Pranayama for COPD



What is COPD?

  • Chronic Obstructive pulmonary disease is a category of lung conditions in which it is difficult to empty air out of the lungs as the airways have become narrowed

The airways are narrowed because:

  • The lung tissue is damaged so there is less pull on the airways
  • The airway lining becomes inflamed and swollen
  • In COPD, the airways of the lungs (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and narrowed. They tend to collapse with the out breath and become clogged with mucus. This reduces airflow through the bronchial tubes, a condition called airway obstruction, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs

What does COPD stand for?

  • Chronic: which is a long-term condition and does not go away
  • Obstructive: airways are narrowed, making it harder to breathe out quickly and air gets trapped in the chest
  • Pulmonary: it affects your lungs
  • Disease: a medical condition


These two lung conditions are long-term (or chronic)

  • Bronchitis and emphysema
  • Bronchitis irritates and inflames the lining of the airways. Over time, this causes the lining of the airways to grow thick, inflexible and rigid becoming clogged with mucus
  • Emphysema affects the tiny air sacs at the end of the airways in your lungs, where oxygen is taken up into your bloodstream. They break down and the lungs become baggy and full of bigger holes which traps air causing shortness of breath.


  • Dyspnea is shortness of breath caused by too much air remaining in the lungs, which decreases the room left in the lungs for the next in breath.
  • Inspiratory muscle weakness is said to be related to dyspnea.


Hyperinflation happens because of trapped air in the lungs and the loss of elastic recoil pressure due to the alveoli becoming damaged. This causes an increase in the contribution of the rib cage, and a decrease in the abdomen when breathing.

  • This would suggest the sympathetic nervous system is triggered causing the heart rate and respiratory rate to increase.      
  • Hyperinflation has been shown to contribute significantly to dyspnea.


COPD usually develops through long-term damage to the lungs from breathing in a harmful substance, such cigarette smoke and Jobs with exposure to dust and or fumes. 


  • With COPD, your airways have become narrowed permanently
  • With asthma narrowing of your airways comes and goes


COPD causes the alveolis’ ability to inflate and deflate to be compromised. The walls of the air sacs become permanently damaged so oxygen cannot feed into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide cannot leave the bloodstream as effectively.

The lack of oxygen in the bloodstream leads to symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing, an overproduction of mucus, and a persistent cough.

COPD is a systemic disease (affecting a whole system) which has been shown to negatively affect the cardiovascular and autonomic nerve system.


The activity of sympathetic nerves may be affected by:

  • Hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen in the blood stream)
  • Hypercapnia (a build of carbon dioxide in the blood stream)
  • Increased intrathoracic pressure (reduced venous return)

swings due to airway obstruction, resulting in increased respiratory effort.


With COPD the diaphragm is weakened and is less effective and doesn’t work as well as it should with the normal beathing processes. This is said to be through cell changes that affect muscle fibre and the flattening of the diaphragm.     


Over inflating the lungs pushes down on the diaphragm causing it to flatten, making it less effective. Posture and breathing exercises are seen as effective remedies to retrain the diaphragm.     


Some cases of COPD are said to cause the cells of the diaphragm to change affecting the muscle fibres which lose some of their strength required to contract and relax.


A recent study discovered a contrast in brain composition between people suffering with COPD and those that didn’t affecting areas of the brain that action fear, breathlessness and pain sensitivity.   

Apprehension around breathlessness is a major cause of concern for COPD sufferers which in turn impacts a person’s inclination towards being physical. This in turn may acerbate the condition.     

The study, which was published in a journal called Chest, was carried out with 60 volunteers. Half had COPD symptoms that were either moderate or acute and the other half none. The study was designed to assess stress levels in COPD sufferers.        

The study suggested the areas of the brain that process fear, breathlessness and pain sensitivity had been affected and weakened. It also suggested the effects became more severe with time.

The research concluded that confronting the feelings of anxiousness can reverse the change in the brain so sufferers can manage the symptoms better.   


Anxiety is normal and is the body and minds response to danger, stressful and or unusual situations.

Anxiety involves the:

  • Brain stem (reptilian brain)
  • The limbic system (emotional brain)
  • The frontal lobe (smart brain)

When faced with stressful situations the brain responds by flooding the central nervous system with adrenaline and cortisol prioritising survival functions. The heart rate increases to breath in more oxygen with energy being carried to limbs for the fight or flight response. Emotions intensify and the smart brain goes offline so more energy can be made available for survival.

Within the limbic system is the amygdala which is on the lookout for threatening and fearful situations. If the amygdala notices potential danger, it responds by signalling the hypothalamus for the fight or flight response.

Anxiety will cause the amygdala to be large and hypersensitive and the amygdala sends a lot of false alarms.

Pranayama for COPD


The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system and is where memories are stored. Long term stress and anxiety will shrink the hippocampus affecting memory retrieval.    

Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and stress appear to be linked to a smaller-sized hippocampus. In Alzheimer’s, the size of the hippocampus can be used to diagnose the progress of the disease. In people with depression, the hippocampus can shrink by up to 20 percent Trusted Source, according to some researchers. Reviews of studies have suggested that the hippocampus in people with severe depression may be an average of 10 percent smaller than in those without depression. MedicalNewsToday


What is the Circadian Clock?

The body clock allows us to generate circadian rhythms.

  • Circa = about
  • Dies = day

They are patterns of behaviour and physiology that follow a 24-h cycle. Circadian rhythms are autonomous and triggered by environmental cues such as light. They enable us to anticipate environmental changes to optimize our survival.


The circadian clock can be divided into the central and the peripheral clocks.  The central circadian clock is within the hypothalamus and peripheral clocks are present within nearly every organ and tissue.   


Epithelial cells cover the outer surface of the internal organs and the body. Epithelial cells play a role in protecting the body from pathogens and as such are linked to the immune system. COPD causes an inflammatory response which triggers a response called hyperplasia.

  • Hyperplasia is an increased number of epithelial cells and accumulated mucus obstructs the lumen of the small airways.   
  • It Is thought that the inflammatory response in epithelial cells can affect the circadian clock at a cellular level.

“We hypothesize that the molecular clock in the lungs is disrupted, leading to increased inflammatory responses in smokers and patients with COPD”


  • Pranayama, yoga asana and mudras can all be helpful with COPD. 


Diaphragmatic breathing.

  1. Sit comfortably and take the breath into the abdomen
  2. Make the breath subtle as possible
  3. Try to not use the ribs with the inhale and exhale
  4. Be aware of the tummy expanding with the inhale and relaxing with the exhale
  5. Diaphragmatic breathing will also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system     

Resistance breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably
  2. Inhale through the nose and purse the lips with the exhale as you contract your stomach muscles, pulling the stomach inward
  3. This will encourage the lungs to empty more effectively


Forward bends allow a reduction in the activity of the scalene and sternomastoid muscles, and improves the function of the diaphragm, so reducing the use of accessory muscles.

Using supports for the arms in forward bends is said to help engage the pectoralis minor and major muscles which helps the thoracic cage elevation.    

Forward bending will give some relief of dyspnea.


Brahma Mudra Is beneficial for abdominal, chest and clavicular breathing.

Brahma Mudra

Padma Mudra Creates tension and is beneficial for bone density of the thoracic cage and thoracic spine.   

Padma mudra

Martin Thompson.