Sleep Apnea Awareness Week takes place from Oct. 6 to 13, 2014. While you might have heard about some of yoga's benefits, few people realize that the ancient mind-body technique can go as far as to help relieve sleep apnea. Yoga develops one's breathing skill, which can play a big role in getting a good night's rest!
Characterized by recurrent pauses in breathing, sleep apnea is one of the most distressing sleep disorders. While there are a handful of treatments available on the market for alleviating sleep symptoms, most simply address symptoms without solving the root cause. But yoga provides a holistic, natural treatment that can get to the bottom of the problem – no pills necessary.
"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," the Apnea Treatment Center said on its website.
Beyond soothing the mind, yoga incorporates breathing techniques (pranayama) that help establish healthful rhythms. Here are some of the different breathing exercises yoga works on:
High breathing takes place primarily in the upper part of the chest and lungs. Also called "clavicular breathing" or "collarbone breathing," high breathing involves raising the ribs, collarbone and shoulders to allow one to draw in the abdomen and force the air upward against the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Since the upper lobes of the lungs are used and only have a small air capacity, this is the least desirable form of breathing.
As its name suggests, middle breathing entails filling the middle part of the lungs with air. This technique merges some of the characteristics from both high breathing – raising of the ribs – and low breathing – diaphragm moving up and down and abdomen in and out. However, though slightly more effective than high breathing, the middle technique remains a shallow type of breathing.
Low breathing is the desired and most effective form of yoga breathing method. It consists of moving the abdomen in and out and, in doing so, changes positions of the diaphragm. It is sometimes referred to as abdominal breathing. While many use this naturally for sleeping, practicing low breathing in yoga can help strengthen respiratory muscles and work toward a better night's rest.
This method is superior for several reasons. First, more air is drawn in when inhaling due to greater movement of lungs. Second, the diaphragm's piston-like movements expand the base of the lungs, allowing them to suck in more blood, which stimulates circulation. Third, the abdominal organs are massaged by the up-and-down movements of the diaphragm. Lastly, low breathing benefits the solar plexus, a very important nerve center.