Meditate Your Way to Better Asthma Control

There is no doubt that asthma can be stressful or that having a child with asthma adds stress on top of an already difficult job. It turns out that meditation may help you get control of your asthma in addition to helping out with the stress of day-to-day life.

Woman doing yoga in her bedroom
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Stress is, of course, unavoidable. However, the point of stress reduction and stress management programs is not to eliminate it. 

Meditation is a technique that, if practiced for as few as 10 minutes each day, can help you control stress. In addition, it can decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and help you achieve a greater capacity for relaxation. 

This article explains the evidence for meditation to support asthma, the types of meditation you can try, and how to begin a meditation practice.

How Meditation Helps Inflammation

Stress is a potent trigger for inflammation. Not surprisingly then, people with inflammatory conditions, like asthma, often look for methods to reduce stress as part of their disease management. In fact, many people with inflammatory conditions, including asthma, try complementary and alternative medicine practices (CAM).

Mindfulness techniques to promote openness and acceptance may be a way to decrease stress and reduce inflammation. Given the relationship between inflammation and asthma control, meditation has the potential to offer many benefits.

There are very few potential side effects of meditation, especially when compared to the benefits. The practice may also reduce costs because people can practice in their own homes any time they need to.

The Research

One study compared people using mindfulness to those who did not. During an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention, the MBSR group experienced less inflammation after stress than those not in the mindfulness group.

This study suggests that interventions targeting emotional reactions may be effective in reducing inflammation. In addition, it could potentially improve outcomes in chronic inflammatory conditions.

This study also references a growing body of literature that suggests that decreasing stress is beneficial for people with chronic inflammatory conditions. In fact, these techniques may be more effective at relieving inflammatory symptoms than other wellness activities.

General Benefits of Meditation

Even if relaxation is not the goal in meditation, it is usually one of the results. Studies on the relaxation response have found the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower heart rate
  • Reduces stress
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • Deeper relaxation

Additionally, a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study showed that using the relaxation response immediately alters the expression of genes for immune function, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion.

Types of Meditation You Can Try

There are a couple of types of mediation. Some people practice just one type, while others practice a combination of concentration and mindfulness.

Many disciplines call for stillness—to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the teacher. If you want to try meditation for better asthma control, consider these options.

Concentration Meditation

A concentrative meditation technique involves focusing on a single point. This could be something such as:

  • Paying attention to your breath
  • Repeating a single word or mantra
  • Staring at a flame
  • Listening to a repetitive noise

Since focusing on the mind is challenging, a beginner might meditate for only a few minutes. Over time, you can work up to longer durations.

This form of meditation teaches you to refocus on the chosen object or idea each time you notice your mind wandering. Then, instead of pursuing random thoughts, you let them go.

Through this process, you can improve your ability to concentrate. 

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation techniques encourage you to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. With this practice, you don't get involved with the thoughts or judge them. Rather, you notice each mental idea as they arise.

Through mindfulness meditation, you can see how your ideas and feelings tend to move in certain patterns. Over time, you can become more aware of your own tendency to judge an experience as “good” or “bad.”

With lots of practice, you can develop an inner balance.

How to Begin

Starting something new may seem intimidating. Meditation isn't complicated, but it does take some practice. These tips are meant to help you get started and hopefully continue your practice in meditation.

Set the Intention

When beginning a new meditation practice, it is good to set some intentions. Starting small and committing to a dedicated time each day are great places to begin. Some things to think about:

  • Sit for a few minutes: Starting with a tiny block of time will seem incredibly easy, which may help you establish a routine and stick to it. Start with a few minutes a day for a week. Then, if that goes well, increase your time a little more the following week. Continue this process until you are at a time that feels right for you.
  • Do it first thing each morning: There are many reports showing morning meditation is ideal. However, since it can be easy to forget about something simple and small, set a calendar reminder or alarm every morning to remind you that it's time to meditate.
  • Check in with how you’re feeling. As you first settle into your meditation session, check to see how you’re feeling. How does your body feel? What is the quality of your mind? Is it busy or tired or anxious? Learn to accept whatever feelings you bring to the meditation session.
  • Develop a loving attitude. When you notice thoughts and feelings arising during meditation, look at them as friends rather than intruders or enemies. Your thoughts are a part of you. So try to receive them pleasantly.

Let Go of Expectations

When learning a new technique like meditation, it can be easy to beat up on yourself when you don't immediately get it right. But, remember, meditation is called a "practice" for a reason. So, go easy on yourself. Some ideas:

  • Don’t get caught up in the how—just do: People often worry about where to sit, how to sit, and what cushion to use. While these things can make your practice more comfortable, they're not that important to get started. Instead, start by sitting on a chair, couch, or bed. If you’re comfortable on the ground, you can sit cross-legged. The important thing is to find a comfortable position.
  • Don’t worry about doing it "wrong": Meditation is a process that will take time to get used to. So, while it may feel odd at first, remember there is no "wrong" way to start meditating.
  • Don’t worry about clearing your mind: Many times, people think meditation is mainly about clearing your mind, but that isn't true. If you have thoughts, that’s normal—it's what our brains are meant to do. So instead, practice focusing your attention on one particular thing. Then, practice even harder when your mind wanders.

Pay Attention

Much of meditation is learning how to notice your thoughts without attachment. So, when you start meditating, learning to pay attention is important. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Stay with your feelings: People tend to want to avoid feelings of frustration, anger, or anxiety. But a useful meditation practice is to remain with the feelings for a while. So stay with them and be curious.
  • Notice the light, sounds, and energy: Another place to focus is on the light and sounds around you. Keep your eyes on one particular spot, and notice the light in the room you’re in. Another day, you might focus on noticing sounds. A more advanced practice is to try to see the energy in the room all around you.
  • Be aware of damaging thoughts: Some thoughts can lead to negative emotions. When this happens, try repeating positive mantra-like thoughts such as, I accept my body as it is with all its imperfections, or I accept myself.
  • Get to know yourself: This practice isn’t just about focusing your attention; it’s about learning how your mind works. What’s going on inside there? It can be murky, but by watching your mind wander, get frustrated, and avoid painful feelings, you can start to understand yourself as a person. Make friends with yourself and get to know yourself by using a friendly attitude instead of a judgmental one.

Learn Different Techniques

Several different techniques can help you in your meditation practice. Experiment with a few until you find one that works well for you. You may find that you like to rotate between some different exercises. Some ideas:

  • Count your breaths. Once you’re settled in, turn your attention to your breath. Try counting “one” as you take in a breath, then “two” as you breathe out. Continue counting until you reach 10, and then repeat the process. If you find your mind wandering, smile and gently start over. At first, you might feel a little frustrated about not staying focused.
  • Do a body scan: You can also focus your attention on one body part once you become better at following your breath. Start at the bottom with your feet and think about how they feel. Then, work your way up your entire body until you reach the top of your head.
  • Repeat a word or phrase: You can help yourself focus on the present by repeating a word or phrase. This kind of mindfulness mantra can help anchor you. One mantra idea is to remember your potential. For example, you could say something like, I am neither the best nor worst experiences of my life or I am capable of change in the moment. Remember that nothing is permanent, which allows you to avoid getting attached to any particular outcome or situation.
  • Guided imagery: This technique uses a recording or live instruction from a person that guides you through a relaxation exercise. Mindfulness apps are a common place to find this type of technique. Often, soothing music or nature sounds accompany the instructions.
  • Imagine yourself breathing easy: Incorporate relaxed breathing into your daydreams. In addition, you could get very specific and imagine the act of meditation relieving inflammation or reducing your body's response to asthma triggers.

Summary

Meditation is well known for reducing stress. But evidence also shows that it may reduce inflammation, making it good practice for people with chronic inflammatory conditions, like asthma.

There are a variety of meditation techniques you can try. Meditation takes practice, but with time and dedication, you can learn to master the art of mindfulness.

Meditation is not a replacement for asthma treatment, but it may support other ways of managing your condition.

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Article Sources
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