Yoga is an excellent form of exercise for almost anyone with COPD. It is relatively low impact, and it can help to improve both emotional and physical health.

The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine describes yoga as a “mind-body practice,” and although yoga has its roots in Eastern philosophy, you do not have to hold any spiritual or religious beliefs to take part in classes. Yoga is, to a certain extent, a “mind-body-spirit” practice, yet it is possible to find classes that focus on yoga as a way to stay fit, flexible, and relaxed.

Many classes, including those offered for people with diagnosed health conditions, do not focus on the spiritual elements of yoga practice. However, if you feel you would benefit from the spiritual side of yoga, that’s okay too. The main thing is to find something that works for you.

Yoga practice is made up of two essential parts. Physical postures, known as asanas, and breathing techniques, known as pranayama.

Yoga asanas are performed to help improve your general fitness levels, range of motion, balance, and flexibility. They can also help to raise your energy levels and clear the mind from worry.

Breathing techniques are a vital part of yoga practice. They can help you to control your breathing and teach you how to use your lungs more fully. Breathing exercises are performed as you hold the asanas and separately as stand-alone exercises.

Meditation and relaxation are also key parts of a regular yoga practice.

According to The University of Maryland Medical Center, yoga “improves fitness, lowers blood pressure, promotes relaxation and self-confidence, and reduces stress and anxiety.”

Benefits of Yoga for People With COPD

Yoga classes for people with COPD offer a modified form of yoga, so don’t worry that you will be expected to contort your body into a variety of complicated poses. They are created with the health needs of people with COPD in mind and should provide you with a gentle, easy and effective way to manage your health and emotional well-being.

Gentle stretching and bending exercises help to improve fitness and flexibility, while breathing exercises give you the tools to confidently manage any attacks of breathlessness. The techniques taught should also be easy enough so that they can also be practiced at home.

An Easy Way to Exercise

Yoga incorporates a series of mostly stationary exercises performed standing or sitting down. Asanas encourage flexibility while also building physical strength, which helps to increase exercise tolerance.

Enhanced Breathing Techniques

Pranayama breathing techniques can help you to manage symptoms of breathlessness by strengthening the respiratory muscles.

Opportunity to Manage Stress and Anxiety Through Relaxation Techniques

Yoga encourages deep relaxation through breathing and meditation techniques. This helps to relieve stress and tension.

Social Interaction

A yoga class for people with COPD provides an excellent opportunity for a fun, sociable activity. Spending time with other people on a regular basis can help to improve your overall mood and reduce feelings of isolation.

An Aid to Help You Quit Smoking

The American Lung Association suggests that yoga practice may help relieve symptoms of stress relating to smoking cessation.

Yoga Asanas for COPD

The following yoga postures can help people with COPD build strength and maintain flexibility. A good yoga teacher will show you how to breathe deeply and correctly in order to enhance your yoga practice. 

Always consult your health care provider to get the “all clear” before practicing any form of exercise. Check that the yoga teacher is fully qualified and that they understand the needs of people who have COPD completely.

Standing Mountain Pose

This straightforward “standing tall” pose helps to open up the chest. Arms can be raised or left by the sides.

Standing Back Bend

This pose also helps to open up the muscles of the chest but needs to be practiced carefully to avoid muscle strain and breathlessness.

Seated Forward Bends

These poses help to strengthen the respiratory system.

Standing Side Bends

These will help to strengthen the diaphragm whilst also improving flexibility of the rib cage.

There are many more asanas that can be modified to help build strength and flexibility in people with COPD. It is vital that you learn yoga from a qualified, recognized practitioner.

Yoga Breathing for COPD

Yoga highlights proper breathing and its two main functions. Yogis believe that correct breathing brings more oxygen into the blood, and helps to control vital energy—this, in turn, helps to calm the mind.

Pursed-lip breathing and diaphragm breathing are two techniques that have their roots in yoga. They are often taught to people with COPD as a part of their pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Another useful breathing technique for people with COPD is abdominal breathing. The technique is as follows:

  1. Breathe in and let your stomach expand.
  2.  As you breathe out, contract the stomach muscles, pressing your stomach inwards.
  3. Focus on contracting the lower abdomen and ribs and as you breathe out. This helps to raise the diaphragm, enabling the lungs to empty fully and thus improving the depth of your breathing.

Safety Advice

It is vital that you consult your health care provider before embarking on any exercise program. Ask your doctor about yoga classes for COPD in your area.

It is essential to check the credentials of any yoga teacher before you begin classes. It is also vital that you inform them of your condition and health needs.

Yoga poses that restrict breathing by putting pressure on the diaphragm, such as the child’s pose or the plough, should be avoided at all costs. Consult a yoga expert for advice on which asanas are suitable for people with COPD.

When practicing yoga, or any form of exercise, be sure to keep your inhalers or oxygen supply close by.

If, at any time during the class, you experience shortness of breath stop exercising immediately. Use your medication and rest fully until you feel well enough to begin again.

What The Experts Say

A 2010 study on the effects of yoga for people with COPD followed 33 patients with documented cases of COPD. Patients were taught yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation by a certified yoga therapist for one hour, three times a week, for a duration of six weeks.

The study focused on self-reported improvements to quality of life as well as on lung function as measured by recognized medical methods, including spirometry. Patients reported an overall improvement to their quality of life and tests showed that lung function improved on a short-term basis.