Tai Chi for Asthma

Posted by Grandmaster Gary Khor on 31 Jan 2020

Asthma is a pulmonary disorder characterised by recurrent shortness of breath, wheeze or cough caused by reversible narrowing of the airway lumen. The principle cause of increased airways resistance is the contraction of smoothmuscle cells as a result of hypersentivity to different stimuli such as cold, air, smoke, exercise and emotion, as well as antigens (e.g. pollens or house dust mite). 

Pathology of Asthma: Stimuli > alleergic inflammation > contraction of airway smooth muscle > narrowing of airway lumen > increased airway resistance > difficulty breathing in/out. 

Stimuli: Pollen, house dust mites, animal fur, moulds, smoke, cold air, physical exertion, respiratory infection.

Clinical Features:
Acute attacks: invovle inspiratory and expiratory difficulty with effort, wheezing.
Recurrent asthma: involves mild asthmatics, some degree of emphysema and dyspnoea. Severe asthma: attack > 24 hours, dyspnoea, hypoxemia, cynaosis and respiratory failure.  

Breathing, relaxation and exercise programs have long been useful tools in asthma management. While they are all valid interventions, their effectiveness has been limited due to the fact that they are often practiced as disjointed therapies.

Unlike previous programs, the Khor Tai Chi Asthma Body-Mind, Medicine Program (ABMM) focuses on breathing skills in combination with a series of relaxation techniques and specific exercises drawn from Chinese Health Arts. The result is a program that utilises these therapies in a complementary manner to considerably increase their effectiveness.

Breathing:    Breathing exercises in China date back more than two thousand years. Correct breathing (abdominal breathing) is necessary to gain the maximum benefit from Chinese Health Art exercises such as Tai Chi. Abdominal breathing uses the diaphragm, not just the shallow rising and falling of the chest.  Tensing and relaxing the abdominal muscles alternate the pressure from high to low.  This not only makes the blood within your abdominal cavity flow more efficiently, but also improves the blood circulation to all other organs, especially the liver and spleen, the blood reservoirs of the body. Other organs to benefit from this internal diaphragmatic massage include the heart, lungs, kidneys, stomach, small and large intestine, bladder and gall bladder.

Breathing and Stress:   One of the body’s functions first affected by stress is breathing. In the ‘fight or flight’ response the breathing rate accelerates, nostrils flare, and air passages in the lungs widen to maximise air intake. This reaction may suffice in the short term, but with sustained stress, breathing becomes shallow and insufficient oxygen circulates throughout the body, limiting energy.

Breathing properly can alleviate both physical and mental stress, so restoring calmness, energy and strength.

In Chinese Medicine, Wheezing (Xiao) and Shortness of Breath (Chuan) are two symptoms which may attack together and can be seen in allergic asthma, asthmatic bronchitis and obstructive pulmonary emphysema. Exterior pathogenic factors such was wind cold or heat, irregular diet and emotional disturbance can cause obstruction of the Lung Qi. Impairment of the lungs function in the upper jiao leads to phlegm accumulating preventing the descending and dispersin function of Qi in the lungs which triggers wheezing, difficulty in breathing and cough. 

Short term asthma may present with no clinical symptoms in the remission stage. Prolonged cases of recurrent athmatic attacks may result in the consumption of Lung, Spleen and Kidney Qi. The main symptoms these attacks are a degree of dyspnoea or deficienct syndrome. Kidney Qi is the major pathological change as they play an important role of anchoring the Qi that descends from the lungs. The deficiency of Lungs and Kidney Qi may be a hereditary factor and exogenous wind invasion (wind or air being blown against the body) are considered as an environmental factor. The former accounts for the root of the disease, the latter is responsible for the manifestation during asthma onset. 

Combined with selected Chinese Health Art exercises, the ABMM Program serves to strengthen the body’s ability to cope with asthmatic conditions. Stress reduction and improved lung function can lead to a significantly decreased occurrence of symptoms.

The ABMM program is a safe, concise and effective asthma prevention and management tool that can be employed in any place at any time, by individuals suffering from asthmatic conditions.

Further information on our ABMM program is available in our book; Tai Chi for Better Breathing by Tai Chi Grandmaster Gary Khor, published by Simon & Schuster.