Yoga and COPD

By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 5 August, 2015

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and am exploring trying some yoga. I don’t consider myself particularly spiritual, so am wondering whether you think this would be a good thing. Sam W., Brookline, MA

Yoga and COPD

Dear Sam: The great thing about yoga is you don’t have to be religious or spiritual to do it. It is just a great exercise that makes you feel better. For that matter, any exercise that one does diligently will produce effects. However, yoga and COPD seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly in some instances. 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.

The great thing about yoga and COPD is that it is relatively low impact, and it can help to improve both your emotional and physical health. It just generally improves your emotional health because you are taking positive steps towards making yourself feel better. That always contributes to emotional health when we move out of our traditional forms of feeling like we are victims.

As to how yoga improves physical health, it is a truism that as one becomes more flexible, it leads to greater flexibility both in breathing and in posture which makes us less uncomfortable when moving around. Flexibility is one of the best attributes for staying younger and more fit. 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.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine describes yoga as a mind-body practice.What that means is that as you heal the mind, you heal the body and as you heal the body, you also heal the mind. We have been used to thinking of mind and body as separate entities and forget that the relationship between the two are symbiotic and dependent upon each other. I know personally that if I have been over-indulgent with food the night before, my next day promises that I will not feel good about myself mentally.

Benefits of yoga for COPD

Yoga practice is made up of two essential parts: physical postures, known as asanas, and breathing techniques, known as pranayama. So it is obvious that yoga and COPD both impact each other greatly. Breathing techniques are a very vital part of your practice. Pranayama helps you to control your breathing and increases your lung capacity. It can also help you to manage symptoms of breathlessness by strengthening your respiratory muscles. A friend of mine who has COPD and was gassed at her father’s factory in 1950 does both yoga and pranayama and tells me that her doctors have told her breathing capacity has truly increased.

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.

Yoga and COPD and meditation techniques

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, a common companion to COPD.

How can I do yoga with COPD?

What most people think of when they think of doing yoga is how am I going to do all those intricate postures. I can’t stand on my head. Well, if we all were to worry about standing on our heads, there wouldn’t be as many participants in yoga as there are. Actually, classes of yoga are all about stretching and what that means is stretching a ‘little” beyond what you can do initially and building on that. Since yoga is about less stress, I can’t possibly imagine a good yoga teacher having expectations of you that you just can’t meet. In fact, the yoga practice is all about starting where you are and finding joy and relaxation in the movements you are able to do. You will find that once you relax, you can actually see how yoga and COPD are related to each other, and how they move together like peanut butter and jelly. With relaxation techniques, you will also have the opportunity to manage your stress and anxiety.

I think with the addition of yoga, you are about to have a great adventure ahead of you. Good luck to you. Spiritual Explorer

If you have a question about “Yoga and COPD,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.

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