Yoga for COPD

Yoga is unique program for self-management for people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or other chronic illnesses because yoga is one of the most comprehensive body, breath and mind systems I know.

According to Thomashaw and Walsh CO-Morbidity survey of over 3000 people with COPD on average have 6 co-morbid disorders. 60 to 80% of them take 5 to 10 medications and 15-25% people take more than 11 prescribed medication. Most commonly reported problems are high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease), sinus disease, sleep apnea, weight loss, muscle weakness as well as depression and anxiety. (See footnote) Similar other surveys too point out that COPD affects the whole body and causes a wide range of negative emotions such as the sense of personal loss, hopelessness, depression, anxiety and panic attacks and anger and frustration.

Yoga can be particularly beneficial for us with COPD. We must constantly work on improving our physical health, breath function and emotional strength.

My yoga teacher used to say that breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. Breath really is the "BRIDGE" between the body and the mind because all medical conditions and negative emotions automatically cause such negatives changes in our breathing as the over breathing, under breathing, breath holding, chest breathing or jerky breath. Such negative breathing changes happen automatically and we are often not very aware of them.

By the same token, when we are healthy, feeling well, doing well and feeling good about ourselves and others, we automatically breathe more deeply, more slowly, fully and freely. Such positive breathing changes also happen automatically and we are often not very aware of them.

Everybody is writing about "secrets" these days. "Secrets of wealth," "Secrets of Success," "Secrets of Happy and Satisfying Relationships" and the list goes on. Here are the "Secrets of Breathing" which are practical and can be easily utilized:
1. Everyone including people with COPD or any other medical or psychological disorder can to some extent positively change their breathing when they consciously choose to do so
2. By changing your breathing, you can change how you emotionally feel at that moment, and it takes just a few minutes to do so
3. By shifting to abdominal breathing and slower and longer exhalation, you can influence many physiological and emotional processes such as lowering the blood pressure, heart beat rate and stress hormones and improve on oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, coherent heart frequency and brain waves, concentration, to name just a few.

So without further ado, let's put this to practice.

A Brief Body, Breath and Mind Exercise
1. Make yourself steady and comfortable. Lie down or sit. Keep your head, neck and spine in a straight line as much as possible. Make yourself comfortable and relaxed to the extent you can.
2. Mentally scan your body and relax. Bring your mind to one part of the body and let it relax by following this order: face, neck, right arm and hand, left arm and hand, throat, chest, abdomen, right leg and foot, left leg and foot, pelvis, abdomen, chest, throat and face.
3. Do soft abdominal breathing. Return to your abdomen and observe your breathing. Your abdomen should bulge a little as you inhale and pull inward as you exhale. If needed, put your hand or a small book on your solar plexus (between the navel and breastbone) to guide your breath to that area.
4. Crown-to-toes breathing. Imagine inhaling as if through the crown of your head to the toes and exhaling as if through the soles of your feet and toes. Take next few breaths with this imagination.
5. Inhaling the positive and exhaling the negative. This is the time to link your vision and feelings with your breath. Therefore, as you inhale see and feel pure white light enters as if through the crown of the head and travels down to the toes down to the toes. While exhaling, see and feel grayish, blackish light traveling from the toes and exiting through the nostrils. Pure white light in this context stands for such positives as the solar energy, health, peace and joy. The grayish, blackish light stands for such negatives as the toxins, fatigue, stress, fears and anger, etc. Take 5 to 10 breaths holding such thoughts and feelings.

After doing this body, breath and mind exercise, check how you feel and how is your breathing.

Footnote: Byron Thomashow, MD, John W. Walsh "COPD and Co-Morbidities: The COPD Foundation Survey" presented at the "COPD and Primary Care: Treating the Whole Patient." Workshop, Nov. 4th 2006, Bethesda, MD

About Vijai Sharma, PhD, psychologist, Certified yoga therapist and yoga teacher:
Vijai specializes in mind-body medicine, particularly, anxiety, depression, anger, pain and relationship problems as they affect cardio-pulmonary, gastroenterological, immune- and other stress related disorders. He utilizes yoga postures, breath training, mental-physical relaxation, mindfulness and spiritual energy for personal well-being, overall health and a better quality of life. Vijai believes yoga, the ultimate mind-body system, has enormously helped him with emphysema and coronary disease.

Vijai has developed two exercise DVDs and companion workbooks, “Stretching and Breathing Exercises Adapted for People with Severe COPD,” and “Stretching and Breathing for COPD for All Levels of Fitness.” Review his over 600 self-help and self-care articles for insights into emotional stressors, positive mental attitudes and positive health behaviors and choices at www.mindpub.com

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dianne.hoeve, posted on January 8, 2012

Very interesting article. I hope you don't mind if I use some of this information during my classes. I teach in Canada.

I was most surprised that I was able to stop using my daily asthma medication once I started practicing yoga.

lkross, posted on January 8, 2012

I have been a respiratory therapist for 25 years. Is there a program I can suggest to my patients?

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