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.

 

 

Yoga for COPD

Study Shows that Yoga Performs like Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Dr. Randeep Guleria of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi presented the results of a study comparing  a structured regimen of yoga exercises with standard pulmonary rehabilitation in those with COPD at the Annual Meeting of CHEST in Montreal on October 27, 2015.

Study: The 12 week study enrolled 60 individuals who averaged 56 years of age and had been diagnosed with COPD for an average of 8 years.

  • YOGA: 30 individuals performed two one-hour sessions each week of specially designed yoga program from a professional instructor for 4 weeks. The yoga exercises included physical postures, breathing technique, mediation, and relaxation. For the next 8 weeks, the individuals performed their learned exercises on their own, but with a supervised session once every 2 weeks.
  • PULMONARY REHABILITATION: 30 individuals performed a standard program for 12 weeks.
Individuals at Pulmonary Rehabilitation performing resistance training

Individuals at Pulmonary Rehabilitation performing resistance training

 

Results: After 12 weeks of participation, both groups showed modest improvements in the distance walked in 6 minutes with reduced ratings of breathlessness. Quality of life improved by an average of 32% in the yoga group and by an average of 21% in the pulmonary rehabilitation group. Statistical comparisons showed no differences between the two groups.

My Comment: Yoga offers an alternative option of physical and mental activities that can be beneficial for those with COPD. This may be especially important for those who can not do typical treadmill or cycle exercises because of arthritis or other medical problems. Dr. Roger Goldstein, Director of respiratory rehabilitation at the University of Toronto commented that, “Yoga is a tremendous opportunity.”

Dr. Roger Goldstein, Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Roger Goldstein, Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto.