Stacy D. Hunter, PhD
Yoga is often said to be good for the lungs. References of improvements in the capacity and elasticity of the lungs have become a hallmark to yogic breathing instruction and are even embedded into the scripted dialogue of the Bikram yoga series.
Does research support this claim?
Results from several studies have supported this notion showing improvements in lung function in both healthy and in patient populations with regular practice.
Lung Function Defined
The lungs play a vital role in maintaining bodily functions by bringing in oxygen, getting rid of carbon dioxide and regulating cellular metabolism and pH levels. Lung capacity is an index of lung function in which lung volumes are measured during normal or forced breathing. Lung capacity is reduced in smokers and in people with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Decreased lung capacity is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke regardless of smoking status and is also predictor of mortality.
Yoga for Healthy Lungs
Yoga postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama) have improved lung capacity in healthy adults averaging 90 minutes per day over a 10-week period as reported by a review published in the March, 2013 issue of the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.” Surprisingly, it was also found that a longer duration of yoga practice resulted in lower improvement in lung capacity in healthy adults. Although the research on yoga and lung capacity in healthy individuals is sparse, taken together, it appears that there is a beneficial effect of yoga on lung capacity in healthy adults.
Yoga for Asthma Patients
Asthma is a condition in which inflammation causes as narrowing of the airways resulting in diminished ability to get air into the lungs. This disease has become increasingly prevalent worldwide and accounts for roughly 5,000 deaths in the U.S. per year according to the World Health Organization. Lung capacity, which is reduced in asthmatics, has been shown to improve significantly with 8 weeks of yoga postures and breathing practiced 5 days per week as shown by a study published in the July, 2009 issue of “BMC Pulmonary Medicine.”
Yogic Breathing: Good for the Lungs
Although most studies have focused on combined yoga posture and breathing practices, pranayama has also been shown to improve lung function in patients with bronchial asthma when practiced alone. This was documented by a study published in the January, 2009 issue of the “International Journal of Yoga” which had participants divided into a control and a breathing group which practiced pranayama 20 minutes twice daily for 12 weeks. Participants in the breathing group showed a reduction in asthma symptoms along with improvements lung function that were not observed in the control group.
This blog has been adapted from the original article which can be found here.