Yoga in COPD: Results of Two New Studies

Yoga in COPD: Benefits with Yoga at Home 

Background: Yoga is a form of physical movement and posture that includes meditation and spirituality. The word – yoga – means “to add,” “to join,” “to unite,” or “to attach.” There is limited information about the practice of yoga in COPD patients.

Pranayama is a traditional yoga practice of controlling breathing. In general, the focus is on slowing and extending the breath, particularly during meditation. It emphasizes that when you breathe in, you bring in energy to your body; and when you breathe out, you allow stress to leave your body.

Example of Pranayama yoga in COPD

Woman in yoga pose

Pranayama is more than simple awareness of the breath. It involves specific rhythms and techniques to bring the following benefits.

  • Calms the mind, reducing worries and anxieties
  • Improves focus and attention, removing brain fog
  • Increases energy, bringing enthusiasm and positivity
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Rejuvenates the body and mind
  • May even slow down the aging process


Dr. kanminsky is first author of study of yoga in COPD

David Kaminsky, M.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine

Studies: Two recently published studies evaluated yoga in COPD performed at home. 1. Dr. David Kaminsky and colleagues at the University of Vermont College of Medicine evaluated whether the practice of pranayama, or yoga breathing, could be done at home as an alternative to pulmonary rehabilitation. There were two groups of patients with moderate to severe COPD. One group participated in pranayama yoga plus education for 12 weeks; the other group received education alone.

The study was published on-line on July 17, 2017, in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Drr.Donisky is first author of study on yoga in COPD

DorAnne Donesky, RN, Ph.D., NP, Adjunct Professor of Physiological Nursing at UCSF School of Nursing

2. Dr. Donesky and colleagues at the Department of Physiological Nursing, University of California in San Francisco, evaluated whether those with COPD and heart failure could perform yoga at home. One group participated in one hour of TeleYoga classes two times a week. Yoga instructions were provided by live video connected to home televisions using the Internet. In the other group, each participant received educational materials by mail and a weekly phone call to discuss education information.

This study was published on-line on June 27, 2017, in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Example of yoga to improve breathing. Can also be used as yoga in COPD

Women performing Bhastrika yoga

Results: Study 1. Those in the pranayama group increased the distance walked in six minutes by an average of 31 meters, while the education group had a decrease of 16 yards after 12 weeks. This difference was almost statistically significant. Both groups improved shortness of breath with activities. Study 2. There were 14 participants with COPD and heart failure. Those who received TeleYoga were able to safely participate in the classes, found the 8-week program enjoyable, and were less short of breath with activities.

Conclusions: Study 1. This pilot study demonstrated that pranayama yoga in COPD patients was associated with improved exercise tolerance.  Study 2. Despite frailty, those with both COPD and heart failure were able to perform yoga safely at home using instructions on television.

My Comment: You may wish to consider the benefits of yoga in COPD  either by itself or in addition to your current exercise program.

Can Yoga Help My Breathing?

Dear Dr. Mahler:

I read with interest your recent blog in COPD News about the study comparing yoga and pulmonary rehabilitation. However, can you provide more information about how yoga can help my COPD? I am 63 years young, and am taking Spiriva and Advair for my “severe” COPD. I quit smoking for good  5 years ago, and walk my dog outdoors most days. I find that it is slowly getting harder to breathe with certain activities.

Greta from Clermont, FL

Dear Greta,

Yoga is a form of physical movement and posture that includes meditation and spirituality that originated in India. Texts of yoga date back to the 3rd century BC, but yoga only gained prominence in the West in the 20th century. Yoga means “to add”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach.”

Yogi seated in a garden.

Yogi seated in a garden.

In addition, yoga is a technique for controlling the body and mind with breathing as an integral part.  A popular form is called Hatha yoga which focuses on physical and mental strength building exercises, breathing, and meditation. Apart from the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple. Yoga is also used as a complete exercise program and physical therapy routine

Pranayama is a traditional Yoga practice of slowing and extending the breath particularly during meditation.  Yoga emphasizes that when you breathe in, you bring in energy (you are literally inhaling oxygen) to your body; and when you breathe out, you allow stress to leave your body (you are literally exhaling carbon dioxide).


Statue of Shiva perfoming meditation in Padmasana posture.

Statue of Shiva perfoming meditation in Padmasana posture.

Pay attention to your breathing right now.  You will note that you breathe fast if you are upset or angry and breathe slow if you are calm and relaxed.  This signifies that breathing is linked not only to the physical demands of the body, but also to the mind.  Stress and anxiety are major emotions that influence breathing.  The practice of yoga encourages paying attention to breathing so that you can bring your mind to a pleasant and peaceful state.

In reviewing recently published medical articles on yoga, I found a review titled, “Yoga in the management of chronic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” This was published in the July 2015 issue of the journal Medical Care. The authors found 10 studies (total of 431 individuals with average age 56 years) which used yoga in those with heart disease, stroke, and COPD. Overall, those who performed yoga increased their exercise capacity as well as their quality of life. Anxiety was reduced in those with stroke, but not in individuals with COPD. The authors concluded that yoga programs may useful in addition to standard rehabilitation programs.

Yoga pose

Yoga pose

I encourage you to give yoga a try. Yoga has been used for centuries and provides another opportunity to improve overall health and reduce stress.

Let me know how it goes if you give yoga a try.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D.