Yoga Breathing for Pain Reduction

It has been over a month since my last blog post because I have been extra busy authoring five new home study courses on evidenced based mind-body practices.  Writing these home studies provided me with an opportunity to read many recent research articles on the topics of yoga and tai chi, giving me many new ideas for my blog.

Today, we are going to examine a pranayama technique that has been shown by medical researchers to be an effective pain reliever, double length breathing

A 2010 study conducted by Zatra and colleges showed that controlled breathing at a reduced rate can significantly reduce feelings of pain for both health individuals as well as those suffering from fibromyalgia (a chronic pain disorder).¹  This study compared a yogic breathing technique that reduces the normal respiratory rate by one-half to breathing at the normal respiratory rate. Compared to normal breathing, slow breathing reduced ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness in all test subjects.

Please try this technique yourself whenever you are experiencing pain for 5-15 minutes.  After performing double length breath for that, you should feel significantly less pain.  Please note this breathing technique should be utilized with any other treatments your physician and/or physical therapist recommend.  It is not intended to replace usual care practices, but to enhance them.


  1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position and begin to breathe in and out through your nose.
  2. Without changing your breathing pattern in anyway, count how many seconds you normally take to breathe in and out.
  3. Slowly lengthen your breath until it is taking twice as long to perform each inhalation and exhalation.  Try to have both parts of the breath take the same amount of time.
  4. Continue for 5-15 minutes breathing slowly and evenly.



  1.  Zatra, A.J., et al (2010) The effects of slow breathing on affective responses to pain stimuli: An experimental study.  Pain, 149; 12-18.

Photo Credit


New Yoga Class Offering

Sarah will be teaching a special 4 week Introduction to Yoga class at Wellness 365 every Wednesday night in January.  All are welcome.  The class will feature a slow flow Vinyasa style with heavy use of props and modifications lead by a licensed physical therapist and registered yoga instructor.  Pranayama (yogic breathing) and meditation will be included in every class.

This is the perfect class for beginners! Pre-registration is recommended to ensure your spot, but drop-ins are welcome as space allows.  Please call Wellness 365 at 847-637-1600 for additional information and to save your spot.  Be sure to wear clothing that stretches and please arrive at least 10 minutes early.

When: Wednesdays in January 7:15-8:30pm

Where: Wellness 365: 125 S. Wilke Rd., Suite 100 Arlington Heights, IL 60005

Cost: $80 for all 4 classes or $25 for a single class


Pranayama for Pain Relief

My regular readers may have noted it has been quite a few weeks since my last post.  This was due to undergoing an emergency appendectomy about two weeks ago.  The pain before and after surgery was quite strong and unpleasant.  Traditional western medicine encourages administering progressively stronger pain medicine until the patient is satisfied with their level of pain control.   

Instead on taking everything available to me for pain, I wanted to experiment on myself with pranayama as part of my pain management plan.  By focusing on slow equal ratio abdominal breathing, I was able to make enough of a difference in my pain to cut my pain meds in half.  Now, this was in no way a well designed study, but there are quite a few studies published demonstrating  statistically significant  reduction in pain by participating in yoga breathing techniques.

A study published in the April 2010 issue of Pain demonstrated that both healthy individuals and those with fibromyalgia reported reduced ratings of pain intensity from a thermal stimuli while performing slow breathing techniques.¹  The health group did notice more pain reduction than the fibromyalgia group, most likely due to the chronic pain associated with the condition.  Please follow the instructions below for equal ratio breath, the pranayama technique I used for my own pain management.

Equal Ratio Breath


  1. Begin to breathe in and out through the nose, initially just observing your natural breathing pattern for a few moments.
  2. Allow your breath to expand deep into your belly with each inhale and begin counting how many seconds you are taking to breathe in and out.
  3. Try to adjust your breath so both take the same amount of time.   Once comfortable, try to add another second onto each inhale or exhale.  Try for a count of 6, 7 or 8.  Continue for 5-15 minutes.

TIP:  Be sure to choose a duration that is slow, but comfortable.  You should experience no tension or discomfort.


  1. Zautra A. J. et al. (2010). The effects of slow breathing on affective responses to pain stimuli:  An experimental study.  Pain. 149: 12-18.




Fight Allergy Season the Natural Way With a Neti Pot

As most allergy suffers know, late summer is ragweed season.  Ragweed is highly allergenic and generally considered the greatest allergen of all pollens.  Antihistamines are commonly utilized to help minimize the allergic reaction, but they are not usually enough to stop the reaction altogether.  Consequently, a large percent of the population suffers for weeks with congestion and itching.

Fortunately, the ancient Indian cleansing technique, neti has been proven to be an effective treatment for hay fever¹ as well as sinusitis, and other nasal conditions.  Neti is a nasal irrigation technique utilizing saline water to rinse the nasal and sinus passages.   Nasal cleansing began as an Ayurvedic technique in Ancient India. In modern times, saline nasal irrigation (SNI) has become more widely accepted as a home remedy to relieve conditions such as allergies, colds and mild sinus infections.   I can report from personal use, my neti pot is a huge part of my allergy management plan and provides me with much relief.


Neti pots can be made from many materials including ceramic and plastic.  They are used to flush out the nasal cavities by using gravity to draw the flow of saline. Some modern variants available from pharmacies are made of flexible plastic and can be compressed to exert additional pressure.  It is important to maintain neutral osmolarity (using the same amount of salt that is present in the body) in order to soothe the mucus membranes, so please follow the instructions that come with your particular neti pot.   Distilled or filtered water is also recommended to prevent additional pollutants from entering your nasal passages.  Please follow the video below for instructions.


  1.  Rabago D, Zgierska A (November 2009). “Saline nasal irrigation for upper respiratory conditions”. Am Fam Physician 80 (10): 1117–9. PMC 2778074. PMID 19904896.


Improve Your Mood With Breathing

Have you ever had a bad mood that you couldn’t snap out of?  Once a negative emotional state such as sadness, anger or fear sets in, it can be difficult to switch back to a positive mind-set.  Fortunately, yoga breathing exercises are a powerful mood enhancer.

A study conducted Published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1993 demonstrated that pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) is a more beneficial technique to enhance moods than either visualization or relaxation techniques.  Wood and colleagues specifically studied the effects of these three techniques on 71 healthy adults’ perceptions of:

  • Physical and mental energy
  •  Positive and negative mood states

After 2 sessions of each intervention, the results were quite convincing:

  •  Pranayama: largest increases in perceptions of mental/physical energy & feelings of alertness /enthusiasm  (P< 0.5)
  •  Relaxation: more sleepy and sluggish than pranayama (P< 0.05)
  •  Visualization: more sluggish, less content than pranayama (P<0.05) & more upset than relaxation (P<0.05)

Therefore, we can conclude that yoga breathing exercises have invigorating effects on perceptions of mental/physical energy and increased mood than either relaxation or visualization.  Keeping in mind the participants only performed 2 sessions or pranayama; we can consider these exercises to be a fast option to help boost our moods when you can’t beat the cycle of negative thinking.  Follow the instructions below for an easy to learn pranayama technique.

Supine Abdominal Breathing

  1. Lay down on your back with your knees bent.  Feel free to use a pillow under the head if necessary for comfort.
  2. Rest your hands on your abdomen, just below the navel.
  3. Breathe in deeply, trying to expand the area under your hands.
  4. Exhale, letting your belly relax.
  5. Try to keep the ribs and upper chest from moving with this technique
  6. Practice for up to 5 minutes utilizing the same amount of time to breathe in and out.
  7. If feel comfortable with this technique and would like to achieve an even calmer state, try holding the inhale for 1-3 seconds prior to breathing out.  If you experience any uncomfortable feelings, your body is not yet ready for retention.


Wood, C., et al. (1993).  Mood change and perceptions of vitality: a comparison of the effects of relaxation, visualization and yoga. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 86, 254-258.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate Nostril Breathing is a relaxing yoga breathing technique that stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).  It is one of my favorite pranayama exercises to perform prior to meditation as it relaxes the mind and body without becoming lethargic.  The medical benefits of stimulating the PNS include:

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Low vagal tone
  • Decreased pain perception
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Optimized immune system



Sit in a comfortable position with your body relaxed, either cross-legged on the floor or on a chair.

Rest your left arm on your lap and begin to breathe deeply through your nose for at least one minute.

Bend down your right index and middle finger.  Hold your right thumb by your right nostril and your ring finger by your left nostril

Close your Right nostril and inhale through the Left.  Keeping the fingers the same, inhale through your Right nostril.

Close the Right nostril and exhale through the Left

This is one complete cycle.  Continue this cycle, aiming for smooth breathing for 2-5 minutes.  After your last exhale, unblock both nostrils and take at least 3 deep breaths.

Note: It is normal to experience some nasal drainage and feel an opening of the sinus cavities after completing alternate nostril breathing.  If you feel congested, you may want to gentle blow your nose prior to beginning.


Danucalov, M.A., et al. (2008). Cardiorespiratory and metabolic changes during Yoga sessions:  the effects of respiratory exercises and meditation practices.  Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback.  33: 77-81.

Three Part Breath for Stress Relief

Breathing exercises are an easy and effective way to tap into the stress reducing benefits of the Autonomic Nervous System.  The key to maximizing the potential benefits is to first learn how to breathe deeply through all lobes of the lungs.   By simply breathing deeply, one can experience deep relaxation, decreased blood pressure and decreased pain.  Three part breath, described below, is a great way to learn deep breathing.   If you have difficulty expanding any of the areas, place your hands there to increase your awareness of expansion.  Otherwise, rest your arms on your legs.

Three part breath instructions

—  Sit tall with your body relaxed, either on the edge of  a chair or in a comfortable cross-legged position on the floor.

—  Slowly inhale, bringing your breath deep into first into your abdomen.

—  Next, allow the ribs to expand as you fill up the middle of your lungs.

—  Finally, allow the air to expand into your chest and throat.  Be sure to fully inflate one area prior to moving the breath to the next area.

—  Exhale completely, letting everything go slowly.

—  Start performing for 3-5 minutes, eventually increasing to 10-15 minutes.  Note: the longer you practice the breathing exercise, the more relaxation you will experience.

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