Yoga is an exercise that uses your body and mind, combining breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga postures. Research has shown that for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this low-impact exercise can provide improved quality of life and lung function (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21048431/). Yoga allows people to achieve greater breath control by practicing breathing techniques. Pursed-lip diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is a technique that helps people learn how to use the belly muscles to control their breath. If you have COPD, deep abdominal breathing not only helps you inhale and exhale more air through the lungs, but also helps to reduce extra air trapped in the airways at the end of exhalation.
Belly Breathing will help you stay calm and ease the tightness in your chest from air that is trapped:
- Slowly breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs while relaxing your stomach muscles
- Next, blow out the air through pursed lips, while pulling in stomach muscles tightly.
- Relax and repeat
You can practice this while blowing bubbles.
Another benefit of yoga for individuals with chronic lung disease is the ability to strengthen your respiratory muscles. Using controlled breathing when practicing yoga postures helps to strengthen the muscles you use to breathe. These poses increase your ability to move and increase the flexibility in the chest, opening up more space for you to take deeper breaths.
Having COPD can make exercise seem impossible, but lack of exercise can cause the muscles to become weak which may speed up the progression of lung disease. Yoga is a low-impact exercise that builds muscle strength over time creating an intersection for yoga and chronic lung disease management. Additionally, it helps reduce COPD-related stress and anxiety. Over time, chronic stress can cause an increase of inflammation in the body, weaken the immune system, and accelerate the disease progression. Many studies have shown that practicing yoga can help lower levels of inflammation in the body and reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
It is important with any new exercise regimen you take the proper safety precautions. Talk to your doctor to make sure yoga is the right exercise for you, and never perform poses that restrict your ability to breathe properly.