Yoga for Open Airways
Jun 10, 2018
Restricted breathing is scary. When a child is coughing, wheezing, short of breath and experiencing tightness in the chest, you want him to feel relief right away. Yoga can help. Many of these practices are preventive and may reduce the frequency, severity and duration of an incident. Many are NOT indicated during an attack. Practiced each morning before school, and/or at home after school may help a child feel a sense of calm along with better breathing. Here are a few simple techniques to get started.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to support better breathing, also happens to be the most fun. Sound and movement are what make Yoga appealing to children. It also promotes a deeper exhalation – the biggest challenge for someone with asthma. Air is trapped in the alveoli. Not being able to exhale this air out, makes it harder to breathe any more air in. Barking like a dog in Downward Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) facilitates exhalation. Hissing like a snake in Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) does as well. Moving from Cow pose to Cat pose and moving from reaching the arms up, into a standing forward fold also helps promote a fuller exhale.
Lying on the floor, belly down, can also facilitate better breathing. This can be both challenging and uncomfortable for a child with asthma, however, so try the chest openers below first. I worked with an 11-year-old who had a serious case of asthma. His chest muscles were so tense and sore that it was too uncomfortable for him to lie supine on the floor. Standing gentle chest openers done first and a folded blanket for padding helped.
This includes the sides of the chest and the back of the chest as well. Gentle side-to-side stretching while standing, like Blown Palm, opens the side ribs. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) and The Dancer (Natarajasana) open the front of the chest. Cat stretching and forward folds can stretch the back of the chest.
A 7-year-old with asthma loved to practice chest openers by being a “backpack” for her dad. She would stand on a chair and they would hook elbows back to back. Dad leaned forward as she bent back onto his back with her feet lifting off the chair. The laughter that ensued was great for promoting better exhalation too!
I have found that many children appreciate restorative poses and don’t need to be enticed into them with a game or story as with more active poses. Bolsters are often too big for kids. A firm folded blanket works best. Make a Z fold with a firm blanket and place it across a Yoga mat. The child then lies across this so the blanket is under the chest and the arms rest on the floor right along the top fold of the blanket. Rest here for a minute or two to start and gradually increase the time to three to five minutes. Covering the child with another blanket can help promote feelings of calm and quiet.
The last thing we would want to do in the process of helping a child breathe better, is to make it worse. Just like exercise can induce an asthma attack, some Yoga techniques may as well. Be sure you understand these fully before sharing Yoga with a child who has asthma. Go slow and check-in to see how it feels. Better to do less and slowly build up a daily practice than to overdo it and trigger an attack.
Regardless of the condition, stress makes it worse. These techniques create open airways while also reducing stress in the body and the mind - one of the many wonderful side-benefits of Yoga for children. Children also feel empowered when they learn techniques to promote their own wellbeing. These are skills that last a lifetime.
If you are interested in learning more specialized techniques for children with asthma and other conditions, check out our advanced Therapeutic Yoga for Children training.