Fitness Magazine

Cough Variant Asthma: Lifelong Suffering Relieved with Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge

by Bonnie J. Golden M.Ed, e-RYT 

Cough Variant Asthma: Lifelong Suffering Relieved with Yoga

Wind Blowing Clouds by Marie Lossky
(@Marie.Lossky on Instagram)

The year is 1984, a time when many yuppies were operating in full career mode. Waiting at the dais, I am poised to lead an important and politically loaded presentation to my employers, a college board. Of course I’m “dressed for success,” as defined in the 1980s. 

Along with my notes, I clutch a plastic bag of cough drops as I approach the podium. I know that the only way I will be able to complete a sentence is if there is a trusty lozenge in my mouth. I sucked these cough drops the entire talk; when one dissolved, I popped in the next. It’s a wonder that the presentation went well—even though I bloopered “excuse me while I DRINK another cough drop.” Tacky, to say the least! 

My presentation cough drop-crutch was one in a long series of frustrating adaptations for a regularly occurring, undiagnosed, dry hacking cough. I needed to create these workarounds in order to function for the first three decades of my life. And my bag-o-menthol was my special partner for this particularly high profile speech. 

I grew up in Chicago. Winters are gray, snowy, and dark. Winter also brings the cold season. Then, spring finally arrives. And along with the change of seasons comes: hay fever. My dreaded cough manifested itself like clockwork. Following those inevitable winter common colds, or a bout of spring hay fever, the hacking would begin. No, my colds didn’t simply subside. Instead, they would “gift” me with a cough that would last 6-8 weeks, long after the cold was gone. 

The symptoms began in junior high school. I tunneled under the covers of my bed so as to not to wake my family. Still, I would be coughing, and sometimes weeping with frustration. A visit to the family physician resulted in the foulest tasting prescription grade “cough syrup” one could imagine. And it did nothing for the cough. 

Fast forward to undergraduate school at the University of Illinois in Champaign. I rode my bicycle everywhere. And of course Champaign in central Illinois was VERY cold in the winter. A particularly awful coughing episode sticks in my mind: I recall sore abdominal muscles as I pedaled to classes on my bike. Nowadays we might deem this a great deep core workout! But it was pain—soreness induced by the unrelenting muscular contractions of the cough, and the effort of attempting to suppress it. On an icy morning, completely bundled up with a knitted muffler on my face, I pedaled several miles to the student health center. This time, my lungs were x-rayed. Nothing was found and another prescription was provided for foul cough syrup. Symptom relief: none. 

Sleep deprivation—along with pain, anxiety, fear and depression—came with this cough. After a particularly horrible night, I consulted the yellow pages (yes, the actual book) and called ear, nose, and throat specialists until someone answered. I had the brainstorm in the middle of the night that I should try another kind of physician. This physician diagnosed a secondary ear infection and a deviated septum. 

Did I have my answer? Well, antibiotics for the ear infection certainly helped me sleep better. But, the cough did not abate. Once morning had broken (to quote one of my favorite singer/songwriters of all time, Cat Stevens) the cough reared its ugly little head again. 

Cough drops, hot tea, urgent care clinics—episode upon pitiful episode of no relief—for decades. Finally, I consulted with an allergist and received a full work-up, patch tests and all. I was      

definitively diagnosed with cough variant asthma, and directed to administer an inhaler at the first sign of a cold. As you can imagine, I would become hyped up from the expensive medication. (Don’t get me started on the American way of health care!) Inhalers did eventually help the cough episodes, however, and I am deeply and utterly grateful for the diagnosis and 

Then about 12 years ago, my yoga practice shifted from sporadic to genuinely committed. I began participating in an online group of like-minded yoginis literally from around the U.S and the world, discussing our practices and our readings, and checking-in with one another about our deepening insights and discoveries. We also often met “real life.” taking immersions with Felicity Green, Erich Schiffmann, Manuso Manos, and others. At the same time, I began attending Iyengar and Iyengar-inspired classes in Tucson. Of course like any good yogini, I built my yoga library. 

During this period I acquired Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health by BKS Iyengar. During one of my asthma episodes, I referenced this volume and decided to try the sequence provided in this beautiful book. The series, which began with an introduction that stated, “asthma is usually caused by allergies or stress” (yes that’s me!) gave me a path to a new approach. So I gave it a go! 

With the book open in front of me in my living room, I began with the seated poses such as Staff pose, Cobbler’s pose, Wide Angle Seated pose, and Hero pose, pose, and then progressed to reclined propped versions of those same asanas, as well as Supported Bridge pose. From there I moved to Downward-Facing Dog pose, Mountain pose with arm variations , and Half Moon pose. I substituted heavily propped (I just did not have all of the supports depicted in the book) Staff and Camel poses, with Supported Bridge and a chest opening Savasana. 

After this first practice, I IMMEDIATELY felt better! My stress was relieved and my coughing abated noticeably. This instant relief was motivation to continue with Mr. Iyengar’s specific sequence (and my own adaptations) during this and subsequent acute episodes. Furthermore, my committed well-rounded practice always included focus on my posture, particularly side-body and chest openers, such as Bridge pose on a block Sphinx pose, Warrior 2, and shoulder openers with a strap. I noticed that when I would suffer from the cough variant asthma symptoms, the episodes eventually became much shorter. 

I firmly attest that my asana practice helped to slowly and incrementally open the tissues around the lungs and chest so I could breathe better. Also, the apprehensive anxiety that would come from the anticipation of another asthma episode became managed with my practice. I learned to calm myself with basic pranayama and relaxation, along with asana. Additionally, about 5 years ago when symptoms would arise, I started using a neti pot, which I know that helps immensely.

Now, even though the coughing is an issue, it is minor. I discern exactly what to do for myself, and the duration of the cough and the concomitant stress is completely manageable and short. In essence, my quality of life has improved in a myriad of ways. In my case, yoga has reduced the frequency and severity of cough variant asthma, a condition that caused me a great deal of suffering throughout my life. Yoga has been a magnificent gift to relieve this suffering. I feel deep gratitude for the practice of yoga and to all of my teachers!

Cough Variant Asthma: Lifelong Suffering Relieved with Yoga
Bonnie Golden, M.Ed e-RYT  is a long-time yoga and stress management teacher and the owner of Yoga with Bonnie/Yoga in Balance LLC in Tucson, AZ  (see  She specializes in gentle and strong, “boomer,” and prenatal/postpartum yoga. Bonnie received her yoga teacher certification through international yoga master Tias Little's Prajna Yoga. She has completed more than 1,000 hours of yoga instruction, earning her a Yoga Alliance 200-e (expert) designation. Her additional yoga studies include specialized training in prenatal yoga with Linda Spackman of Prajna yoga, doula training, and female pelvic-floor health with Leslie Howard. She is certified in Relax and Renew with Judith Lasater and Roger Cole, and is trained in several Yoga Tune Up specialties with Jill Miller She recently completed the Yoga for Healthy Aging immersion with Baxter and Nina, and will be offering workshops and specialized sessions based on the terrific learning from that experience. Bonnie also served on the counseling faculty of Pima Community College for over twenty years, is the author of two books, and a recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award from the Pima Community College Foundation. 
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By Veronica Hudson
posted on 07 September at 05:32

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