Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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Integrative approaches to asthma

By Susan Arnold, RN, BA, CHTP, integrative health nurse clinician

A friend I walk with has severe asthma and reacts to pollen, dust, stress, certain foods and chemicals.

Our first walk was cut short when she started having trouble breathing. Gasping for air and struggling to breathe, she used her ever-present asthma inhaler, and we turned around.

The next time we walked and she became short of breath, I asked if I could hold a specific acupressure point on her hand to help her breathe more easily. Her struggle to breathe immediately changed, and we were able to walk two miles. She kept her inhaler with her. But for the rest of the walk, she didn’t need it, and her asthma symptoms subsided.

My friend was shocked and delighted to use acupressure to help her breathe easier. She felt she had some personal control over her asthma.

Later, I showed her an acupressure pattern for asthma and breathing difficulties from the book, “Acupressure’s Potent Points: A Guide to Self-care for Common Ailments.” Practicing the points faithfully allowed her to use medicines and inhalers less, and to breathe more easily.

The American Lung Association calls asthma a chronic life-long disease that makes it hard to move air in and out of your lungs. While serious, even life-threatening, it can be managed to live a healthier life.

Acupressure and therapeutic breathing are among the holistic approaches that help some people breathe easier, and I will provide some easy acupressure and breathing exercises to try at home.

However, before doing so, I want to make clear the role of acupressure in asthma. It is not meant to be a substitute for medicines or for an inhaler. You should stick to your asthma care plan and maintain the same level of preparedness for any episodes of shortness of breath. Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your asthma care plan.

That said, acupressure and breathing techniques help some people breathe easier, and practicing them before an episode takes place may allow you to use the self-care techniques to enhance your medicines or inhaler.

Acupressure – Asthma Relief Point
A specific acupressure point known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as Dingchuan, or the Asthma Relief Point, is especially helpful along with using a lung-expanding breathing technique.

Here is how you can locate the Asthma Relief Point:
1. Lift one or both arms (above your head or in front of you) and bend your elbows to reach your lower neck. This expands your lung capacity.
2. Lean your head forward and slide your fingers down your neck on the spine bones until you find the large bump (vertabre) at the base of your neck.
3. Move your fingers slightly outward to either side of that bump (EX 17 in the picture below) and press and massage around that bump as you take slower, deeper breaths. This can be done yourself, or ask someone else to press and massage around this point for you.

This technique helps some people reduce asthma symptoms including wheezing, cough, chest pressure, trouble breathing and sore throat.

Asthma Relief Point Graphic

Photo source: “Acupressure’s Potent Points: a Guide to Self-care for Common Ailments,” by Michael Reed Gach.

You can also switch to Butterfly Rescue Breathing:
1. Place your fingers on the Asthma Relief Acupressure point shown above (EX 17).
2. Inhale (breathe in) and expand your elbows back.
3. Exhale (breathe out) and bring your elbows forward.
4. Keep your fingers on your acupressure point while you move your arms forward and back to help you control and slow down your breathing.
5. Imagine the gentle movement of butterfly wings.

Breathing in as you pull back the elbows and breathing out as you draw your elbows forward makes breathing more powerful and engages the muscles, ribs and whole upper body.

Allina Helth offers a variety of other online resources to learn more about Asthma. Among them are: “Signs of an asthma attack” and “With asthma, one size doesn’t fit all.