Asthma and Meditation!
My previous blog focused on the relationship between exercise and asthma and what sports are best if you have asthma. It turns out that although you need to be aware of a few things, sports are generally speaking beneficial to your lungs and therewith your lung condition. Good news!
But what if you’re more of a couch potato?! Or you’re just not that into sports? But you do want to improve your asthma?!
Well, in that case it might be interesting to start experimenting with meditation and mindfulness! Not just to reach more inner peace, but also because it seems to reduce inflammation! Before I get into the scientific proof that has been found so far, let’s clarify a few things. What is meditation? What is mindfulness? And what is mindful meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation are in fact two sides of the same coin — they complement each other, and they very often overlap. At the same time, each has its own specific definition and purpose.
Meditation is a large umbrella term that encompasses the practice of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration.
There are many forms of meditation, including contemplation and visualization, but mindfulness is the type where you bring your full mind to an object. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on being in the present, such as focusing completely on drinking a hot cup of tea, taking in its scent, warmth, and taste and removing overpowering emotions from the mind.
Being mindful of your breath is a common form of mindfulness during meditation. Following your breath improves your awareness of being in the present. This is called mindful meditation.
So how can meditation help your asthma?
In my blog about the Iceman I wrote a bit about the fact that with asthma comes chronic inflammation.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claim that mindful meditation techniques can help ease the symptoms of many conditions caused by chronic inflammation such as asthma.
The key here is that psychological stress plays a major role in worsening disease symptoms, and meditation can help relieve symptoms through stress reduction.
The researchers compared two methods of reducing stress. The first was based on mindfulness meditation. The second focused on other aspects of treatment shown to reduce stress and inflammatory symptoms (such as nutrition, exercise, and music therapy).
The two programs were exactly the same, but for the meditation aspect. Participants were given the same amount of training, the instructors had the same levels of expertise, and the same amount of home practice was required for all participants.
Research subjects were tested for stress and inflammation before and after beginning the two programs. Both methods reduced patient stress, but the mindfulness approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation.
Then there’s another interesting study that I think is worth sharing because it links meditation to the prevention of Acute Respiratory Infection. This is super interesting for us asthma sufferers because we are more susceptible to infections than others, because of our frail lungs.
A quick rundown…
The study looked at both the effects of meditation and exercise with regard to the prevention of ARI (Acute Respiratory Infection). Participants were devided in 3 groups: one group received 8-week training in mindfulness meditation, one group received training in ‘moderate-intensity sustained’ exercise and a control group doing nothing special.
The groups that received either training in mindfulness meditation or exercise were doing significantly better than the control group (in terms of ‘global illness severity during a single cold and influenza season’ and with regard to health care visits and days of missed work. With the mindfulness meditation group outshining the exercise group. Good news for the couch potatoes out there!
Obviously the above is not an exhaustive overview of all the research done, so I’m careful with conclusive statements. I only hope it tickles you enough to start experimenting with it. If only because it offers a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment.
And what do I do in this regard?
Well…. I’ve done quite a bit of meditation, mindfulness and also yoga over the years. But I’m not exclusive to one of them ;-). And I don’t think that’s necessary either. I’m now in a phase where I frequently practice yoga, but I ended up trying Qigong, a form of meditation whilst moving, the other day and that also sparked my interest. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up in a Qigong phase soon.
I think it’s all about finding a form that works best for you (and in my case that’s a bit of everything :-). What it comes down to is that it’s worth experimenting with meditation and its affiliates!
Enough for now! Next week I’ll be immersing in the world of ‘imaginary exercise’ and its possible beneficial effects on our (lung) health. Looking forward to it! Just in case you’re wondering why you haven’t read anything about breathing exercises in the last two blogs: I’ll dedicate a separate blog (or maybe even a series of blogs) to that, because there’s simply too much worth writing about…