Health and Pollution

Yoga for Stronger Lungs Amid Air Pollution

Growing awareness about health is fast emerging in today’s environment. According to WHO, 99% of the global population is exposed to air pollution be it household or ambient, and 4.2 million deaths every year account to ambient air pollution. So, wondering what can we do? This lethal enemy is invisible for us to fight against.

The weapon to combat pollution lies in ancient age-old practices that are not only preventive but rejuvenating for holistic health.

Yoga for Stronger Lungs Amid Air Pollution

Chat on the Mat with seasoned Yoga stalwart Dr. N Ganesh Rao and adept yoga mentor Sri Abhay Javakhedkar enlighten us to adopt a healthy lifestyle and best practices to keep the ill effects of pollution at bay.

Sri Abhay Javakhedkar, a disciple of Sri BKS Iyengar, is an adept Iyengar yoga teacher and head of Iyengar Yoga Sadhana, Pune.

hellomyyoga: What type of restorative asanas we should include in our daily practice?

Abhay: Yes the weather is very bad and we are suffering a lot of problems due to pollution. No doubt that we have to make some efforts to clean the air outside, of course, it is very difficult.  So, why not make the air purifier inside the body. We have an amazing air purification mechanism in our body, in our lungs. With the help of asana, we can work on it to a great extent. Here one has to understand that instead of taking more and more different types of breaths within, first of all, we have to increase the capacity of the container. (Container means the lungs)

It’s possible to a great extent with the help of asanas using different props. But one must practice them under the expert guidance of the Iyengar yoga teacher. By practicing Poses like Purvottanasana, Supta virasana with the support of different types of bolster and pillows one can create a good space for the diaphragm chest to have the best quality of breath within. 

There are so many different poses in order to increase the strength of the chest/lungs. We can increase it with the help of strong back bending, standing poses, and practicing other poses. When we are suffering from congestion because of bad weather then there are poses that will help to take care of the stomach (an important factor for good breath), to rest the chest, and to have the best quality of breath.

hellomyyoga: What yoga poses can help in the opening chest and enhance the flexibility of muscles and rib cage?

Abhay: Along with the bad quality of the air we also get problems because of long-term and wrong sitting postures which is also the cause of bad breathing. So here with the help of different poses, we have to improve our posture and flexibility in the ribs, particularly in the intercostal muscles.

Before learning and practicing Pranayama, one must learn asanas in order to increase the capacity of the chest to welcome and purify the pranavayu that’s the breath.

Our lungs have an amazing purification system the capacity of which we should be increasing with the help of the backward bending asanas as mainly.

hellomyyoga: Do you think when everything around us is gloomy and suffocating due to pollution, then restorative yoga can help us in cheering our mood?

Abhay: Nervousness, depression are also the main causes of short breath. 

When we have a nice breath with the open chest in asana, one can easily uplift the morale. We can feel a great change in our mind leading towards positivity with the help of asanas which we are practicing for better breath. 

Asanas should be modified, the supports should be modified according to every person’s health, flexibility and psychology. Constant changes in the asanas, and their support is necessary from time to time under the teacher. What I feel is put the mat, take the support while being in the pose, you will realize the great change happening from within which is very important instead of changing the breath.

Dr N Ganesh Rao, a seasoned yoga teacher and Founder of ACT yoga, Mumbai is the torchbearer for entire yoga community since long.

hellomyyoga:  Pranayama comes to the fore when we talk about air pollution. How Pranayama helps in strengthening the respiratory system?

Dr Rao: Pranayama is in control of ‘Prana’ or the life force through breathing practices. These practices beneficially affect the respiratory system at 3 levels:

Physical: They strengthen the lungs and the muscles associated with the respiratory system.
Physiological: The efficiency of the entire respiratory function itself is enhanced by these pranayama practices.
Mental: By keeping the mind calm and peaceful, the negative effects of stress are not allowed to affect the respiratory mechanism.

hellomyyoga: What Pranayama practices would you suggest for people dealing with problems like asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), bronchitis, decreased lung capacity?

Dr Rao: People suffering from the above-mentioned ailments should do the following:

Simple stretching exercises (sukshma vyayama) for expanding (both horizontally and vertically) the thoracic region.
Set right their natural breathing process: slow long inhalation & slow long exhalation accompanied by corresponding movements of the chest and abdomen.
They can practice single nostril breathing, alternate nostril breathing (Nadi shodhana kriya – without kumbhaka or retention of breath) and Kapalbhati (duration and speed increasing gradually)
They should ensure that they do not get out of breath in any practice or in any activity.
They should take adequate precautions not to catch cold and cough.

hellomyyoga: Which Pranayama practices we shouldn’t do?

Dr Rao: The answer to this question will differ from person to person depending upon the ailment and health condition of the individual. The personal attention and guidance of a Yoga teacher is very essential.

Rather than practicing or not practicing specific pranayama practices, it is important to improve basic breathing capacity.

Practices involving retention or suspension of breath should be done only under guidance and only up to one’s limit (‘yatha shakti’). “Never get out of breath” – is the most important mantra for one who is suffering from any lung ailment.

Pranayama practices that are cooling may be avoided in winter and those that are heating may be avoided in summer.

hellomyyoga: How do simple pranayama exercises help prevent allergies owing to the pollution that affects the cells and tissues of different parts of the body?

Dr Rao: Pranayama practices go towards

Strengthening the respiratory system. This strengthened respiratory system is in a better position not to get easily affected by pollution.  

Influencing (increasing) the Prana in the body, the energy in the body. A general effect of this is an increase in immunity of the body. This increased immunity safeguards the cells and tissues of different parts of the body from developing allergies.

Note: Pranayama practices should not be done in a polluted environment!!!

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