COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a set of progressive lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung diseases.

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

Benefits from the practice of yoga can include:

  • lowered blood pressure
  • Increased relaxation and self-confidence
  • reduced stress and anxiety
  • improved fitness

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine describes yoga as a “mind-body practice.” Although its roots lie in Eastern philosophy, you don’t need any spiritual or religious beliefs to take part in a class. Yoga will help you stay fit, flexible, and relaxed.

Many classes are offered for people with diagnosed health conditions. Most classes don’t focus on the spiritual elements of yoga practice. If you feel you would benefit from the spiritual side of yoga, that’s okay too. The main thing is to find a form of yoga that works for you.

Yoga practice is made up of two essential parts: physical postures, known as asanas, and breathing techniques, known as pranayamas. Meditation and relaxation are also key parts of regular yoga practice.

Physical Postures

Performing the physical postures of yoga, or asanas, can help improve your body’s general level of physical fitness, including:

  • range of motion
  • balance
  • flexibility
  • strength

Performing these postures can help raise your energy levels and clear your mind from worry.

Breathing Techniques

Breathing techniques, or pranayamas, help you control your breathing and teach you how to use your lungs more fully, important practices for people with COPD. You perform breathing exercises as you hold an asana, and separately as a standalone breathing practice.

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’ll 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 you learn should also be easy enough so you can practice at home.

An Easy Way to Exercise

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

Enhanced Breathing Techniques

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

Relaxation Techniques to Manage Stress and Anxiety

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 a fun sociable activity, and it also gives you the opportunity to relate to others with your same condition. Also, spending time with other people on a regular basis can help 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 also help relieve symptoms of stress relating to smoking cessation.

Yoga Asanas for COPD

Always consult your healthcare provider to get clearance before practicing any form of exercise. Check that your yoga teacher is fully qualified and that they understand your needs as a person with COPD.

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

Standing Mountain Pose

This straightforward pose requires you to stand tall to open up your chest. Your arms can be raised. or left at your sides.

Standing Back Bend

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

Seated Forward Bends

These poses help strengthen your respiratory system.

Standing Side Bends

These bends will help strengthen your diaphragm while also improving the flexibility of your rib cage.

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

Yoga Breathing for COPD

Yogis believe that correct breathing brings more oxygen into your blood and helps to control vital energy, which in turn helps calm your mind.

Pursed-lip breathing and diaphragm breathing are two techniques that have roots in yoga. They are often taught to people with COPD as 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, letting your stomach expand.
  2. As you breathe out, contract your stomach muscles, pressing your stomach inward.
  3. Focus on contracting your lower abdomen and ribs as you breathe out. This helps to raise your diaphragm, enabling your lungs to empty all the way and thus improving the depth of your breathing.

Safety Advice

Yoga is generally safe, but be sure to take these precautions just to be sure.

Ask Your Doctor First

Consult your healthcare provider before embarking on any exercise program. Ask your doctor about yoga classes for COPD in your area.

Check Out Your Teacher’s Credentials

Check the credentials of any yoga teacher before you begin classes. Be sure to inform them them of your condition and health needs.

Avoid Certain Poses

Avoid yoga poses that restrict breathing by putting pressure on the diaphragm, such as the Child’s Pose or the Plough. Consult a yoga expert for advice on which asanas are suitable for people with COPD.

Keep Your Inhalers Nearby

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

Stop If You’re Short of Breath

Stop exercising immediately if you experience shortness of breath while practicing yoga. Use your medication and rest until you feel well enough to begin again.

What the Experts Say

A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics on the effects of yoga for people with COPD followed 33 patients with documented cases of COPD. People 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. People reported an overall improvement to their quality of life, and tests showed that lung function improved on a short-term basis.

You Asked, We Answered

  • What are other types of exercise people with COPD should do?
  • Those with COPD can typically engage without limitations in regular stretching, walking, steady-state elliptical workouts, upper body strength training, and stairclimbing. Depending on the severity of COPD and fitness level, they may also be able to incorporate other exercises such as jogging, biking, and non-contact Sports. Always consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercises.

    - Natalie Butler, RD, LD