Sahaja Help Relieve Asthma
Sahaja Meditation appears to have specific affects on asthma that science is only beginning to document. First, meditation helps us cope with the emotional effects of stressful live events, which significantly reduces the negative effects of stress on mind and body.
Sahaja meditation’s state of thoughtless awareness allows you to focus on the present moment with openness and acceptance. The result is increased self-awareness, mindfulness, and an ability to self-regulate your attention and your emotions not only during meditation, but in your ongoing daily life. You’re able to observe and monitor your thoughts, feelings and sensations as they’re happening and be in touch with your actual felt experience instead of overperceiving symptoms, which has been linked to asthma exacerbation (Wisnivesky et al, 2010), or worrying about what might happen (e.g., fear of experiencing an asthma attack), both of which exacerbate asthma symptoms and reduce quality of life.
Meditation sharpens your ability to appraise and discriminate between the various elements of daily experience (such as thoughts, feelings, and sensations), which decreases your emotional reactivity and regulates your body’s corresponding, automatic physiological stress response (e.g. rapid breathing and increased release of stress hormones).
Reality is perceived with a purer, more unified awareness. Perceived stress decreases. And as perceived stress decreases, anxiety decreases. Coping ability and long-term resilience improves, which means quality of life improves. So do asthma symptoms.
During Sahaja’s state of thoughtless awareness, we are able to detach from ego and shed the thoughts, feelings and ideas wrapped up in our sense of self. The process of internalized attention that meditators experience stimulates a detached, observing ego — a sort of “mediator” — which ultimately leads us to greater self-awareness and, ultimately, to acceptance. Our self-evaluations become more positive. Self-esteem becomes more secure. We stop worrying about how others are evaluating us.
The Scientific Evidence
Asthma self-management programs often focus on recognizing external triggers and controlling medication usage. But one study of 83 adult persistent asthma patients comparing an 8-week MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) meditation program with an education control condition (a Healthy Living Course) found that only meditation had an enduring, clinically significant impact on persistent asthma symptoms and quality of life (Pbert et al, 2012) as an adjunct to asthma treatment. None of the participants had previous meditation experience. All suffered symptoms at least once per week, nighttime symptoms at least twice per month and abnormal lung function between episodes.
Improvements in asthma quality of life components — including activity limitations, symptoms and emotional health — were maintained at 12-month follow-up. The improvements were comparable to the effectiveness of asthma medications such as inhaled corticosteroids (Boulet et al, 2007) and an anti-IgE antibody (Holgate et al, 2004) for people with allergic asthma. While both the meditation and control groups showed improvements in quality of life, stress, and asthma control in the first 6 months, the smaller gains achieved by the control group largely deteriorated to baseline levels at 12 months. The meditators maintained or improved their gains without further intervention, suggesting that the Healthy Living Course may have produced only an initial placebo effect.
While mindfulness was helpful for reducing symptoms and improving psychological outlook, lung function, which was measured by spirometry and PEF (peak expiratory flow) variability, did not improve in either the mindfulness meditation group or the Healthy Living Course group. Two clinical trials of Sahaha meditation, however, have suggested that Sahaja may improve lung function in some people with asthma.
One small study of university students found that 16 weeks of daily, 20-minute Sahaja meditation significantly reduced asthma attacks, improved lung function (forced expiratory volume or FEV1/FEV), and decreased the negative effects of stress (Chugh, Rai., 1987, 1988, 1989). All participants had poorly controlled blood pressure, but meditation was found to decrease heart rate, respiratory rate and systolic blood pressure. Stress hormone levels also decreased, as measured by decreases in blood lactic acid and urinary vanillylmandelic acid (VMA). VMA is a metabolite of epinephrine and norepinephrine released in urine that indicates the person’s levels of these stress hormones. High concentrations of this acid can also raise blood pressure.
As the participants’ clinical condition improved, all but one of them was able to cease medication. No clinically significant changes were observed in the control group.
More recently, another clinical trial of 60 participants in Australia with severe asthma compared the effectiveness of Sahaja meditation’s unique state of thoughtless awareness to a control group — the Stress Management for Asthma program, which consists of relaxation methods, group discussion, and cognitive behavior therapy-like exercises developed at the New South Wales Department of Health (Manocha et al, 2002). All participants were severely symptomatic despite treatment with moderate to high-dose inhaled steroids, which were continued throughout the trial. All attended 2-hour sessions once a week for 4 months.
Researchers found that Sahaja may have potential as an adjunct, non-pharmacological strategy for severe asthma. The Sahaja meditation group showed significantly reduced asthma symptom severity, as measured by lower airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) to the chemical methacholine, which measures the irritability of the lungs.
AHR did not improve in the Stress Management group. In fact, the improvement in AHR at end of treatment was more than 1.5 double doses greater in the Sahaja group than in the Stress Management group. As for quality of life improvements, the Sahaja group showed greater improvement in mood state than the Stress Management group, though there were no clinically significant mood differences between the two groups at the 2-month follow-up assessment.
Is meditation more effective for treating asthma than other complementary and alternative therapies?
One literature review of 15 clinical studies examined the effectiveness of alternative therapies in asthma management, including meditation, diet, mind-body and relaxation, breathing exercises and acupuncture. The study found that none showed definitive improvements in quality of life comparable to meditation’s effects, which suggests that meditation may offer uniquely supportive benefits for asthma (Markham, 2004). Certain studies showed only minimally significant improvements in asthma quality of life (breathing exercises); pulmonary function (relaxation therapies); and immune function (relaxation and acupuncture). While two studies showed improvements in immune function, these changes did not translate to improvements in lung function, as has been found in Sahaja meditation studies.
One way that meditation may reduce our vulnerability to illnesses such as asthma is by helping to reset our regulatory set-points and returning the mind-body to homeostasis or balance after we’ve experienced a stress response. Healthy adaptation to stressors, after all, includes the ability to return functions such as respiration to “normal,” to allow cell and tissue regeneration and to relieve physical and chemical stresses on organs and systems.
Much is not yet known about the specific effects that meditation may have on asthma. For example, could the regular practice of meditation alter the expression of certain genes that contribute to causing asthma? While more scientific studies are needed, the regular practice of meditation could prove to be a safe and effective long-term management strategy for many asthma sufferers.
For more evidence of how meditation can relieve asthma symptoms and combat recurrence, see the resources on this website associated with the following key asthma-relevant benefits:
- Coping with stress and relieving the negative effects of stress (For more on how the body responds to stress and how meditation can help, see stress section.)
- Regulating your autonomic nervous system, which controls respiration and the body’s stress response How Meditation Improves Cardiovascular Health and Evidence of Meditation’s Impact on Neurotransmitters & Neurohormones
- Boosting your immune system (See Meditation And The Immune System)
- Regulating and balancing neurotransmitters that govern your health and well-being (See Evidence of Meditation’s Impact on Neurotransmitters & Neurohormones)
- Specific effects of meditation on mood and anxiety disorders, which can both exacerbate asthma and result from having asthma (For comprehensive information about anxiety and depressive disorders, including specific ways that Sahaja meditation can help, see our anxiety and depressive disorders sections.
Chugh, Deepak. Effect of Sahaja Yoga Practice on the Patients of Psychosomatic Diseases (The Effects Of Sahaja Yoga In Bronchial Asthama & Hypertension), Delhi University, 1987, p. 51.
- Manocha, G. Marks, P. Kenchington, D. Peters & C. Salome, ‘Sahaja yoga in the management of moderate to severe asthma: A randomised controlled trial’, Thorax, vol. 52, no. 2, 2002, pp 110– 115.
Pbert, Lori , J Mark Madison, Susan Druker, Nicholas Olendzki, Robert Magner, George Reed, Jeroan Allison, James Carmody. Effect of mindfulness training on asthma quality of life and lung function: a randomised controlled trial. Thorax. 2012; 67(9):769-776.
U.C Rai, S. Setji, S.H. Singh. Some effects of Sahaja yoga and its role in the prevention of stress disorders. Journal of International Medical Sciences Academy, vol. 2, no. 1, 1988, pp 19– 23.
Rai, U.. Medical Science Enlightened: New Insight into Vibratory Awareness for Holistic Health Care, New Delhi: Life Eternal Trust, London, 2005.
- C. Rai & B. Wells, ‘Role of Sahaja yoga in asthma’, XVI World Congress on diseases of the chest, Boston, 1989.
Wisnivesky JP, Lorenzo J, Feldman JM, et al. The relationship between perceived stress and morbidity among adult inner-city asthmatics. J Asthma 2010;47:100–4.