Yoga Postures and Breathing for Less Lung Discomfort
Living with COPD is difficult at the best of times, which can make exercise uncomfortable and disheartening. Luckily, yoga is showing promise as an effective tool for fitness and COPD management.
Most modern yoga studios focus their classes on a broad selection of postures to appeal to the strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness of the participants. As someone living with the chest discomfort, cough, and shortness of breath that COPD brings, it’s important to understand what aspects of yoga will be most helpful, and how to craft a practice that will strengthen your body and breathing without causing discomfort.
How Yoga Improves COPD Symptoms
COPD makes you very aware of your breath and your breathlessness. Yoga also allows you to focus on your breath, but in a much more positive fashion. The two general elements in yoga — breath and movement — can help you overcome your COPD discomfort in different ways:
The movement in yoga is introduced through postures (called asanas) that are strung together in therapeutic patterns. Sometimes these poses are static, and sometimes they flow together. Depending on the specific postures, how quickly you transition between each, and how many you go through in a class, the practice can be more or less demanding on your body.
How it helps: Since yoga exercises are generally stationary, they are easier to learn and follow than many other exercises. The low impact movement is gentle on your joints, but will slowly and effectively strengthen your muscles. As your flexibility and strength improve, your tolerance for exercise increases, and you can keep your body in better shape to counter your COPD discomforts.
The way you use your breath during a yoga practice is just as important as the physical poses you do. In fact, they are often blended together, so your inhalations and exhalations correspond to particular movements, helping you calm and energize your muscles as needed. At other times, specific breathing techniques (known as pranayama) are used on their own, without moving through postures.
How it helps: Learning to control your breath will not only release tension, it will also strengthen your respiratory muscles. Deep, slow breathing teaches you to fill and empty your lungs completely.
When you live with COPD, too much stress can make your symptoms harder to handle and your quality of life will suffer. Together, asanas and pranayama will help you relieve the stress on your mind and body as it improves your physical strength and range of motion.
Finding a Suitable Routine
Your first challenge is to find the right class for your abilities (and respiratory limitations). It’s best to choose a class designed for people with respiratory problems, so you don’t overextend yourself and wind up in a COPD exacerbation.
Your yoga teacher should walk you through proper breathing techniques before the class, and help you to master the movements. If they’ve worked with COPD patients before, they will be able to craft a good class for you, including some of these particularly helpful types of postures.
- Bends – Back bends and forward bends are a big part of many yoga practices. They help you strengthen your core, straighten your posture, and open up various joints and muscle groups. For COPD, standing back bends can really help to open up the chest muscles, but you must do them carefully with good guidance from your instructor to avoid strain. Standing forward bends can help you with exhalation.
- Seated postures – It’s important to incorporate some more passive postures that involve sitting or lying on your yoga mat, too. Seated forward bends can help you improve your flexibility, and there are a variety of twists to help you stretch and strengthen your spine. However, avoid lying on your chest or stomach, and don’t fold over in child’s pose — these postures will put too much pressure on your diaphragm.
- Abdominal breathing – Different breathing techniques are used in yoga, but deep belly breathing is a mainstay — and it’s perfect for those with COPD. By breathing as much air into your belly as you can, then forcing it out completely by contracting your stomach muscles, ribs, and diaphragm, you can train yourself to breathe more deeply.
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