Learning to Relax

While stress itself cannot trigger asthma, it can make asthma worse when it is present. Shortness of breath and decreased peak flow rates, for instance, have been found to occur when someone with asthma becomes emotionally upset.

Relaxation techniques have been suggested by various medical professionals as a complement to asthma treatment. While the research into how different relaxation techniques impact children with asthma is thin, the drawbacks of using these therapies is small. After all, many children, especially younger ones, generally enjoy being touched, held, and soothed. Your child might be comfortable with several methods that combine emotional processes, muscles, and breathing.

Massage Therapy

A small number of studies have shown some positive benefits of parents giving daily massages to their children with asthma. While the scientific evidence is sparse, massage does have some pluses on its side in that other than some parental time, it's free.


Broader studies on massage have shown that it can be beneficial for both children and parents in terms of producing relaxation of chest and back muscles — especially when an asthma attack occurs — and helping children feel secure.

There are several types of massages you could consider that take a few minutes each to perform:

  • Back massage — moving hands from neck and shoulders, down along each side of the spine and back again.

  • Shoulder massage — using fanning motions along the collar bone, shoulders, back of the neck, and the bottom of the skull.

  • Chest massage — gently rubbing from middle of chest to side of one half of body, then repeating on other side.

Health care experts familiar with massage therapy recommend that children sit up when massage therapy is used to relieve asthma symptoms so it is easier for them to breathe. It would be helpful to practice massage techniques — before an asthma flare-up occurs.


Meditation has been found to be useful in promoting a sense of relaxation among patients of all ages with a variety of chronic conditions. While little scientific evidence is available to examine results of meditation and its impact on asthma among children, interest does appear to be growing in this area.

With many meditation techniques, an individual focuses on his breathing. This could be useful in detecting possible trouble signs related to asthma. Also, some health care providers have observed that the proper breathing techniques suggested for using an inhaler are oftentimes similar to methods used with some forms of meditation.


Yoga is an ancient Hindu-based set of movements that are said to relate to mind, body, and emotions. Yoga, which emphasizes many physical and mental exercises or poses, also focuses on various breathing techniques designed to increase fitness, relax the body, and improve the way an individual breathes. No prescribed medications, however, should be replaced with the practice of yoga.


Yoga has been found in some studies to improve asthma symptoms when used with conventional medicine. Specifically, it also has been shown to improve peak flow rates, improve exercise tolerance, and create less overall anxiety and panic among those who tried it. Transcendental Meditation and other related forms of meditation have been found to create similar results.


Hypnosis has been described as a daydream-like state where you shut out the area immediately around you, leaving you open to suggestions. Hypnosis has gained some interest for children with asthma because of its potential use for helping them to relax and to react to positive suggestions to encourage them to breathe easier.

Some studies have shown that hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis could reduce the seriousness and frequency of an asthma episode, but most showed equivocal evidence of effect. While self-hypnosis can be understood by just about anyone, it generally may be more helpful to be taught specific skills by a hypnotherapist. This person can provide techniques to reinforce suggestions used in regard to your child's asthma.

And, as for the idea that hypnosis could cause someone to lose control or start showing bizarre behavior, you could remind your child that it's a myth — something seen in cartoons, not in real life.


Biofeedback is described as a way for individuals to alter certain bodily functions — from heart rate to muscle tension — by using techniques such as meditation or relaxation. Biofeedback has gained interest as a complement to asthma treatment. It has been linked in some studies to decreased medication use, decreased asthma symptoms, improvement of peak flow rates, and fewer emergency room visits among children.

At the University of Pittsburgh, ongoing studies have found that when an asthmatic child relaxes, his breathing slows down and becomes regular — the opposite of what happens during the early stages of an asthma flare-up. The treatment, called biofeedback assisted relaxation, uses a computer display to show children what their readings look like when they are stressed and when they are relaxed. The children practice to make the readings show a calm response, which can better help them control their bodies during an asthma attack.

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