“The wonderful thing about yoga is that anyone can do it, but it’s particularly good for people with asthma”

Diagnosed with asthma in her 30s, Julia White teaches yoga to people with asthma to help them control their symptoms

Yoga teacher Julia explains how yoga is helpful for asthma

After losing her sister to asthma and being diagnosed herself, Julia White began practising yoga to help manage her symptoms.

Video: Yoga teacher Julia explains how yoga is helpful for asthma

After losing her sister to asthma and being diagnosed herself, Julia White began practising yoga to help manage her symptoms.
Transcript for ‘Yoga teacher Julia explains how yoga is helpful for asthma’

0:00 I’m Julia White. I’m a yoga teacher and aromatherapist, and I specialise in teaching yoga to people with asthma.

0:06 When I was younger, growing up, my younger sister had asthma and it was managed,

0:11 but she used to get quite bad asthma attacks so either the doctor would be called out or she would be hospitalised.

0:17 And then, one day, she had an asthma attack. She was at home alone and she had to call the ambulance.

0:23 The ambulance came, they tried to revive her and they couldn’t so she died of an asthma attack at the age of seventeen.

0:28 At the age of thirty, I was then diagnosed with asthma myself.

0:33 Obviously, went to the doctor, got diagnosed, was given various inhalers, managed it that way,

0:39 but then realised I had to do something about it myself, as well as taking my medications.

0:46 And that’s when I decided to take a really hard look at my life and decided to train to become a yoga teacher.

0:54 The good thing about yoga is that anyone can do yoga. You know, yoga isn’t just an exercise.

0:59 The most important part for me is the breathing.

1:01 If you can connect with your breath, and move with your breath, then that’s essentially what yoga is.

1:09 And the other thing is the posture; because when we have asthma attacks, and you hunch and obviously,

1:16 if you are like this, it’s really hard to breathe properly because your chest and your diaphragm are really hunched over.

1:23 So, the other thing with yoga is the posture, so it helps open up the chest, which helps to open up the breathing.

1:30 So, if you’ve got asthma and you want to do yoga, then the first thing you need to do is, one, go to your GP and make sure your medications are up to date.

1:40 And then, the other thing you need to do is, wherever you do yoga, whether it’s at home or whether you’re going to a studio or class or whatever,

1:46 just make sure you have your blue reliever inhaler right next to you on your yoga mat.

1:50 And, lastly, you need to make sure that your written asthma action plan is up to date as well.

1:55 Five, ten minutes a day - it’s your space to become calm, to become relaxed, to practise some breathing, practise a few postures.

2:05 And just those five, ten minutes a day can make such a big difference to how you manage your asthma, and to your daily life.

“I was diagnosed with asthma in my thirties in early 2003. I’d been feeling unwell and struggling to breathe for a while, and could no longer do simple things like meet friends for lunch without getting symptoms. But when my GP said it was asthma my heart sank. I lost my younger sister, Claire to an asthma attack in 1994 so I was terrified about what it meant for me.

“After a bad asthma attack left me with a cracked rib in the summer of 2003, I decided to completely re-evaluate my life and get my asthma under control. I quit my fast-paced job as a wedding and events planner and started a yoga training course. I’ve always been active and tried yoga in the past, so this was an opportunity to learn more about the exercise and how I could use it to improve my asthma.”

Discovering the benefits

“It took several months after my diagnosis to get my asthma under control and feel myself again. I started using a preventer inhaler and monitored my peak flow regularly to keep on top of my symptoms, but practising yoga was a huge help.

“At first I would start panicking if I felt my chest tightening and my breathing becoming more difficult, but yoga brought a stillness and calm into my life – helping me to get control of my breathing and manage my asthma better.

“It’s now been 10 years since my last asthma attack. My breathing is better and I feel so much healthier. While I sometimes get symptoms when the pollen count is high or when it’s cold, I’m now at a point where I can confidently manage my asthma and stay calm if I notice my breathing is becoming difficult. And I always keep my reliever inhaler with me in case of emergencies.

“I aim to practise yoga every day as I know just five minutes of yogic breathing and three or four postures will make me feel more energised and relaxed. All I need to do is find a quiet space, roll out my yoga mat and let the movements and deep breathing techniques work my mind and body.”

Breathing easier

“The wonderful thing about yoga is that anyone can do it, but it’s particularly good for people with asthma.  

“Having asthma means it can be a struggle to breathe properly, but yoga involves learning how to breathe deeply in and out through the nose to filter the air, and find a natural, balanced breathing pattern. Over time this helps to increase lung capacity and gives you more control of your breathing day-to-day.

“Yoga also helps reduce stress. Some people with asthma find stress can affect breathing patterns and trigger asthma symptoms, but practising yoga can aid relaxation and help to prevent these problems.

“I also encourage people to use yogic breathing techniques to help them keep calm if they have an asthma attack – so they can work through it safely and get the help they need without making their symptoms worse.”

Sharing my knowledge with people who have asthma

“I dedicate a lot of my time to teaching yoga to people with asthma, and helping them to lead healthier and happier lives and manage their condition well. I was inspired to work with people who have respiratory conditions during my yoga training after realising just how beneficial yoga was for my asthma.

“I teach yoga to both adults and children in London, and I also run workshops and retreats in the UK and worldwide. My teachings focus on a series of postures and yogic breathing techniques to help calm the mind and body and help people feel more in control of their breathing. I also encourage my students to talk about their asthma and how they’re managing it.

“There’s always time at the end to chat and share experiences, and I give out Asthma + Lung UK flyers and information cards so my students can find out more about asthma and get the support they need. It’s so rewarding as I feel I’m helping more people to take control of their asthma and prevent asthma attacks.

Inspired by Julia’s story?

  • Find out more about exercising with asthma and what activities can help improve your symptoms
  • Read our advice on complementary therapies such as yoga and how they can help to support asthma management
  • Get in touch to share your story on how exercise has helped you to get your asthma under control

Last updated April 2017