. I did not smoke when I was pregnant but took it up again after each child was born.
When my youngest child went to school I thought, “What am I going to do with my time?” So I decided to work in a childcare centre because that’s what I knew. I found working there from 9am – 3pm really exhausting. After work I’d pick up my kids, take them home and put them in front of the telly so I could sleep for an hour. I was really tired and only lasted in that job for three months.
About that time Savitridevi (my sister-in-law) started attending yoga classes at Ashram Yoga that were taught by Shantimurti. Savitridevi invited me to join in. So I went along and I really enjoyed it. I just took to it straight away. I had done yoga before but always very erratically – never consistently.
Then I met Dhyana whose oldest child was the same age as my youngest. She was an Ashram Yoga trained yoga teacher and on Wednesdays she had a yoga class at her home. I began practicing yoga three times a week – and that regular practice made a very big difference.
The yoga I was practicing was different to the other types I had tried before. All the classes were 1.5 hours long and all contained yoga postures and pranayama (breathing techniques) and yoga nidra (guided relaxation). This combination of yoga postures, breathing techniques and relaxation made a huge difference for me – and I think it affects others just as much.
After a short time I noticed that my breathing was changing – and other things too. Within a couple of years I naturally didn’t want to smoke anymore – which I was really pleased about. I stopped eating meat – now I eat fish but not chicken or red meat. I just lost all desire for it – it just seemed chewy and unfortunate – but I still cook it for my family. So those things naturally dropped out of my life.
Becoming a Yoga Teacher
Because I was enjoying yoga so much, I decided to become a yoga teacher. At this stage I had a lot of energy, but I still had asthma and was still taking drugs for it – but it was getting less and less and less. When I began teaching yoga I started practicing daily. Not necessarily 1.5 hours per day, and not every morning, but I was regularly doing five sessions a week. And then I starting thinking to myself, “I can let go of my asthma drugs. I don’t need them anymore.”
Getting Off Medication
First I stopped using Ventolin. I found that yoga nidra (guided relaxation) was really helpful if I got wheezy. And drinking coffee also helped with wheeziness. I bought a neti pot to wash my nasal passages and used it every day. Breathing through my nose with ease made a big difference.
Another technique that really helped is an ancient yoga technique called kunjal. Kunjal is therapeutic vomiting and is done by quickly drinking a lot of salted water on an empty stomach and then throwing it up. If I had an acute attack and practiced kunjal it would go away!
So I had four techniques up my sleeve that I could use and that was really good. For a couple of years I was only taking the preventer and then I thought to myself, “The day must come that I can go off the preventer – I won’t need it.” But it seemed that every winter my asthma would get worse. So I figured I’d just keep on taking it. At least I wasn’t taking Ventolin.
A Fortunate Find
One day I just happened to find a book in an op-shop about the The Buteyko Method of breathing. The first thing I noticed was the similarity to the yogic breathing techniques: nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing) and maha bandha (holding the breath out while practicing energy locks).
A friend and I decided to apply these techniques. We wrote it up on a graph and did it properly a couple of times. For me it was really easy because of my yoga training. And I had such a massive result from it that I stopped taking all asthma medication.
The Buteyko book took some techniques that I already knew and put them all together. Now every single day I practice nadi shodhana and maha bandha. And I practice maha bandha if I am starting to get an attack. I just hold my breath out because I now understand that asthma is over breathing.
Suggestions for Others
The first thing I would suggest to an asthmatic who wants to explore yoga is to find a class that teaches yoga for 1.5 hours and contains yoga postures, breathing exercises and yoga nidra (guided relaxation) because that combination works.
And I would also suggest they use a yoga nidra CD whenever they can, especially if they feel an attack coming on or are feeling uncomfortable. It may be only in hindsight that they see what an incredible effect yoga nidra has on the whole psyche and their way of reacting to allergens and triggers. In hindsight, I can say the root of my problem was anxiety. But when I was in that mode of thought I didn’t recognise it.
I would suggest asthmatics start using some hatha yoga techniques like neti (pouring water through the nostrils). The kunjal technique (therapeutic vomiting) is definitely worth learning – especially if they are sick or are getting lots of asthma attacks. Learn to embrace kunjal because it can be absolutely amazing.
Another really important practice is Salute to the Sun – a sequence of yoga postures – because it builds up the immune system and gives strength to the whole body. I think asthmatic people are often lacking strength through the chest.
There are other helpful yoga techniques too – like additional yoga postures – but in general I think what I have said is the best way forward for an asthmatic. The great thing about yoga is that there is no force. It causes you to naturally drop off the things that are no longer necessary in your life – like smoking and other things that aren’t good for you. You don’t have to be analytical about it – it’s a natural process.
I remember my lungs used to feel like an over stretched rubber band, but now that has gone and I have really good lung capacity, and quite good strength too. I have not needed any asthma medication for over two years. Being able to breathe with ease is a wonderful side effect of yoga, but there are many others too! Luv n light, Roselle.
Please note: This article is not intended to replace professional medical advice.