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Learning to breathe transformed my life

Esther has asthma and a dust allergy. Taking up yoga and learning how to breathe transformed her life.

I’d struggled with my breathing all my life. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was a little girl.  I’m also allergic to dust. This meant my nose was almost permanently blocked, so I could only breathe through my mouth.

To add to this, at age 17, I took up smoking. I smoked throughout my 20s and 30s, rarely giving my lungs much thought. The only time I’d take a deep breath would be to take a drag from a cigarette.

I was never very good at managing my asthma. I would often forget to take my preventor inhaler, relying on using my reliever inhaler – a Ventolin inhaler - when I had an asthma attack. My stress levels were high, and it didn’t take much to work myself up and trigger an asthma attack.

I took up yoga

In 2007, I took up yoga. I’d taken classes in my 20s and enjoyed it but had always struggled with the breathing aspect.

This time, yoga became a huge part of my life. It was a life raft for me during a difficult period, one of the few things that helped keep me sane. After a particularly bad asthma attack, I had a week off work to recover. It was then I decided to refocus my life. I quit my job and started to train as a yoga instructor. 

I had to learn to breathe properly

Thanks to yoga, I noticed my lungs and my breathing much more. I was still smoking at weekends but was becoming aware of the damaging effects. I decided to stop smoking. I’ve also changed my diet and stopped drinking. 4 ½ years on I haven’t looked back and can now breathe through my nose.

I haven’t been to A&E for an asthma attack since I stopped smoking, as I can now get my symptoms under control at home.

Before, just realising I didn’t have my Ventolin inhaler would make me panic and trigger an attack. A few weeks ago, I was doing a 22-mile hike and noticed 4 miles before the end that I’d dropped my Ventolin inhaler along the way. I was able to make it back calmly without having an asthma attack.

Part of my training was to learn how to breathe properly. Breathing correctly is a process that involves learning to use the whole lung. You need to train the body and mind to breathe differently, and it requires practice and conscious awareness. This was the biggest change in my life. It’s made me happier and more peaceful, and calmer in handling situations.

I want to encourage everyone to find someone to teach you how to breathe. My lung capacity and strength has improved dramatically, as well as my mental health. Every cell in your body needs oxygen, and so breathing properly will transform your body and life in ways you can’t imagine.

To help you manage your asthma, we recommend having regular asthma reviews, taking preventer medication and having an asthma plan.

Esther Nagle

Esther Nagle

Esther Nagle is a yoga teacher, stress management coach and speaker at Balance and Breathe. She believes we would be much happier and healthier if more people learned to breathe better. Esther writes about breath and shares her own journey on her website Space to Breathe.

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6 June 2019