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6 Yoga Breathing Practices for Healthy Lungs

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Can increased lung capacity lead to a longer life expectancy?

Can increased lung capacity lead to a longer life expectancy?

A 1983 research paper titled “The Arterial stiffness and cardiovascular events: The Framingham Heart Study” puts vital lung capacity at the top of risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Vital capacity is the greatest amount of air a person can expel from the lungs after a full inhalation. The ability of our lungs to do that depends on two main factors: lung compliance and lung elasticity. It is now generally accepted that vital lung capacity is a reliable predictor of mortality.

Yoga Practice Keep Your Lungs Healthy

  • We can support lung compliance by breathing in fully, expanding the ribcage and holding the air in.
  • We can support lung elasticity by exhaling fully and holding the air out.
  • In yoga, we can work on increasing the breath threshold level by deepening our inhalation and lengthening our exhalation.

How Do Lungs Work?

We cannot move our lungs as we wish. The lungs expand and shrink because of the interaction between pressure and volume inside the lungs, and the pressure of the atmosphere around us. Our ribcage expands on the inhalation and the air pulls on the lungs which forces them to expand. This is called lung compliancy, the ability of your lungs to expand resulting from the movement of the ribcage.

When we reach the end of our inhalation, our lungs pull our thoracic cage in as they shrink. This is called lung elasticity.

Our breath cycle is formed by the outer pull of the ribcage on inhalation and the inner pull of the lungs on exhalation. Optimal lung function depends on the ability of the lungs to balance expanding and shrinking.

If our lungs lose the ability to expand, inhaling becomes difficult, because the lungs want to shrink. If our lungs lose the ability to shrink, exhaling becomes difficult, because the lungs are no longer able to recoil naturally without effort.

If our ribcage cannot expand properly because of inflammatory arthritis or a sedentary lifestyle, our lungs will gradually lose their ability to stretch out.


How Aging Affects Our Lungs

As we get older, our lungs gradually lose their vital capacity, and our ribcage stiffens.

These factors hinder inhalation and decrease the elastic recoil of exhalation. Therefore, taking a breath becomes harder because the breathing muscles must work harder during inhalations to counteract the stiffness.

A slight forward head tilt and a slight rounding of the upper back tend to augment with age. This can change the position of the ribs and the diaphragm, which leads to decreased efficiency of inhalation.

As we age, the muscles in the body lose strength and stamina. This means that the muscles tire more easily, especially when they must work harder in physical activity. The effect worsens if there is an underlying lung condition.

Working With Breath Retention

When we hold our breath in or out, we divide the breath into four distinct parts: 1) inhale, 2) hold after inhaling, 3) exhale, and 4) hold after exhaling.

Advanced yoga practitioners use different ratios among these four parts and learn to hold their breath for longer periods of time.

Deep Breathing

The way we breathe can influence our whole body, helping to regulate essential functions such as heart rate and blood pressure.

Deep breathing, called abdominal breathing or belly breathing, involves inhaling slowly and deeply through the nose, causing the lungs to fill with air as the abdomen expands. Deep breathing is linked to many health benefits, from reducing stress to lowering blood pressure.

The fast pace of modern life and an inactive work environment have habituated some of us to take quick and shallow breaths. Over time, this weakens the strength of our breathing muscles and creates tension in the upper body, which can modify our posture and undermine our health.

We can stop or reverse these negative effects and improve the quality of our lives by regularly doing yoga and short training sessions of the breathing muscles.

Posture and Breathing Affect Movement

When we breathe from the chest, we mostly use muscles around our neck and clavicle instead of the diaphragm. This breathing pattern comes with poor posture where many muscles in our upper body become unable to function suitably.

Tight muscles around the chest bring about rounded shoulders and a forward head posture. Rounded shoulders and a forward head posture weaken the back by weakening the muscles that help maintain an upright posture.

How to Tell if Your Breathing Is Shallow

Place your palm against your abdomen below your rib cage and exhale. Take a deep breath and see the movement of your hand. If your hand moves as your abdomen expands, you are breathing properly.

If your hand moves slightly but your shoulders lift, think about practicing breathing exercises to strengthen your muscles and boost good breathing patterns.

Yogic breathing practices help to develop the complete use of the lungs while synchronizing the rhythm of the breath.

Breathing Practices

This series of breathing practices is done while standing. Read the six practices at least once before you do them. Once you finish the first round of all six practices, do another round if you feel comfortable. Stop the practice if you feel uncomfortable. Proceed gently.

Let the inhale and exhale happen gently without forcing the breath. Synchronize the breath with the movement.

Caution: Individuals who have a lung condition should consult with their physician before starting a new exercise routine.

Practice 1

  • Start with your arms placed by your sides.
  • As you inhale, raise the arms slowly from the sides up over head, keeping your shoulders down and your wrists flexible and relaxed.
  • When you feel that you have completely inhaled, pull up your arms a little more.
  • As you return your arms by your sides, inhale a little more by pushing the tips of your fingers against your thighs.
  • Exhale through the nose while keeping your fingers on your thighs.
  • Relax your arms and let the exhalation continue in a normal way. Let your chin come close to your chest.
  • Bring your head to an upright position and look ahead.
  • Return your arms to your sides.

Practice 2

  • As you inhale, slowly lift your arms in front of you at the level of your shoulders and open your arms to the side and take them back.
  • Keep inhaling as you hold your arms wide open.
  • As you exhale, bring your arms in front of you parallel to the floor and lower them by your sides.

Practice 3

  • Start with your arms open wide at the level of your shoulders.
  • Inhale and turn your palms up toward the sky as far as you can.
  • As you exhale, turn the palms down to the floor.
  • Return your arms to your sides.

Practice 4

  • Start with your arms in front of you parallel to the floor.
  • Cross your wrists one on top of the other.
  • Inhale completely and when your lungs are full, press your wrists against each other while trying to inhale a little more.
  • As you exhale, release the pressure on your wrist and let your arms fall naturally by your sides.

Practice 5

  • Start with one foot in front of the other and your arms by your sides.
  • Inhale and raise the arms laterally with your palms turned up and take them back as much as it’s comfortable.
  • Take your torso back and turn your head up to the sky without forcing.
  • Soften the knee of your back leg.
  • Now, bring your torso and your head to the initial upright position, and inhale a little more.
  • Exhale and come back to the initial position.
  • Change the position of the legs and repeat.

Practice 6

  • Start with your arms by your sides.
  • Inhale and raise your arms in front of you to the level of your shoulders.
  • Continue inhaling as you open your arms to the side and bring them back as far as comfortable to do.
  • Your hands will now be at the level of your ears. The movement is a little ascending.
  • Now bring your arms behind your back and clasp the fingers. This will take your shoulders back.
  • Exhale and release your fingers, and bring your arms by your sides.


Vital lung capacity is essential to your health. It is crucial that you keep your lungs strong and healthy with yoga and breathing practices. This can undoubtedly help slow down the breathing decline associated with aging.


“Improve Your Vital Lung Capacity with Yoga” article by Olga Kabel on YogaU Online.

”La respiration”. Les carnets du yoga (October 1979).

“Arterial stiffness and cardiovascular events: The Framingham Heart Study”. Gary F. Mitchell, MD; Shih-Jen Hwang, PhD; Ramachandran S. Vasan, MD; Martin G. Larson, ScD; Michael J. Pencina, PhD; Naomi M. Hamburg, MD; Joseph A. Vita, MD; Daniel Levy, MD; and Emelia J. Benjamin, MD, ScM.

Respiratory | Compliance & Elasticity, Ninja Nerd Lectures

Healthline site

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Liliane Najm