Nobody wants to become rich slowly.” – Warren Buffet

Replace “rich” with “healthy” and the quote will still ring true.

In late 2008, after 1.5 decades of asthma-free bliss, my top worry as I settled into Bangalore living was “how the heck would I manage in India’s asthma capital?

My answer was to start running.

To the outsider (including many running friends), running as an antidote to my asthma must have worked. How else to explain a decade plus of (mostly uninterrupted) marathon->ultra running?

For the first six years, I still had to keep the inhaler handy and would use it regularly in the winter months. Considering that asthma is a chronic condition, I had no business complaining. But I fretted.

Three years ago, a bout of bronchitis felled me and asthma returned with a vengeance. The regulation Asthalin inhaler no longer sufficed. For over a year, I had to use the dreaded (to me!) Symbicort inhaler. Mildly depressed, I kept running through all this. My running performance suffered but at least I was still running. As a peculiar counterpunch, I ran into the arms of ultra running with “can’t run fast so let me run long.” A self-supported 12-hour run and a 24 hour stadium race were some accidental accomplishments during this insanity.

As a wise person once remarked “you can’t outrun a bad diet.” Running (or even ultra running) wasn’t the solution to my problem. But what was it then?

The first clue was actually in my friend’s email (circa 2008 before I moved) but I didn’t pay attention. In my second month in Bangalore I fell sick — some combination of flu and congestion that made the doctor quiz me about my asthma. As she wrote down the usual prescription of allopathy medicines, she looked me straight in the eye and said “Take these medicines for now but you really need to start doing pranayama regularly. That’s the only sure way of avoiding asthma attacks.”

I summarily ignored her advice because.. hey.. it was too simplistic and, besides, I was going to start running.

Sometime in April 2017, a friend philosopher guide made a cogent case to try out Shree Verma – an ayurveda/siddha treatment system. By a quirk of fate, a business trip took me to Chennai subsequently and I met the good doctor in their main clinic. Thus began a 6 month (approx.) treatment. For reasons I don’t quite recall, I started logging the following data on a daily basis: Peak flow, running/workout details, and inhaler puffs (Asthalin or Symbicort).

This diligent logging continued till March 2018. Below are some trends from May 2017 to Feb 2018:

  • May-Jul 2017

    • 4-5 inhaler puffs a month
    • Min, Max time between inhaler days: [2, 14] days
    • Max peak flow #: 460
    • Min peak flow #: 320
  • Aug was inhaler free month
  • Sep-Nov 2017

    • [1,3,3] inhaler puffs in Sep, Oct, Nov respectively
    • Min, Max time between inhaler days: [1, 29] days
    • Max peak flow #: 400
    • Min peak flow #: 320
  • Dec 2017-Feb 2018

    • [3,2,3] inhaler puffs in Dec, Jan, Feb respectively
    • Min, Max time between inhaler days: [2, 22] days
    • Max peak flow #: 420
    • Min peak flow #: 220

As the March 2018 snapshot shows, I started Pranayama on 17th March. April onwards, I changed my logging to only include entries if I used the inhaler. The next two entries in 2018 read:

  • Aug 20/21: Asthalin inhaler twice after high fever & insect bite and antibiotics usage

    • Related observation in Aug: very low Pranayama practice
  • Oct 2-8 (week before Malnad): Symbicort inhaler 2-3 times including on race day (preceded by 2 rounds of antibiotics)

Whether I use March or Oct 2018 as the start of my counter, it’s been 21 or 14 months of asthma-inhaler-free living since I earnestly began my pranayama practice.

Now here’s the most interesting Shree Verma bit: pranayama was always part of the prescription in Apr 2017 but it was tabled under the non-mandatory section. I’m not saying the good doctor said that but rather it was my interpretation. I had masterfully concluded – any medicine that didn’t need to be ingested wasn’t important.

It was only during my third (and final) consultation with the good Doctor Jayarooba that things came to light. Here’s how that conversation went:

She: “Looks like I’ll have to re-prescribe the strong tonic I’ve been giving you.”

Me: “Ok”

She: “How regularly are you doing pranayama?”

Me: (pregnant silence) “Did I HAVE to do that also?”

She (ever politely but probably thinking “what a dunce”): “Yes of course. These tonics and medicines will boost your immunity but the final cure will only come with Pranayama!”

Me: (meekly) “Ok – I’ll start the practice.”

Thank you Dr. Jayarooba. Thank you good Dr. X (who saw me in the Adobe office, Sep 2008).