Need Another Reason to Try Yoga? The Mind-Body Practice Offers Important Lung Health Benefits
Flexibility may be the most well-known benefit of yoga, but it's far from the only advantage. The popular fitness regimen could also help you keep your lungs healthy and strong.
Yoga and the Lungs
Yoga combines three very different techniques: poses, yogic breathing, and meditation. Yoga poses increase flexibility and strengthens muscles and bones. Yogic breathing, or pranayama, regulates your breathing, improves oxygen circulation, and enhances the connection between the body and mind. Meditation clears and calms the mind and improves body awareness.
Better Breathing with Pranayama and Poses
Pranayama, a deep breathing technique, is an essential part of your yoga practice. Synchronizing breathing with your body's movements makes it easier to perform poses and helps you focus on the sensations you feel as you move from pose to pose.
As you start pranayama, you'll inhale deeply and slowly, first filling your abdomen with air, then your ribs and upper chest. After inhaling completely, you'll release the air, starting with the air in your chest.
During yoga class, your instructor will explain how to use pranayama for maximum effect. For example, during the cat-cow sequence, you'll inhale as you drop your abdomen and lift your head to the ceiling. As you transition to the cat portion of the pose, you'll slowly exhale while arching your back and dropping your head.
Wondering what happens to your lungs during a yoga session? Yoga offers these respiratory health benefits:
- Better Blood Flow. Yoga increases blood flow throughout your entire body, including your lungs. Blood carries nutrients and oxygen and removes waste products. Improving blood flow helps your lungs work more efficiently.
- Increased Lung Capacity. Practicing deep breathing on a regular basis increases the amount of air you can hold in your lungs and improves chest wall expansion during breathing. In a 2014 study in the International Journal of Yoga, researchers noted a significant increase in chest wall expansion in people who practiced yoga compared to those who were sedentary.
- More Endurance. When your lung capacity increases, you'll probably notice that you can walk farther without becoming tired or exercise longer than usual.
- Stronger Breathing Muscles. Deep breathing strengthens the diaphragm, the large muscle that expands to draw air into the lungs and contracts to force air from the lungs. Strengthening the diaphragm can help reduce shortness of breath and boost oxygen flow to the heart and brain.
- Quicker Recovery from Respiratory Illnesses. When your lungs and diaphragm are stronger thanks to yoga, you may notice that it's easier to recover from pneumonia, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses.
- Improved Lung Function. In a study published in the International Journal of Yoga in 2015, lung function in patients with coronary artery disease improved significantly after three months of yoga and pranayama breathing exercises. Lung function improvements aren't just limited to people with heart disease. Anyone can boost their lung function with yoga.
- Better Breathing Control. Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) flare-ups can cause shortness of breath or trouble breathing. Pranayama could help you regain control of your breathing during these episodes. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Clinical Rehabilitation in 2019 discovered that yogic breathing improved exercise capacity and lung function in COPD patients.
- Less Stress. It's only natural to feel worry or stressed if you have a chronic condition that affects your breathing. Luckily, yoga offers a natural stress relief benefit. Production of endorphins and serotonin increases as you practice yoga. As these hormones flow through your body, you'll feel calm and relaxed.
- Reduced Inflammation Due to Air Pollution. Air pollution irritates and inflames your lungs, can affect lung function, and increases your risk of developing asthma or COPD. Indian researchers discovered that yoga improved lung capacity and function and reduced inflammation in people living in a polluted area. Their work appeared in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2023.
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International Journal of Yoga: Pulmonary Functions in Yogic and Sedentary Population, July – Dec. 2014
International Journal of Yoga: Effect of Yoga Regimen on Lung Functions Including Diffusion Capacity in Coronary Artery Disease Patients: A Randomized Controlled Study, Jan – June 2015
Clinical Rehabilitation: The Risks and Benefits of Yoga for Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 7/29/2019
Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: The Effects of Yoga Practice on Lung Function and sIL-2R Biomarkers in Individuals Working and Living in the Lonavala Industrial Area: A Randomized Controlled Trial, April – June 2023
Yoga Journal: Going the Distance: The Benefits of Yogic Breath, 9/2/2021