Yoga Therapy for Respiratory Health

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started.  Whether we are looking to lose weight, improve cardio-respiratory endurance or improve symptoms of anxiety or depression, the advice to exercise can feel overwhelming.  Particularly for individuals suffering from COPD, asthma, restrictive lung disease or pulmonary hypertension, the idea of a vigorous walk outside in the fresh air may inspire fear rather than the intended improvements to health and well-being. Removing barriers to beginning and finding appropriate starting points can make exercising attainable for all who seek its benefits. 

Many diseases of the lungs are progressive, so the pharmaceutical interventions available to treat them may help to slow degeneration or improve symptoms. While the treatments are improving the quality of life for many patients, we are able to take further steps to reduce the impacts of these diseases on everyday life and slow the progress of further decline.  

Very often exercise is prescribed to improve heart and lung health, but pranayama, or yogic breathing, is a great place to start. This practice is less vigorous than asana, the poses we are so used to seeing in yoga. Studies are showing that using pranayama in people with decreased lung function due to low activity, COPD, asthma, covid-19 or restricted lung disease offers many benefits.

One of the primary measures in evaluating patients with COPD and similar conditions is the six minute walk test. Multiple studies and reviews show increased distances achieved in patients with lung disease following pranayama intervention.  Some of the other areas finding consistent improvement are forced expiratory volume, responsiveness to medicine, improved blood pressure, reduced heart and respiratory rates, and less difficulty breathing.  These improvements to breathing efficiency, exercise tolerance and pulmonary function are shown to improve quality of life and lower pain scale reporting.

Improvement in these areas is the beginning of a cascade of overall health benefits.  As bodies become more able to move and exercise with comfort, we are able to improve other aspects of our health like mobility, endurance and muscle function. By adding pranayama, we may open the gateway to asana practice or other forms of exercise that may reduce dependency on, or frequency of, medication or slow the progress of a disease. Health related quality of life rises as we feel more capable and empowered to participate in our own well being.

Finding a supportive guide is a key component to feeling safe and confident beginning exercise.  Not only should a yoga therapist, instructor or personal trainer be skilled in meeting people where they are, these professionals can help to safely introduce activities that improve the overall health of a person. We know that consistency is paramount to seeing lasting improvement to well being, by finding a professional that supports your goals, there is a greater likelihood that people will remain engaged in their activity.  

Yoga is for every body. Embracing a pranayama practice is one of the limbs of yoga that we are beginning to understand the many medical impacts of, including the many measurable effects on individuals with lung diseases.  

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