Practicing yoga for a minimum of two days a week, one hour each day should help you experience improved lung function in about 10 weeks. Correct inhale and exhale will keep your lungs fit and help prevent problems such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.
According to a recent study from Khon Kaen University in Thailand, greater expansion of the chest wall provides more oxygen with each breath and requires less effort to breathe. Young and healthy Thais who participated in just 18 short yoga sessions showed significant improvements on six of seven measures of respiratory function. Fifty eight volunteers, all around 20 years old, participated in the six-week study. The researchers chose five hatha yoga positions designed to improve chest wall function, including the cat, tree and camel positions. Half of the volunteers did hatha yoga during 20-minute sessions, three times a week. The control group did not do the exercises, but continued their usual lifestyles, and did not smoke or drink.
The researchers obtained baseline lung expansion and lung volume measures on the volunteers before the experiment and took final measurements after the experiment ended. They used a tape measure to determine lung expansion capacity, measuring the upper chest (sternum), middle chest (rib 5) and lower chest (rib 8). “Chest wall expansion allows individuals to get more air to the base of the lung,” explained lead researcher Raoyrin Chanavirut, in a press release.
Vrikshasana (Tree Pose)
- Stand on your left leg and bend your right knee, turning it out to the side. Rest your right heel against your left leg with your right toes on the floor. You can either place the foot of the right leg on the left ankle with the toes on the ground, or move it higher up above the knee, the classical version of this pose. However, you should never place your foot on your opposite knee. Once you’ve found a comfortable position for your foot, bring your hands together at your heart center.
- Lift the arms and the gaze overhead. Your abdomen should be relaxed and your standing leg should remain straight.
- Find a steady point for your gaze and breathe deeply. Stay for a comfortable length of time then gently release and then move into tree on the other side.
Marjariasana-Bitilisana (Cat-Cow Pose)
- The cat-cow is done on your hands and knees, making sure that your hips are aligned with your knees and your palms pressed down at shoulder-width.
- Begin with a neutral spine and breathe in. As you exhale, lower your head, tuck your hips down and curve your spine inwards; some yogis would also call it “rounding your back”. This would be the cat pose.
- As you inhale, arch your back and lift your chest, turning your head up but without jutting yourbutt and hips out and hold in your stomach muscles. This is the cow pose.
- Inhale to cow. Exhale to cat.
- The cat-cow sequence is usually repeated several times to rake in the best of its benefits. As gentle as this pose may be, it is not recommended for people with back injuries. For those who have neck injuries or a serious neck problem, align your head with your back instead of turning it upwards as you are doing the cow.
- Kneel down with your legs together, resting on your heels.
- Then sit to the right of your feet.
- Lift your left leg over your right, placing the foot against the outside of the right knee. Bring your right heel in close to your buttocks. Keep the spine erect.
- Stretch your arms out to the sides at shoulder level, and twist around to the left.
- Now bring the right arm down on the outside of the left knee and hold the left foot in the right hand, placing your left hand on the floor behind you. As you exhale, twist as far as possible to the left. Look over the left shoulder.
Akarana Dhanurasana (Bow Tensing)
- Stand with legs wide apart. Right foot points to the front and left foot outward to the side. Turn the head to the left. The upper body remains facing the front.
- Straighten left arm sideways to shoulder height and form a fist with the hand with the thumb stretched upward.
- Select a fixed point along the extended line of the arm and bring the tip of the left thumb so that it is in alignment with this. During the following movement the gaze is always directed towards the tip of the left thumb.
- Form a fist with the right hand with thumb stretched upward. Bring the right hand towards the left hand so the right thumb hides the left thumb.
- Inhaling slowly draw the right hand back towards the right ear as if tensing a bow. During this movement the elbows remain at shoulder height.
- Retain the breath for a short while in this position.
- Exhaling slowly move right hand again towards left hand, until right thumb is again in front of left thumb.
- Coordinate with the breath and repeat the arm movement slowly, with great concentration 3 times.
- Come back to starting position and repeat the exercise on the other side.
Trikonasana (lateral bending pose)
- Stand straight, feet apart and arms on the sides, palms facing and touching the thighs.
- While inhaling, raise your right arm slowly up to shoulder level, palm facing down with the elbow straight.
- Now turn the palm upwards and raise the hand so that it is in a straight line, touching the ear.
- While exhaling, bend as far as possible to the left. This is the final position of Trikonasana.
- Maintain it for a few seconds and return to normal position gradually.
- The same is to be done on the other side. This completes the process. The lateral stretch should be felt.
Ushtrasana (Camel Pose)
- Press the top of your feet to the floor and avoid your feet cycling inward
- Set your feet and shins parallel to each other. If your knees slide out you will jam your sacrum
- Slide the buttock muscles down away from your low back. This can be done manually as you go back into the pose
- When entering, it is initially important to go upward. Imagine that you are like a high-jumper going over a bar. Don’t hit the bar with your trunk by going straight back
- Press your thighs forward, away from your feet
- Externally rotate your arms and draw your collarbones away from one another
- Lift your sternum and side chest as much as possible, creating the characteristic dome shape of the chest
- If you perform with the strap, the stretch in the central quad is more profound, as forces in the legs cannot pull the legs apart
Regular practice of yoga exercise will improve respiratory breathing capacity by increasing chest wall expansion and forced expiratory lung volumes.