“My asthma doesn't stop me now, but this wasn't always the case. When I was younger I didn’t take my asthma seriously and rarely exercised. I used my asthma as an excuse, but in reality I wasn't motivated and didn’t enjoy going to the gym. After a scary asthma attack in my 20s I’ve made more of an effort to learn about asthma and get it under control. Tai Chi has really helped my asthma, as well as my
Learning to take my asthma seriously
“I was diagnosed with asthma in my late teens. Like any teenager I felt invincible, so I never paid much attention to my health or my asthma. Pet hair was my main asthma trigger at the time, but a lot of my friends had pets so I just ignored it.
"I rarely took my reliever inhaler with me when I went out because I didn’t think I needed it, but after having a really bad asthma attack on a night out in 1996 it suddenly occurred to me just how serious asthma was.
“I was at Donington Race Track in Castle Donington and my friends and I had been drinking at a local pub. After we left I started feeling really tight-chested and was struggling for breath. The next thing I remember is coming round with a crowd of people around me, including members of St John Ambulance. My friend said I had collapsed, and that he had couldn’t find my reliever inhaler when he searched my pockets so he called an ambulance. I was given a reliever inhaler by the St John Ambulance crew and had to rest until my symptoms passed. It was very scary.
“Having this asthma attack was an epiphany moment for me. Now I take care to manage my asthma well and I always make sure I have my reliever inhaler with me.”
Discovering Tai Chi
“Up until 14 years ago I was working as a supermarket manager, meaning I was constantly on the go. My asthma was pretty well controlled at this point, but when I changed jobs and started working in an office it got worse. I gained a lot of weight and felt breathless most of the time. I was so unfit and it got to a point where I would quickly get out of breath whilst running for a bus or playing football with my friends.
“Not long after starting my office job I was involved in a car accident, and although I wasn't seriously hurt I’ve had back pain ever since. This, coupled with my lack of fitness, meant I spent more time sitting in front of the TV or at my desk, so put on even more weight.
“I heard that Tai Chi can help with back problems so I looked for a local class. At my first session I was surprised to find that a lot of the exercises focus on deep breathing, which I thought was going to be impossible because of my asthma. I told the teacher that I wouldn’t be back for more classes, but she explained how Tai Chi can help with lots of different health problems – particularly asthma. This encouraged me to keep going back and I’m so glad I did. Since discovering Tai Chi I have so much more control over my asthma.”
Enjoying the benefits
“Although Tai Chi is a martial art, it’s a more gentle form, so I can push myself without my heart rate increasing too much and without putting too much pressure on my lungs. Classes tend to begin with warm-up exercises, and then we usually work on partner activity. After this we do more work on gentle movement and breathing. All Tai Chi exercises revolve around two breathing techniques – shallow and deep breathing – which involves breathing slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. This has really helped with my asthma as I'm breathing so much better these days and feel less breathless when running and doing other activities.
“I suffer from depression and anxiety, and stress is one of my main asthma triggers, so the peace and calm of Tai Chi also helps me to relax. The breathing techniques help me stay calm in situations that used to cause a lot of stress, and I’ve become a more peaceful person as a result.
“I also love the exercises involved in Tai Chi as they’re not physically demanding - at least not until you build experience and can practise harder exercises. They can be practised anywhere, at any time - even when sat at a desk."
My fitness-focused future
“In March 2016 I moved from Coventry to a small seaside town in Cornwall. I wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and live somewhere more peaceful. My depression and anxiety had not been great, so I also started running to help boost my mental health. I’d never tried running before, and even though I was worried it would be difficult because of my asthma, I’ve not had any problems.
“I always carry my inhaler when I go out running, just in case, and use the breathing techniques I learned in Tai Chi to control my breathing. I’ve increased my running distances gradually so I'm not trying to do too much too soon. For example, I started running 1km, stopping for a rest, and then running another 1km home. I’ve now increased my distance to nearly 4km without stopping, and I love getting up early when I’m not working and going for a run.
“I’ve also started cycling. Even though I hadn’t been on a bike for 15 years, a couple of months ago my friend encouraged me to join her on a ride, so I borrowed her husband’s bike. We now go out regularly and I’ve bought my own bike.
“I’m still practising Tai Chi which I love doing on the beach or on the cliffs overlooking the beautiful Cornish coastline. Along with running and cycling, it’s really improved my fitness levels and I’ve lost weight. This has really helped my asthma, and I feel less breathless.”