Best yoga for sleep apnea breathing and exercises


Sleep apnea is a result of blocked nasal and throat airways and can happen a couple times a night to hundreds of times per night. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea occur when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Yoga can help to reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea because yogic breathing exercises help to strengthen, tone, and open the upper airway muscles. These exercises for snoring can significantly reduce stress and calm the mind, which can lead to better overall life quality.

Let’s point out the obvious here, though: yoga itself cannot cure sleep disorders, but it can definitely help. We are not medical professionals here at the Slumber Yard—we are merely trying to provide you with the tools to sleep better at night, including giving you some great mattress reviews.

Sleep apnea usually happens because your airway gets blocked as you sleep, and your breath becomes shallow or pauses as a result. The blockage can happen for a number of reasons, including your genetic neck structure, sleeping position, tonsil size, excess fat, or poorly developed muscles of the throat and diaphragm.

Yoga teaches you how to breathe fully and into your diaphragm; many Westerners breathe only into their chests. A regular practice of doing yoga for sleep apnea means this deeper, more quality breath becomes second nature and carries over into sleep.

Certain yoga poses also help alleviate habitual stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and back. These forms of stiffness sometime lead to compression of the airway as you sleep. Stretching everything out makes more open sleep patterns come naturally, alleviating sleep apnea.

Of course, doing yoga for sleep apnea is no substitute for medical support if your sleep apnea is severe. Always consult with your health care provider for advice as to whether your condition is severe enough to require a CPAP or surgery.

1. Cat/Cow Poses

First up is cat/cow. Doing yoga for sleep apnea doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult, and this pair of poses proves it.

Begin posed on your hands and knees. Your shoulders should be directly above your hands, and your hips should be directly over your knees. Make sure you start with a flat back. As you slowly and deeply inhale, arch your spine down to the floor and look up to where the wall meets the ceiling, which will keep your neck in line with your spine.

Let your belly/stomach relax and hang down to the floor. Imagine there is fishing wire tied to the crown of your head and to your tailbone, pulling upward. Make sure to keep your shoulders back and down. You are in cow position.

Then, transition to your spine arching toward the ceiling while you look down at the floor. This is the cat position, so think of a cat arching its back. Take the time to hold these poses while breathing deeply and alternate between the two.

2. Nadhi Sodhana, a.k.a. Anuloma Viloma, a.k.a. Alternative Nostril Breathing

Nadhi sodhana, also known as “alternative nostril breathing,” is a very relaxed, balancing breath that is used to help calm the nervous system and aid in getting a restful night’s sleep. It’s believed that by increasing the amount of oxygen taken into the body, you can purify your blood, calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote concentration.

How to do it:

Nadhi sodhana can be done while seated or while lying down. To start, empty all the air from your lungs. Using the thumb of your dominant hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril only.

Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your chest. Once you are full of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril only. Be sure to exhale all the breath out of the right side and pause before inhaling again through the same side. Seal both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side.

A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. If you’re just starting out, you can do a four-count inhale, which is holding your breath for four to eight counts, then exhale for four counts. Perform up to ten cycles and notice how your body responds. You may feel calmer and more relaxed in both your mind and body.

When to do it: Nadhi Sodhana is a calm, soothing breath that can be done any time of day. Try practicing this technique when you are anxious, nervous, or having trouble falling asleep.

3. Bhastrika Pranayama, a.k.a. Bellow’s Breath

This technique, also known as “bellow’s breath,” focuses on controlling the breath and making both your inhalations and exhalations equal in length. As you gain greater control over your breathing, you will not only learn to sync your inhalations and exhalations, but you will also start to take deeper and longer breaths that lead to deeper relaxation and greater benefits.

This technique of using yoga for sleep apnea helps energize the body and clear the mind and can help you sleep more peacefully.

This is a straightforward breathing exercise that helps give energy and move stagnation out of the body. It creates heat in the body by squeezing blood through your organs and increasing digestion.

Here’s what you need to do to properly perform bhastrika:

1. Sit tall in a comfortable position and relax your shoulders. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths in and out through your nose. With each inhale, expand your stomach as fully as you can.

Sit in a comfortable position and take a few deep cleansing breaths. When you’re ready, breathe in deeply and forcefully expel the air. 

2. Using force, exhale through your nose for one second. Allow your belly to relax and fill your lungs naturally once again.  Next, inhale forcefully for a full second. 

3. Continue to breathe in and out, using force, counting one second for each inhalation and each exhalation. Coordinate the movement so that the exhale contracts your muscles right at the point of maximum inhalation.

Maintain an erect posture, keep your shoulders relaxed and focus on keeping your body still, except for your belly, which is rising and expanding fully with each breath.

You should hear both the inhale and the exhale. Do this on an empty stomach once or twice a day to generate heat and help quickly rev up the body. Avoid practicing it if you’re pregnant, have uncontrolled hypertension, or have seizures.

4. For the first cycle, repeat this breathing technique 10 times. After the first round, pause for a few seconds to take note of how you feel.

Now, move on to the second cycle, performing the technique 20 times. Again, pause to note the sensations you experience. Finally, perform 30 repetitions of the technique to complete the set. After the excise rounds are complete, notice how you feel and the way the experience calms and centers you.

While completely safe, some people feel a little light-headed when first beginning their breathing practice. Should this happen to you, simply pause for a few moments and resume normal breathing. Once the discomfort subsides, you can resume the bellow’s breathing. As you progress and master your technique, begin to lengthen the time of your inhalations and exhalations to five to ten seconds each.

4. Ujjayi, a.k.a. Warrior Breath

This pranayama is also called “Victorious Breath,” “Ocean’s Breath,” and “Hissing Breath.” Some call it the “Darth Vader Breath.” During Ujjayi, you gently constrict the back of your throat, which results in the breath sounding like ocean waves or a subtle hiss.

When you couple Ujjayi with belly breathing, you increase your rest/digest/relax/regenerate response, because you stimulate your Vagus nerve, a key nerve that passes from the base of your brain, down your face and throat, down to your gut. (22)

Sustaining focus on the sound of your breath while practicing Ujjayi will make it easier to concentrate and silence the mind’s chatter.

How to do the Warrior’s Breath:

Remember to breathe through your nose, engage your lower belly, and tighten the back of your throat as you breathe. Doing this produces the ocean sound.

1. Inhale for 4 counts.

2. Exhale for 7 counts.

3. Repeat Steps 1-2 for at least 28 cycles (5 minutes).

5. Mrigi Mudra

Mrigi Mudra” means “deer seal” in Sanskrit. This name comes from the position of the hand and fingers while doing this breathing exercise. Mrigi Mudra helps alleviate headaches and stress, and it calms the mind.

Instructions for this exercise to reduce snoring:

1. Sit in a comfortable position, with a straight back.

2. Place your left hand on your knee, palm facing down. With the right hand, fold the forefinger and middle finger. Keep the thumb, the ring finger, and small/“pinkie” finger pointing outwards.

3. Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril. Count slowly to 5 during the inhalation.

4. Close the left nostril as well with the ring and small finger. Count to 5.

5. Release the thumb from the right nostril and exhale. Count to 5 during the exhalation. This is one breathing cycle.

6. Do 2-3 cycles, alternating the position of both hands, placing the right hand on your knee and using your left hand. This time, inhale through the left nostril and exhaled from the right.

Where Should You Practice Your Exercise to Reduce Snoring?

Try to find a distraction-free area. You might want to step outside into nature or create such a space at your home with natural elements. Another option is to simply use a pillow or blanket on the floor in your office or wherever you choose to practice your yoga for sleep apnea. 

Aim to create any peaceful environment where you can exercise these techniques. Make the best of what you have.

How Long Should You Practice for?

At the beginning, when you’re establishing a routine in your exercise to reduce snoring, you can start with doing it for as little as five minutes. Depending on your needs and the technique, you might increase this time gradually. A typical number you can aim for is 30 minutes of controlled breathing practice each day. It’s okay to work your way up.

MBSR and Sleep Apnea

Not only can MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises help curb the anxiety related to sleep apnea and snoring, it also shows some promising benefits for improving the symptoms specific to the disease. Doing exercise to reduce snoring is a great way to shape up while putting the snore monster to rest.

Mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to improve sleep efficiency and decreased wake time, which is beneficial for all people who have sleep-related issues in general.

What’s more, sleep apnea has been linked with more than just a physical issue in the muscles used to breathe.

Doctors and medical professionals now know that central sleep apnea can also be caused by a lack of neural communication between the brain and the impulses that control breathing during sleep. Since mindfulness meditation has been shown to strengthen neural pathways and can even create new ones, this shows potential as a viable treatment option for the many causes of this complicated disease.

MBSR practices like yogic breathing can also benefit those who suffer from sleep apnea by addressing the oxygen-deprivation issue. Doing exercise to reduce snoring is proven to help.

Deep, meditative breathing, especially through yoga for sleep apnea, helps improve the body’s ability to circulate and absorb oxygen while also strengthening the mechanisms involved in breathing, which combats the issues involved two-fold.

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