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How Yoga Benefits My CF Life - Breath Control, Pranayama & Meditation Tips

Hello, welcome back to my blog for those regular readers, & for those that may be reading my posts for the first time, hi, my name is Nicole & I write spontaneous none scheduled blog posts about life with Cystic Fibrosis, my career in fitness/yoga & where I travel.

In this post I am working in collaboration with 'How To CF' which is a community platform built for CFers by CFers. Their aim is to write articles on a range of CF topics to give out useful & insightful information to CFers online. I am sharing this post with them today & they will be posting it over on their website too.

So, for those that are unaware, I have recently arrived back from Thailand, where I achieved my 200 hours & successfully became a qualified yoga teacher! My history & experience of yoga goes back to early 2017 when I broadened my knowledge of other ways to keep fit & yoga worked so well along side my CF life too.

Taught for two summers abroad under a company teaching yoga, but by September 2018 I wanted to dive deeper, extend my knowledge, pursing to achieve my qualification to teach yoga at home. I plan on doing a separate blog post on the course itself, tips on what to bring & what to expect.

From the course there were lots of information while learning that I found really relating to CF life & how I could incorporate specific breathing techniques (pranayama) & practices of yoga to increase lung expansion, intake of oxygen, & be part of my physio therapy.

Furthermore, understanding how alignment of the spine & posture isn't just important throughout asanas & meditation, but also in doing these breathing exercises to enhance capacity, working on the energy systems of the Chakra System & Nadis too.

So, below are just a few of the pranayama exercises I do prior to moving on the mat. These can be done before or after asanas as it will enhance your breath control & allow more oxygen to flow working on expansion & extension. Further down the blog post are tips on meditation for those with CF too.

I plan on doing a separate blog post on the physical side to yoga, looking at what asanas (poses) are great for CFers, & speaking more about our energy systems in relation to Cystic Fibrosis.

Prana in Sanskrit means 'vital energy' or 'life force', and yama means 'control'. Ayama is defined as 'extension' or expansion'. Pranayama utilises breathing to influence the flow of prana in the nadis (energy channels) through the body, enhancing and regulating past the normal boundaries to attain a higher state of vibratory energy.

1. Nadi Shodhana (nad-ee shod-han-na)

Nadi means 'channel' or 'flow of energy', and Shodhana means 'purification'.

Nadi Shodhana is about ensuring the whole body is nourished by an extra supply of oxygen. It increases vitality & lowers levels of stress & anxiety by unblocking, balancing & harmonising ida and pingala nadis. This can lead to a deep state of meditation.

It takes time to develop the ratios and timing of the breath in each technique which may take a while. Pursue with the practice.

How to practice the alternating nostril breathing -

Hand position: Hold the fingers of the right hand in front of your face, resting your index & middle finger in the palm of your hand. The thumb above the right nostril, and ring finger above the left nostril. These two fingers control the flow of breath but alternately pressing one nostril to block the air flow, then changing to the other.

The little finger is comfortably resting.

Close the R nostril with the thumb & inhale through the L counting mentally from 1-4 until inhalation ends. This can be the start of a basic count. Use yogic breathing if aware, do not strain.

Close the L nostril & open the R & exhale for a count of 1-4. The inhale & exhale should be of the same count.

Then keep R thumb off & inhale back into the R side. End by closing the R, opening the L & exhaling.

This is one round, practice should be of 8-10 rounds. Breathing should be silent in all techniques of nadi shodhana, not to be forced or restricted. Always using the chest & diaphragm muscles.

After a few days of this you can increase the length of inhalation & exhalation by one count. After completing this you may want to change the ratio to 1:2. Continue to extend the count up to 12:24. This ratio establishes a calming rhythm for the brain and heart, assisting the cardiovascular and nervous systems & reducing stress related conditions.

Physical Awareness - on breath and counting.

Mental Awareness - Your mind can wander in this practice so be aware of it & continue to count the breathing.

Spiritual - on Anja chakra. (third eye)

2. Bhastrika Pranayama (Bha-stree-ka)

Bhastrika means 'bellows'. This technique also known as bellows breath. This practice burns up toxins & removes diseases from the doshas. Because of the rapid exchange of air in the lungs, there is an increase of oxygen & carbon dioxide in & out of the bloodstream. This stimulates the metabolic rate, producing heat & flushing waste and toxins. The rapid & rhythmic movement of the diaphragm also massages the stimulates the visceral organs, & works with the digestive system. This practice reduces the levels of CO2 in the lungs & an excellent practice for CFers and those with asthma. It balances and strengthens the nervous system, inducing peace & prepares the body for meditation.

How to practice Bhastrika -

Sitting in a comfortable position, keeping your head, neck and spine straight. Closing the eyes and relaxing the body.

Take a deep breath in without moving your shoulders, & exhale forcefully through your nose. Make sure the jaw is relaxed & you can slightly leave the mouth open.

Immediately afterwards inhale and exhale again.

During inhalation the diaphragm descends and the abdomen moves outward.

During exhalation the diaphragm moves upwards and the abdomen moves inward.

The emphasis is equal on the inhalation & exhalation.

To start off with take this practice slowly, but the movements should be slightly aggressive. Counting to 10 breaths. At the last exhale allow all the air to leave the lungs before taking a calming inhale to relax.

Practice for 5 rounds, & overtime you can increase the speed, keeping rhythmical.

Slow Bhastrika is performed at approximately one breath every 2 seconds.

Medium is approximately one breath for every second, increasing the speed of respiration.

Fast is a breathing speed of around two breaths per second, which is suitable for intermediate and advanced practitioners. The abdominal muscles will become stronger.

Be aware that Bhastrika is a dynamic practice & requires large expenditure of physical energy.

If you do suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, stroke or epilepsy are recommended to practice under expert guidance.

3. Kapalabhati Pranayama (kap-al-a-bat-tee)

Kapalabhati is one of the six detoxifying body exercises. This practice is to bring a state of light or clarity to the frontal region of the brain. Also known to be the purifier to ida and pingala nadis. It has a similar cleansing effect to the lungs as bhastirka & can be used in childbirth too.

There are so many benefits to this practice including improving blood circulation & the digestive system. Strengths the liver, kidneys and pancreas (great for CFers!) Gives mental peace & frees you from stress & anxiety. Also known to reduce the side effects of diabetes.

How to practice Kapalabhati -

Sitting in a comfortable position, keeping your head, neck and spine straight. Closing the eyes and relaxing the body, hands can either be resting on your knees in chin mudra or cupping around the lower ribs near the intercostal muscles.

This practice purely focuses on the exhalation, not both inhalation & exhalation which is what Bhastrika does.

Inhale deeply through both nostrils, expanding the abdominal muscles.

On the exhale forcefully contract the abdominal muscles. The inhalation should be passive allowing the abdominal muscles to expand, involving no effort. You can use your hands on the sides of your rib cage/abdominals to add a gentle squeeze to make use all the CO2 leaves the body. After completing 10 rapid breaths in succession, inhale and exhale deeply. This counts as one round.

Make sure it is only your abdominal muscles which are moving through exhalation & not your entire body throughout the practice. I sometimes add a few huffs and coughs at the end, using it as physio practice.

Meditation & Benefits to CFers

When often the topic of mindfulness comes up people generally imagine some free spirit zoning out on a mat & being taken to 'another place'. How often have you heard someone say "have you tried to meditate?" & you just think "um no I probably won't try because I don't know how." Well hopefully from this segment of the post you can go away with a few ways to meditate & understand the reasons why it is so beneficial.

1. Meditation makes you happier - Meditation is known to enhance the flow of constructive thoughts and positive emotions. Even a few minutes spent meditating regularly can make a big difference. There is scientific evidence to support this claim.

2. Meditation helps manage anxiety, stress & depression - The transformation potential of meditation shouldn’t be underestimated. Studies have proved that meditation has physiological effects on the brain. Researchers found that the part of the brain that regulates stress and anxiety shrinks when meditation is practiced consistently. By focusing on moment-by-moment experiences, people who meditate are training the mind to remain calm, even in stressful situations. Along with this, they also experience significantly less anxiety due to uncertainty about the future.

3. You don't have to be religious to meditate - Meditation can benefit everyone. It’s about developing calmness, practicing awareness, and de-cluttering the mind. Can be very helpful if you feel anxious about an upcoming hospital admission or maybe you are currently an inpatient & are finding it hard to stay focused on the present moment, not thinking to far ahead of your health concerns.

4. It enhances self awareness - Some forms of meditation may help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self. For example, self-inquiry meditation primarily aims to help you develop a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you. Other forms teach you to recognise thoughts that may be harmful or self-defeating. The idea is that as you gain greater awareness of your thought habits, you can steer them toward more constructive patterns.

Relating this to CF connects to bringing positivity around your CF life. Understanding your body when you are becoming ill or feel under the weather. It can dramatically improve your own understanding of how you body feels if you miss treatment or your mood may change depending on what you are prescribed.

Below are two ways to start meditation. One being a simple natural breathing technique to aim to make you aware of your own breathing patterns & be conscious of how you breathe each day. The second is another breathing technique that involves more awareness & fantastic for CFers to learn how they can take control of their breaths.

Natural Breathing - This is a simple technique which introduces practitioners to their own respiratory system and breathing patterns. Awareness of the breathing process in itself is sufficient to slowing down the respiratory rate and establishing a more relaxed rate.

This practice can be done lying down in savasana or in a stead position. Simple inhaling and exhaling in & out through your nose. Do not control the breath in anyway, just observe.

Notice how the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils, & warm as it flows out.

Start then to bring the awareness of your breathing to your throat, down the trachea, bronchial tubes into the chest. Feel the breath flowing in the lungs, the expansion and relaxation.

Also good to shift the awareness to the rib cage & observe the expansion there too.

Lastly, bringing the awareness to the abdomen & how it moves upward on the inhale, & downward on the exhale. It is important to become aware of your whole breathing process from the nostrils the abdomen.

Yogi Breathing - The purpose of yogi breathing is to gain control of the breath, correct poor breathing habits and increase oxygen intake. It can be especially useful in situations of high stress, anger for calming the nerves. It can deepen natural breathing patterns.

The main task of this practice is to work from the abdomen & go upwards.

Again, you can sit in a comfortable position or in savasana.

Start by inhaling slowly & deeply into the stomach, allowing the abdomen to expand fully.

From the abdomen expansion, start to expand the chest outward & upward, working from the bottom of the lungs to the top. Sometimes having your hands on the rib cage can help to realise how much you are expanding.

When the ribs are fully expanded then inhale a little further into the upper part of the lungs around the base of the neck. Shoulders and collar bones should move slightly up., but the rest of the body should be relaxed.

This completes 1 inhalation which should be performed as smooth as possible in one continuous movement, where each phase of breathing merges into the next without obvious transition.

Now you start to exhale & repeating the same sequence from each part of the body. Taking it as slow & steady as possible.

Relax shoulders, neck & collar bones.

Allow the chest to contract downward & inward.

The diaphragm to be pushed upward and towards the chest.

Without strain try and empty as much of the lungs as possible before moving down to the abdomen.

Exhale the last bit of breath from the abdomen & slightly pull the abdominal wall near as possible to the spine.

The entire movement should be flowing gracefully. This completes one yogic breath. Should perform 5-10 rounds. This can be slowly increased to 10 minutes daily.

I really hoped you enjoyed this post, found it interesting, & have even learnt something new. All these practices have helped my mental, physical & emotional health which has benefited my CF life too. I perform some pranayama techniques & a short meditation each day, & I can already see changes in my own body.

I would love to know if you have CF & meditate, or have heard of pranayama before?

Those who don't have CF can of course benefit from everything I have written too. So maybe try them with friends, family or partners.

Stay tuned for two more blog posts soon on;

- Yoga Teacher Training courses, tips on what to bring & what to expect.

- How asanas (yoga poses) have proven to be a huge benefit to my CF life, sharing easy, step by step flows which are great for CFers, & speaking more about our energy systems in relation to Cystic Fibrosis.

Speak soon,


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In the meantime check out my other posts;

- Having a relationship with someone who has CF

- Living with an invisible illenss

- 12 Things you may not know about someone with CF

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