Sleep apnea is clearly one of the most distressing sleep disorders, characterized by recurrent pauses in breathing. Of the many treatments available for alleviating sleep symptoms, most of them attempt to normalize breathing, by keeping the airway free of obstructions by preventing the upper respiratory tract from collapsing during sleep.
What happens when one stops breathing repeatedly? For one, it creates a sharp drop in the level of oxygen in the blood. Over time this lack of oxygen brings the patient closer to heart ailments including heart attacks and strokes, which can turn fatal.
Since sleep apnea is essentially a breathing disorder, manifested by disturbed sleep – one needs to look at the possibility of rectifying the problem at the root. Most of the prescription drugs or – even the use of devices – provide help by artificially simulating ventilation, while the root cause may remain unattended. Perhaps the only way one can address the root cause behind the collapse of upper respiratory tract and subsequent development of apnea symptoms is by practicing the ancient Eastern art of yoga.
One of the most common causes of the upper airway collapsing is obesity, not just of the body but also of the breathing muscles. If you go back a few steps, you could also find some good reasons why people put on excessive weight and a disturbed mind could be a possible answer. Yoga offers a holistic treatment both for the mind and body, and can lead to a marked improvement in the quality of life, including a vast improvement in the quality and quantity of sleep.[gn_box title=”Isn’t yoga only for relaxation?” color=”#0b9d23″]You are right – but only partly. The relaxation benefits of yoga are only the initial triggers – the rest of the benefits soon follow. Because relaxation techniques offered by the different yoga ‘asanas’ (or postures) majorly reduces stress, in a way they can improve the quality of breathing, thereby improving various types of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.
Several breathing and relaxation (through visualization) techniques are used in yoga, including a specific exercise called yoga nidra (nidra means sleep) which can have a significant impact on the quality of sleep.[/gn_box]
Mechanism of action of yoga breathing exercises in managing sleep apnea
Let us get one basic fact right. Yoga cannot cure sleep apnea, but if practiced concurrently with other ongoing treatment modalities, it can help in reducing sleep apnea symptoms. It is capable of doing so because:
- Yoga breathing exercises strengthen and tone the upper airway muscles, provided such exercises are done under proper guidance from a qualified yoga teacher.
- They reduce stress significantly and calm the mind; this impacts appetite, quality of sleep and the willingness to live better.
- There are specific yoga exercises that can be done for weight loss. Combined with proper dietary control, such exercises can directly help in the management of sleep apnea, since obesity is a common cause for the onset of the condition.
Are there any specific yoga breathing exercises for sleep apnea?
In the world of yoga, ‘pranayama’ is a word that you would come across often. When mentioned together, it means a specific breathing exercise, where the term ‘pran’ when translated from Sanskrit means ‘the life force’. The other common word used is ‘asana’. This means a posture (including sitting or sleeping position/positioning of the limbs, head, neck, eyes, etc)
Ujjayi Pranayama: One of the best yoga breathing exercises – it means the Hissing Breath. The main aim of this pranayama is to increase the lung capacity and strengthen the upper airway and clear blockages in the throat region with the help of repeated deep breathing.
Sitting in the lotus position, you need to breathe deeply through the nose keeping the eyes closed, till the mind and body reaches a state of complete relaxation. Inhalation should be done by contracting the neck muscles to produce a low grunting sound. You need to hold your breath for as long as possible, after which close one of the nostrils with your finger and exhale with the other.
The same breathing should be repeated with alternate nostrils and the exercise should be done 3 to 5 times every day.
Over and above this pranayama, there are Tadasana or the Mountain pose, Shavasana or the Corpse pose, Salabhasana or the Locust pose, Bhujangasana or the Cobra pose and Meru Vakrasana which offer great benefits for the relief from sleep apnea symptoms.
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