Yoga for Breath

Solutions for People Living with Cystic Fibrosis or Other Breathing Disorders

I get a lot of requests for advice, books and videos to help caregivers or people with Cystic Fibrosis find relief and breathe better.  I”m in the process of developing some materials and videos, but in the interim, here are a few breathing exercises, yoga poses and resources to help you get started or deepen your practice.

In this section, I’ll provide a few exercises you can do at home.  CAUTION:  If, at any time you feel light headed, dizzy or have a coughing spell, take a break; rest.  You can help calm your nervous system by rubbing your hands together vigorously to make heat and cupping them gently over your eyes.  When you feel ready, and without force, you can try again.

Pranayama or Breathing 

There are two main types of breathwork that are particularly helpful for people with Cystic Fibrosis (speaking from personal experience that can either increase lung capacity or facilitate airway clearance.

Any physical activity or breathing exercise that expands the chest, encourages full breath starting with the belly, and includes pauses will help increase lung capacity, whereas any activity or breathing exercise that encourages quick bursts of breath will help clear out the lungs.   Here are a couple:

3 Part Yogic Breath – As the name implies, this 3 part breath helps to control breathing and increase lung capacity.

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position with your back straight or lying on your back
  2. Close your eyes and just begin to notice your breathing without judgement
  3. Once you connect with your breath, start with a deep, slow inhale starting at the belly
  4. Exhale slowly and repeat a few times without forcing anything
  5. Next, begin to control the breath on inhalation and exhalation
  6. Starting with the belly, breathe in and pause for a second or two
  7. Next, continue with the inhale up through the diaphragm into the lungs, expanding the chest and pause for a second or two
  8. Then, if you can, continue with the inhale up into the top of the lungs fully expanding the entire airway and pause for a second or two
  9. Finally, slowly release by exhaling with control in reverse order – top of the lungs, chest & diaphragm, and belly
  10. Once you’ve reached the belly, be sure you fully exhale by compressing the belly toward the spine until you’ve wrung out all of the air.
  11. Work up to 10 breaths in a session
  12. Once you begin to increase capacity, you’ll be able to add in a fourth section at the top of your inhale, sipping in a bit more air
  13. Take it slow, don’t force anything.  This should not be an exercise in self torture or judgement. If you have to cough, let ‘er rip and try again when you feel like you can continue.
Check out this video on 3 Part Yogic Breath.
Kapalabhati is a traditional internal cleansing technique that is great for clearing mucus out of the airways. If you have a lot of mucus in the air passages or feel tension and blockages in the chest it is often helpful to breathe quickly.
  1. Sitting in a comfortable position, take a few deep inhales and exhales
  2. After your next exhale, take a full but easy inhale, then exhale sharply and forcefully through the nose, drawing the belly in as you exhale.  Kind of like a reverse sniff.  Imagine you have something on the edge of your nose you’re trying to blow off
  3. The exhale is happening from your diaphragm
  4. You’re not inhaling, as the inhale will happen passively as the body’s reaction to the exhale
  5. Continue this cycle of forceful exhales and passive inhales at a fast pace, so that the belly is pumping continuously.
  6.  Do three rounds of thirty breaths each, coming back to deep inhales and exhales between each round
  7.  Come back to normal breathing if you feel lightheaded at any time.
Here’s a video on Kapalabhati Breathing.

Yoga Poses

Supported Fish Pose (Supta Matsyasana) – This is a wonderful pose to open the chest and back while releasing the intercostal muscles, and opening your airways. Here’s a video on how to do Supported Fish Pose.
Restorative Side Lying Stretch – This is a great postural drainage pose that opens the muscles in the side body and helps to release the myofascia around the ribs.
If you don’t already see a massage therapist, try to find one that does diaphragmatic massage and myofascial massage.  He or she can help break up some of the adhesions that have formed over time.  Adhesions are fibrous bands that form between tissues and organs, often as a result of tissue injury or in our case illness and trauma from years of coughing.
Your massage therapist can show you some techniques that you can do at home to release your diaphragm and release any tension in between your shoulder blades from years of muscular tension caused by respiratory illness.
If you’re looking for some good videos to get started in your yoga practice or if you are at home sick and want to try something to keep moving and keep your airways happy, here are a few.

Raise Awareness & Donate

 Cystic fibrosis is genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States (70,000 worldwide).  Stay informed, raise awareness & donate today through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation or The Boomer Esaison Foundation.

2 thoughts on “Yoga for Breath

  1. Found your page today! Been looking for some CF specific yoga for a while. Im relitivly new to Yoga been practicing for just 2 years but really belive in the benifits. Very intersting to read about diaphragmatic massage and myofascial massage. I was looking into thai yoga massage recently too. I will be following your page from now on. Thanks

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