Source: Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, 29(2): 133-137. March/April 2009.
Authors: Pomidori L, Campigotto F, Amatya TM, Bernardi L, & Cogo A.
Contact: Annalisa Cogo, Centro Studi Biomedici Applicati Allo Sport, Via Gramicia 35, 44100 Ferrara, Italy. firstname.lastname@example.org
This study investigated whether a traditional and simple yoga breathing technique could benefit individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People with COPD tend to breathe shallowly and rapidly. The researchers hypothesized that yogic breathing could help people with COPD learn to breathe more deeply and slowly.
8 men and 3 women (ages ranged from 59 to 80) with COPD were taught a yoga breathing technique in a single session. None of the participants had any previous yoga experience. A certified yoga teacher taught participants “the complete yoga breathing technique” as described in The Complete Yoga Book: Yoga of Breathing, Yoga of Posture, and Yoga of Meditation (Schoken Book 1978). This technique involves breathing in a way that expands the belly and lower ribs, then the lower chest, and then the upper chest on the inhalation and reverses this pattern on the exhalation. The breath becomes both deeper and slower than habitual breathing.
The researchers monitored the participants’ spontaneous breathing for 30 minutes prior to the yoga session, as well as the participants’ breathing throughout a single 30-minute yoga session. They measured many variables related to healthy breathing, including oxygen saturation, the depth of each breath, breathing rate, the relative length of inhalation compared to exhalation, and the coordination between rib cage and abdomen movement.
Participants took between 5 and 12 minutes to successfully learn the technique, but all were able to perform it comfortably. Compared to baseline breathing, participants showed a decrease in breathing rate, greater depth, and significant lengthening of both inhalation and exhalation. There was no significant change in coordination of the rib cage and abdomen. This was considered a positive finding, as other breathing techniques have increased desynchronization in people with COPD. Participants also showed a small but significant increase in oxygen saturation, with the greatest change among participants who had the lowest saturation at baseline.
This modest study is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that this yoga breathing technique can be safely and comfortably performed by individuals with serious respiratory concerns. Participants learned the practice relatively quickly and without respiratory distress. Second, it demonstrates that the technique reliably produces its purported effects (slowing and deepening the breath) in a single session, even among individuals with strong habits to breathe shallowly and rapidly. This study should encourage yoga teachers and healthcare practitioners to share a simple, nonstrenuous breathing technique with a population that they may feel cautious with.
This research summary was prepared for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. IAYT is a professional organization for yoga therapists, yoga teachers, researchers, and healthcare professionals who use yoga in their practice.