yoga instructor trainingBy Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500

If you teach pranayama in your classes, you may have come across a student who has a lung disease. We may learn how to modify asanas in a yoga certification course, but how do you modify pranayama? Think from the perspective of a student who struggles to breathe all day long. You have to make your modifications simple, but effective.

General Information

There are a variety of lung diseases that people of all ages suffer from, ranging from asthma to emphysema and cancer. There seem to be 31 major lung diseases listed by the American Lung Association.  With that said, pranayama exercises associated with yoga can be beneficial for lung disease sufferers because they can train and strengthen the lungs and muscles inherent to breathing. Regular practice can result in healing and more efficient breathing patterns essential to reducing the symptoms of lung disease.

Below are three options, which are taught at Aura Wellness Center for students who have problems with their lungs. Although these are not the standard fare taught at a 200 or 500-hour yoga teacher training, they are designed for teaching private students or small groups who share a common ailment.

Belly Breathing

Most people don’t think about their breathing until it doesn’t come easily. The result is that most people never take full breaths, instead relying on shallow breaths to power them through life. Deep, belly breathing allows you to deliberately fill up the abdomen with air and then slowly push it out by contracting the belly to push all of the air out. It takes practice, but can prove beneficial for those who feel like they can’t get enough air during each inhalation.

Pursed Lip Breathing

The pursed lip breathing technique can improve breathing and eliminate the feeling of chronic breathlessness. To perform this type of breathing, you must lean forward slightly as you exhale through pursed lips. The action of leaning forward encourages the belly to contract and the diaphragm to lift up which empties the lungs more completely. After each exhale, inhale through the nose and repeat. This technique results in a much slower exhale than is normal for most people. Quick exhales with a rush to inhale will exacerbate breathlessness.

Diaphragm Breathing

Regular diaphragm breathing practice works to strengthen the diaphragm for overall easier breathing. To practice, you should lie on your back if possible. Add a bit of weight to your diaphragm by placing up to five pounds of rice, sand or a book on your belly. Inhale while expanding the belly and raising the diaphragm up, then exhale while contracting the belly and thereby bringing the diaphragm down.


Exercise is an important, and often overlooked, piece of any rehabilitation program. People suffering with disease tend to sit back and let the disease take over. This leads to a cycle of inactivity which does not help the body heal. Gentle, low-impact exercise like yoga asana can increase the strength of the muscles and improve flexibility and stamina. Yogic techniques also help to keep the mind free of stress and anxiety. Yoga provides the added benefit of improved lung capacity and endurance, even though it is still low impact enough for anyone to participate in.

Side Notes for Yoga Instructors

With so many lung diseases and so many methods for healing you cannot expect any single yoga teacher training program to cover this much ground.  Continuing education and independent research is needed by the yoga instructor who works with students who have special needs. Most of what we covered was pranayama, which is modified for the student. Paulji tends to be a proponent of traditional pranayama techniques and he would have added Ujjayi, Dirgha, Udgeeth, Brahmari, Nadi Shodhana and more. My point is to make you aware about modifying them to meet the capabilities of each student.

© Copyright 2012 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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