If you’re looking for a sleep apnea treatment that can also reduce stress and help you lose weight, you’re going to love yoga breathing exercises!
As you practice yoga for sleep apnea, you’ll also improve your lung capacity and breathing muscles.
Learning these breathing techniques to keep your nasal passages clear, your airway open, and your spine supple means you’ll have fewer sleep disruptions and better health overall.
Quick Yoga Primer:
Yoga is an ancient Hindu spiritual meditation practice that some believe dates back to 3300 BCE, during the Indus Valley Civilization.
Modern wellness practices use yoga as part of a cardio routine and as a therapy to alleviate many health disorders, including sleep apnea.
♦ Why Yoga Exercises for Sleep Apnea?
To truly appreciate the benefits of yoga breathing exercises, it’s important to know exactly how your current breathing problems contribute to your sleep apnea.
Apnea is the Greek word for “want of breath”. So, sleep apnea is literally the “want of breath during sleep.”
Most sufferers have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and that means the condition is manageable with a physician’s care and with alternative treatments like yoga.
Most prescription drugs and sleeping devices (like CPAP and oral appliances) provide relief by artificially keeping your upper airway open.
These treatments are intended to provide restful sleep, but they do not address the root cause of your sleep apnea: the collapse of your upper respiratory tract while asleep, or blockages in your nasal passages.
This is how breathing exercises using yoga techniques are different: they address the underlying cause of the problem, by improving your breathing techniques and opening up your nasal passages.
Over time, if you don’t treat your sleep apnea, you run the risk of developing daytime sleepiness, irritability, and memory or concentration pattern changes.
Obesity also contributes to sleep disorders. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, a stroke, and even a heart attack.
♦ Introduction to Yoga for Sleep Apnea
As mentioned, one little-known way to reduce your nighttime apneas is to practice the ancient Eastern art of yoga.
If you picture in your mind the typical yoga student, sitting with legs folded, eyes closed, and hands resting on the knees, then you can see how relaxing it appears.
Yoga is a time-honored principle that offers a holistic treatment for the mind and body.
The breathing techniques of yoga exercises for sleep apnea can lead to a vast improvement in your daily life by enhancing your quality and quantity of deep, restful sleep.
♦ Are Yoga Exercises Beneficial for All Types of Sleep Apnea?
Yoga breathing exercises are beneficial for the majority of sleep apnea sufferers. This is because most sufferers have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
However, yoga breathing exercises will not help people with central sleep apnea (CSA), because CSA has an entirely different cause than OSA.
The information provided here is geared towards people with OSA. These exercises will provide at least some relief for mild, moderate, and severe OSA.
Yoga and Arthritis:
We fully understand that if you have OSA and arthritis problems, you may not be able to sit or lay in some of the basic yoga positions.
But, you’ll be delighted to know that you can still benefit from these exercises even if you need to use a chair.
The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center encourages people with mobility problems to practice yoga.
The win-win scenario for arthritis patients with OSA is increasing muscle strength, enhancing flexibility, improving respiratory capacity, and having better balance when standing and walking.
Several visualization techniques are used in yoga for breathing and relaxation well-being. One specific yoga breathing exercise is called Nidra, meaning sleep, which can significantly improve your quality of sleep.
♦ How Do Yoga Breathing Exercises Reduce Sleep Apnea?
Let’s be clear on one thing: yoga will probably not completely cure sleep apnea for most sufferers. However, for many sufferers the breathing exercises will alleviate sleep disturbances. And there are many side benefits to doing the exercises.
The good news is that if you practice yoga in conjunction with your doctor’s prescribed ongoing treatment, you’ll be able to help yourself in reducing your sleep apnea symptoms.
Yoga is not a principle of no-pain, no-gain. It’s based on the peaceful coordination of the mind and body.
Alleviating OSA symptoms through yoga breathing is achievable because:
1. The relaxation philosophy of yoga is one of the primary goals of this principle. But as you perform the breathing exercises you’ll gain more benefits than just learning to relax – you’ll also learn how to control the way that air enters and exits your airway.
2. With yoga exercises, you’ll learn to relax, to position your body’s spine and diaphragm, and to position your head and neck for better breathing ability.
Learning to breathe using only your diaphragm is like learning a well-kept secret - but a secret you’ll want to share!
3. Besides opening up your nasal passages, learning to breathe through the nose lets you keep the nostrils clear.
Breathing through your nose helps you breathe deeper, and that lets you inhale more fully, and that can reduce your episodes of sleep disturbance. Breathing with yoga is good.
4. Because the techniques used in different yoga asanas (positions) are intended to reduce stress, they also are able to improve your quality of breathing.
Better breathing control can reduce, or eliminate, various symptoms associated with sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.
♦ Are There Other Benefits From Yoga Breathing Exercises?
1. Reduced stress levels. Getting a good night of quality sleep will enhance your concentration, eliminate daytime sleepiness, and improve your overall frame of mind.
2. Weight loss. Combined with proper dietary control, yoga exercises can directly help with your weight management. While not all sleep apnea sufferers are overweight, the majority of diagnosed sufferers are overweight or obese.
3. Head and spine coordination. Learning the correct position for your head and spine while you sit, stand, and sleep will alleviate sleep disorders and improve your breathing capacity.
You’ll love all the added energy you have when your body is able to get a good quantity of air!
4. Healthier heart and lungs. The American Heart Association advocates that when you learn to breathe better, you reduce your risk of heart and lung issues.
Depending on your personal lifestyle, you may also be able to reduce any problems you have with high blood pressure. Image how great that will be!
♦ Are There Specific Yoga Breathing Exercises for Sleep Apnea?
Yoga is a traditional method that consists of many physical, mental, and emotional workouts.
Pranayama is one of the primary, basic workouts of yoga. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘lengthening of breath’, or more accurately, ‘extension of the life force’.
So pranayama involves breathing exercises, and it has many health benefits.
- Increase your awareness
- Improve control of your breathing
- Strengthen your physical postures during yoga
- Improve your meditation
- Improve your overall physical and psychological health
Some specific Pranayama yoga breathing exercises for sleep apnea are:
1. Bhastrika Breathing Exercise: This exercise involves inhaling and exhaling quickly and heavily to help eliminate free toxins trapped in the body. This is also an excellent exercise for people with asthma and tuberculosis.
2. Kapalbhati Breathing Exercise: This exercise technique enables you to relax, and to stabilize and calm your mind. It helps to flush out negative thoughts and worries.
3. Sleep Meditation: There are two valuable sleep meditation exercises that will help you learn to relax and prepare yourself for a sound, deep, refreshing, healthy night of sleep.
There is also one excellent sleep meditation exercise for energy rejuvenation from a power nap. The three exercises are:
● Left Nostril Breathing
● Clearing Your Mind
● The Power Nap
♦ What Is One Example of a Specific Yoga Breathing Exercise for Sleep Apnea?
Ujjayi Pranayama is a specific yoga exercise that you can do at home.
The name means “Hissing Breath”, and it’s one of the best yoga breathing exercises for sleep apnea.
The goal of the Ujjayi Pranayama technique is to:
1. Increase your lung capacity
2. Strengthen your upper airway
3. Clear blockages within the throat by repeated deep breathing
Here's a video that practically demonstrates the Ujjayi Pranayama Technique:
In addition to this specific Pranayama exercise that uses the Lotus pose, other yoga poses that offer great benefits for the relief from sleep apnea symptoms and disruptions are:
- Tadasana or the Mountain pose
- Shavasana or the Corpse pose
- Salabhasana or the Locust pose
- Bhujangasana or the Cobra pose
- Meru Vakrasana
References & Resources:
- Effects of yoga intervention on sleep and quality-of-life in elderly: A randomized controlled trial