A case of yoga therapy for respiratory issues—and more

By Roshini Ranjit

Deepa,* a software consultant in her mid-20s, had been suffering from wheezing and breathlessness while climbing the stairs for more than a year. She also had a runny nose, “heaviness” of the head, bouts of sneezing soon after waking up in the morning, and a chronic cough. She had tried various treatments, and her doctor advised her to use an inhaler regularly. Each time Deepa had a flareup, she had to use the inhaler to help the wheezing to subside. On her close friend’s insistence, she decided to try yoga therapy as a last resort to address her health issues.

Yoga therapy assessment

During our first session, I thoroughly evaluated Deepa’s physical and mental states. We had a long discussion regarding her issues with body image as a result of her weight, her primary concern. Deepa added that she had vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disorder that may be autoimmune-related. Along with the skin condition, the weight gain and breathing issues kept Deepa feeling insecure, anxious, and depressed. She felt tired all the time.

Knowing that her skin condition was genetic and incurable, Deepa had decided to work on reducing her body weight instead, hoping to improve her self-esteem. She tried working out at a gym for a year, but this did not help with weight loss.

An evolving practice

I decided to address her breathing issues first through breath-focused movements tailored to meet Deepa’s physical and mental needs. We started with a very simple practice:

  • Physical poses (asana)—standing arm movements to expand the chest and spine, variations on triangle pose, standing forward bend, and assisted chair pose.
  • Next, we did a gentle sequence of breath-based movements in kneeling, lying, and seated positions.
  • The practice ended with pranayama—ujjayi (victorious or “restricted”) breathing with a focus on listening to and feeling the sound and movement of the breath up and down the throat.
  • In addition to this, because I am also an ayurvedic physician, I gave Deepa a few suggestions to modify her diet and lifestyle.

Deepa practiced at home every day, and we met weekly. Each week we modified her practices according to her feedback and progress. During her fifth session, Deepa mentioned that she hadn’t used the inhaler for a week—her breathlessness, wheezing, and all other symptoms had subsided. She also mentioned mental and emotional effects and improved energy levels, saying, “I am more positive and confident. I feel more active throughout the day.”

It was fascinating to observe the effect of a regular breath-based practice, supported by customized ayurvedic diet and lifestyle modifications, on both the physical and mental planes. Deepa’s case is an illustration of how an individualized yoga therapy practice promotes self-agency and facilitates healing at all levels.

Roshini Ranjit, BAMS, C-IAYT, is a consultant ayurvedic physician and an IAYT-certified yoga therapist trained in the Krishnamacharya tradition. She integrates the disciplines of ayurveda and yoga therapy in clinical practice. Find her on LinkedIn and Facebook.


*Name has been changed to protect the client’s privacy.