Being diagnosed with COPD can have a profound effect on your emotional and mental health. This is true regardless of the stage of the illness or whether the diagnosis was expected or unexpected.

Meditation can help you to cope with many of the psychological aspects associated with COPD such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Although meditation has its roots in Eastern philosophies and religions, it isn’t necessarily a religious or spiritual practice. There are many simple ways to meditate, and you do not have to adopt a specific belief system to benefit from meditation.

“Meditation is simplicity itself. It’s about stopping and being present. That is all,” Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, said.

How Mediation Works

In recent years, scientific research on meditation has progressed significantly. Today, many physicians recognize meditation as an excellent complement to conventional medical treatment, and believe that it can have a profound effect on both the body and mind.

Regularly practicing meditation produces measurable changes within the body, resulting in positive effects on the immune, nervous, and endocrine (hormonal) systems. What’s more, it is a non-invasive form of treatment that anyone can learn to do.

Some types of meditation may work because they increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce activity in the sympathetic nervous system.

The parasympathetic nervous system causes the dilation of blood vessels thus improving blood flow. It also causes the heart and breathing rates to slow down and increases the flow of digestive juices.

The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action by initiating the "fight-or-flight response." This causes the blood vessels to narrow, reducing blood flow and increases the heart and breathing rates.

Studies have found that a regular practice of meditation may provide a boost to the body’s immune system and contribute to an improvement in a person’s quality of life by helping them to relax, relieve stress, and improve their sleep patterns.

How Meditation Can Help COPD Patients

  • relax physically
  • stay calm 
  • release stress and tension
  • relieve anxiety and worry or mild depression
  • improve sleep patterns
  • increase energy levels
  • manage their breathing more effectively

According to the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, meditation may have further and more far-reaching positive emotional benefits. They state that practitioners of meditation may be more likely to feel in control of their lives, and less likely to take on a passive victim mentality which can be crucial for maintaining quality of life in people with chronic illnesses such as COPD.

Meditation Techniques

There are many different types of meditation, however, most techniques are based on focusing the attention in some way. This is achieved using any number of techniques such as:

  • counting your breath
  • repeating a word or phrase (known as a mantra)
  • focusing on an object
  • focusing the mind through a guided imagery sequence
  • focusing on the body in order to induce relaxation

You can learn to meditate by yourself with the help of a book, by attending classes or by listening to meditation CD’s or MP3s etc.

Most meditative practices have in common, several key features:

  1. You are required to find a quiet location where you will not be disturbed.
  2. Meditation usually takes place while sitting on the floor or in a comfortable chair. It is also possible to meditate lying down, if you find this more comfortable than sitting upright.
  3. The practice of meditation involves focusing your attention and quieting the mind.

Some of the most popular types of meditation include:

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and offers a structured approach to learning meditation. It is well regarded by the medical profession and has been taught to people in the corporate world as well as to those with diagnosed health conditions.

Although MBSR has its roots in the Buddhist teachings of mindfulness, it is not a spiritual practice and is, therefore, suitable for anyone. Mindfulness refers to the practice of paying close attention to yourself, your body, the people around you, and your environment.

Transcendental Meditation (TM)

TM has been the focus of many positive and encouraging studies, and some controversy too, mainly due to its initial origins. The technique works by using a mantra—a special word, phrase or sound repeated over and over silently. It has its roots in Hinduism but is practiced effectively by many people all over the world, without the need for any change of beliefs.

Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is the process of using a series of suggestions and directed thoughts to guide your mind into a relaxed state. Many people use guided imagery CD’s to achieve this, although it can be practiced in a class or in a private session with an instructor. The aim is to achieve deep levels of relaxation by fully imagining a comfortable and peaceful setting, such as meadow on a summer day or a beach. You are encouraged to use all of your sense to imagine the peaceful setting in the hopes of achieving a mind body connection—in other words, by feeling it intensely your body will respond positively, improving your sense of well being.

Risks and Side Effects of Meditation with COPD

Meditation is a non-invasive practice that is considered to be safe for healthy people. People with mental health issues or psychiatric problems may experience some worsening of symptoms; however, evidence suggests that this is rare.

If you are considering using meditation as a complement to your regular COPD treatment, make sure you:

1. Inform your health care providers about your intention to meditate or use any other form of complementary or alternative treatment. This helps to ensure your treatment plan remains safe and coordinated. Your doctor may be able to recommend a suitable meditation program for you.

2. Thoroughly research the different types of meditation you are interested in so that you find one that sits comfortably with your belief system.

3. Ask any meditation instructor about their training and experience. Be careful of anyone who has set himself or herself up as a guru.

4. Meditation is not a replacement for conventional medical treatment and an ethical instructor will understand this fully. Always refer to your doctor as the first source of information.

What the Experts Say

A 2007 review of scientific literature, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), found some evidence to support the theory that meditation has possible, beneficial effects on a person’s health. Overall evidence, however, proved to be inconclusive. Further scientific research is needed to establish whether meditation is effective for a range of health conditions, including COPD.