My Struggle with Asthma

[Latest] Besides meditation which most of you already know, I was researching what are the other tools which can be used. Meditation though being very effective, takes years of practice. The technique I found super effective is related to how your respiratory health is measured in butyeko method and i.e. how long can you hold your breath. There are two ways to do it, easy way and hard way. Easy being with lungs full and hard being with lungs empty.Let’s throw the easy one out of the window for everyone’s convenience.

Holding Breath
A healthy person is supposed to hold breath for at least 30 seconds. More the better. A typical Asthma patient may find it tough to hold breath for even 10 seconds though most can hold for 15 seconds. So you start with 15 seconds or whatever your current level is and gradually increase the duration. Do it multiple times a day. This would act like bronchodilator (exaggerating). Remember to be relaxed. Relaxation is a necessary condition for everything in naturopathy. I use an app called Timer+ which I have found very effective but you can use whatever works for you but do use a tool.

(Circa 2012): One Sunday we went to a friend’s place in the evening. While coming back, I realized that I caught cold. Actually, something worse than a cold. My lungs were infected. I came home and told Anjali that I have to meditate for half an hour before going to sleep. Then, I meditated again a couple of times the next day and the infection almost disappeared.

What do I mean by magic meditation, I will get to that shortly.

Now flashback

It’s tough for me to remember how long I have been prone to cough and cold. It’s hereditary for me, it runs in my family like the love for Math and Spirituality. It started in early childhood and got worse with time. What used to be seasonal cold in school days, got converted to Bronchitis in IIT days and mild Asthma when I started working with Infosys in Bangalore in 1998.

Within a year the mild Asthma, with attacks once in few months, became a chronic condition. Anyone who lived in Bangalore would attest that the weather there is not very supportive for Asthma patients. High concentration of pollens in air only made it worse.

As most of Bronchodilators became toys, the only thing which could save me were Steroids and they indeed did.  As a side-effect the heavy use of steroids increased my productivity in office multifold like sportspeople here in America. My weight also dropped from 120 lbs to 100 lbs.

In February of 2000 I moved to the Bay Area and due to different climate, the problem subsided. Life continued and in the summer of 2003 I ended up in Austin, TX after a lots of ups and down which would need a blog in itself.

While in Austin, It was a hot summer day and I got an asthma attack, a serious one. I went to see a Doctor and he said something to the effect of, “If this is your condition in summers, you’ll be in terrible condition in the winters”.

This got me thinking that there has to be some alternative cure. I did some research and found out the Buteyko method.

Butyeko was a Doctor in the early 20th century.He did a lot of research on Asthma and it’s causes. I am not a Doctor, but I will explain what I understood as a layperson.

The main cause of Asthma is CO2 deficiency in body. When we breathe in, we inhale oxygen. When we breathe out we exhale carbon-dioxide.

If you have seen any asthma patient, you’d remember them breathing in and out heavily. You can understand it if their body needs 10 units of air, they breath in 100 units.

The body has no problem with inhaling extra oxygen but has big issue when exhaling CO2.

The reason being, concentration of CO2, which is much higher in the body than in atmosphere outside. The body has to put in a lot of extra effort to maintain this level. When exhaling the extra CO2 this balance gets tipped.  Body does not like it and defense mechanism comes into action. Essentially, it does two things.

  1. increase phlegm
  2. make the bronchial tube narrower.

So, these are symptoms of a problem, not the problem itself.

Medical science works on subsiding these symptoms and therefore asthma returns as soon as the effect of medicine is gone.

Dr. Butyeko invented some breathing and relaxation methods and when I read the description of that, I knew what he was talking about. I even knew what he was not talking about. What he was trying to do was trying to get close to an ancient meditation technique from India called Anapana. Fortunately, I had been practicing it on and off and not only knew the technique but was reasonably good at it.

It may sound surprising but  the moment I figured it out, I threw away my medicines. Since that day I never had any Asthma Attack.

Now let me explain in little detail how it works. Disclaimer: I am not a teacher of Anapana meditation but a humble student and I will keep my explanation as short as the context needs.

In Anapana, we start by focusing on breath, natural breath. As focus increases, breath becomes slower. As breath becomes slower, the focus increases further (positive feedback loop). Very soon you reach a stage that body is taking only as little breath as needed not an ounce more.  It means body is also exhaling very little air, CO2 to be specific.  Since CO2 depletion is no longer a problem, defense mechanism stops and all symptoms of asthma disappear as well.

As long as breath is self-regulated, rather observed, CO2 imbalance can not happen and even someone like me who is genetically susceptible remains untouched.

Here are some links which give a glimpse of the technique.

Disclaimer: What I have shared is my experience and I can not guarantee that it will work the same for others. My understanding is that when hyperventilation is the cause of Asthma it works.Vipassana is the biggest gift to humanity by Buddha and has tons of universal benefits like eradication of Dukkha (sorrow).A lot of diseases that are primarily psychosomatic in nature have the potential to be relieved by this wonderful practice but any relief from them is a mere by product of the practice which aims at the root cause of all suffering.