Yoga for the Treatment of Asthma

Alternative treatments, including yoga, have been studied as possible ways to control asthma—with mixed results. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that affects approximately 10 percent of the population.

Asthma symptoms typically include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Triggers may include airborne allergens (pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust mite), viral infections (the common cold), inhaled irritants (cigarette smoke and diesel exhaust), exercise, cold/dry air, and stress/emotions.

Afternoon yoga class
Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Alternative Treatments

Many people with asthma seek natural alternative treatments for their symptoms. Natural therapies that have been tried for asthma include chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and yoga.

Studies on these alternative treatments for asthma have shown mixed results. Some show that these various techniques are helpful for the treatment of asthma while others show no benefit.

Standard Asthma Care

An important aspect of managing asthma includes avoiding triggers.

Medications used for asthma treatment include rescue medications, such as inhaled bronchodilators (like albuterol), as well as controller medications like inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers (for example, Singulair), long-acting bronchodilators, and other oral or injected medications.

Is Yoga Helpful for Asthma?

Yoga has been performed in India for thousands of years and is a way of uniting the mind, body, and spirit through physical activity, breathing exercises, and meditation. People with asthma have used yoga for many years, and while many people (and some studies) claim that yoga is helpful for the treatment of asthma, the data on its usefulness is actually quite limited.

The Research

A recent study sought to perform a meta-analysis (a way of averaging out the results from many studies) to determine if yoga is beneficial for the treatment of asthma.

A group of researchers from Germany and the United Kingdom published the meta-analysis in 2014, which included a total of 14 studies that included over 800 people with asthma.

The studies sought to determine the effects of various sessions of yoga, over weeks to months, on asthma symptoms, lung function, and the need for asthma medications. The benefits of yoga were compared to “usual asthma care” (whatever their doctor determined was needed) as well as to “sham yoga” (a fake form of yoga that served as the placebo). 

The results of the meta-analysis were quite interesting:

  • In many cases, performing yoga resulted in an improvement of asthma symptoms and a decrease in the need for asthma medications, compared to usual asthma care.
  • Measurements of lung function also improved in many of the people who underwent yoga treatment compared to their usual asthma care.
  • However, when yoga was compared to sham yoga, there wasn’t any difference in asthma symptoms, need for asthma medications, or lung function measurements.

There also appears to be a bias in the publication of studies that showed a benefit of yoga for the treatment of asthma. This means that it is highly likely that studies that showed no benefit of yoga for the treatment of asthma were never published, whereas studies that did show a benefit were published.

Exercise and Stress Relief Are Key

There seem to be benefits to using yoga-related breathing exercises for the treatment of asthma.

The use of yoga, yoga-like activities, or any exercise that results in an improvement in physical and mental well-being, can be beneficial if you have asthma. But should not replace standard asthma care with alternative treatments.

Standard asthma care includes regular follow-up appointments with a physician, routine lung function testing, and the use of rescue and controller asthma medications.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Asthma.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Asthma: Alternative therapy.

  3. Cramer H, Posadzki P, Dobos G, Langhorst J. Yoga for asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2014 Jun;112(6):503-510.e5. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2014.03.014

  4. Cleveland Clinic. 7 Tips to overcome asthma when you exercise.

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.