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


Chair Yoga Part Two

This post is the continuation of Chair Yoga Part One.  In this post, we will explore more great ways to utilize a chair to modify yoga asanas.  Enjoy!

Sitting Spinal Twist

  1. —  Sit at the edge of your chair
  2. —  Inhale and lengthen your spine
  3. —  Exhale and rotate to the R, starting at the  base of the spine first
  4. —  When you have reached maximum stretch, reach for the back or side of the chair
  5. —  Hold for 5-10 breaths
  6. —  As you inhale, lift the spine up
  7. —  As you exhale, try to rotate  more
  8. —  Repeat to the other side



Sitting Backbend

  1. —  Sit on the edge of the chair
  2. —  Reach back for either the seat of the chair or the back of the chair
  3. —  Breathe in, lengthening the spine
  4. —  Exhale and arch the spine backwards
  5. —  Hold for 5-10 breaths

Sitting Side Bend

  1. —  Sit at front edge of chair with the spine lifted
  2. —  Inhale and reach the L arm upward, rest the R hand on R leg
  3. —  Exhale and lean body to the right, making sure not to rotate the body
  4. —  Hold for 5-10 breaths
  5. —  Focus breath into the L side of the body
  6.       Repeat on the other side




Chair Corpse Pose

  1. —Lay on your back with your knees bent directly in front of a chair
  2. —Lift your legs up to allow your heels to rest on the chair
  3. —Scoot your body forward until your lower legs rest comfortably on the chair
  4. —Rest arms comfortably at your sides with palms up
  5. —Relax every part of your body and breathe deeply
  6. —Hold for 2-10 minutes


White Crane Cools Its Wings

White Crane Cools it Wings is one of my favorite Tai Chi exercises to use in the PT clinic.  It utilizes a “T stance”  that challenges both balance and leg strength.

Follow the video for some excellent instruction on this exercises.  Try to hold the position while keeping the body relaxed and be sure to breathe.  Enjoy!


Commentary on Yoga Research

A case for careful literature review

The physical therapy (PT) world has been in a bit of an uproar about yoga lately, with several claims that the yoga community is encroaching into PT turf.  Unfortunately, the entire ordeal started with someone misinterpreting the 2005 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Sherman, The study, Comparing yoga, exercise and self care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial, is often cited in other documents, because it is the best designed research article on this topic and provides the most statistically significant data. 

The study essentially looks at the effects of medication usage, pain and disability for 3 groups that have chronic low back pain: 1. Yoga class, 2. General exercise class including aerobic drills, strengthening and stretching and 3.  A self-help book.  By the end of the study, the data showed that the yoga class group had large reductions in disability and pain usage compared to the exercise and book groups.  The correct interpretation of this data is yoga is an effective intervention for individuals with low back pain and should be utilized in conjunction with other evidence based interventions by health professionals.    

The uproar started in June in response to a heath alert posted on the John Hopkins health alert website discussing this research article.    The anonymous author mislabeled the general exercise group as “conventional physical therapy.”  That mistake made the readers unfamiliar with the study think that a group yoga class is better than physical therapy for chronic low back pain.   Even more therapists panicked when several additional publications commented on this wrong information.  What concerns me is that highly educated health professionals did not read it for themselves.

So what are the lessons to learned here?

  1. Read research articles at least weekly and really think about the design, the data and the author’s conclusions.
  2. Physical therapists that treat low back pain should learn how to incorporate yoga into their practice.
  3. Yoga teachers and yoga therapists should work in collaboration with physical therapists to achieve excellent patient outcomes.

I realize this is quite different from any other blog post that I have written, but I truly want the yoga and physical therapy community to be on the same page and work together to create amazing patient outcomes.




  1. Sherman K, et al. (2005) Comparing yoga, exercise and self care book for chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.  Ann Intern Med. 143, 849-56.

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