Yoga Therapy for COPD

Catherine McDowell, OTR/L, LMBT, E-RYT200/RYT500

January 1, 2019

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Question

How is yoga therapy beneficial for patients with COPD?

Answer

Yoga therapy is beneficial to COPD patients and can be used as an adjunct therapy with conventional occupational therapy therapy. Patients with COPD, who practice yoga, can improve their lung function, according to a study by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep Disorders. The study, presented at CHEST 2013, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), found that lung function, shortness of breath, and inflammation all showed significant improvement after patients completed 12 weeks of training.

An estimated 24 million Americans have COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. Patients with COPD have trouble pushing used air out of their lungs, making it difficult to take in healthy new air. Although there is no cure for COPD, a patient’s quality of life can be improved by controlling symptoms, such as shortness of breath. COPD, most commonly caused by cigarette smoking, affects both men and women, and often, symptoms are seen in people in their 40's.

The study investigated whether simple, structured yoga training affects the level of inflammation, shortness of breath, and quality of life in patients with stable COPD. This study included 29 stable patients with COPD, who received yoga training in a format that included the use of physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), cleansing techniques, (kriyas), meditation, and a relaxation technique (shavasan) for 1 hour, twice a week, for 4 weeks. Following the 4-week period, patients were trained for 1 hour every 2 weeks, with the remaining sessions completed at home. Patients were evaluated on assessment of lung function, breathing, quality of life, and inflammation status. A repeat assessment was done at the end of the 12-week training session. All parameters showed significant improvement at the end of the 12-week period. According to Dr. Guleria. “We found that yoga can be a simple, cost-effective method that can help improve quality of life in patients with COPD.” 

When I started 20 years ago, that was not the case. We taught our clients to maximize what little they had left. Now we are have seen, yoga can improve lung function. They are able to inhale and get the oxygen in, but it is the muscle structure (diaphragm) that forces the air out, and removes the toxins so that fresh oxygen can come in. This is where the gas exchange starts to break down.

There are many impacts of yoga on COPD.

Yoga is versatile. It is wonderful for dealing with the aspects of depression. The quote "Move a muscle, change a thought" applies here. Using meditation and movement practices can decrease anxiety significantly and regulate stress. Yoga is a very appealing way to manage symptoms better without heading toward medication automatically. The scientific study of yoga demonstrates that the mental and physical health are closely aligned. Impacting someone physically is going to affect their mental health, and working with mental health affects the physical health. Yoga is wonderful as we are able to bring in all of those aspects and work on the whole person at once. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. It is only recently that we have been doing the research and studying the impact of yoga on different diagnoses and functions.


catherine mcdowell

Catherine McDowell, OTR/L, LMBT, E-RYT200/RYT500

Catherine McDowell has been an Occupational Therapist for over 20 years. After many years in the field of Occupational Therapy, first as a COTA, then OTR, becoming Director of Occupational Therapy at a nationally recognized United Cerebral Palsy program. Catherine took some time to explore a number of other health-related fields, becoming a Licensed Massage & Bodywork Therapist, Yoga Therapist, RYT500/ E-RYT200 Yoga Alliance teacher, and Certified Holistic Health Practitioner. Catherine is currently the Executive Director of June10 inc; a new concept in long-term residential substance abuse treatment program, which serves women, pregnant women and women with infants, she is also the Health & Wellness Coordinator at Pavillon By the Sea an IOP for substance use disorder. She has been appointed to the Governor’s Counsel for Women.


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