Master Paalu was telling us about how yoga can be used to treat clinical diseases during one of our first theory lessons, to do this he used sleep apnea as an example. He inevitably brought up these sleep apnea mask-machine-devices that people with sleep apnea use to aid breathing. This particular part stuck of the lesson stuck with me because, once he mentioned the sleep apnea masks, the all too familiar comical image of my dad (hi dad) sleeping peacefully in his full face mask popped into my head – cue giggles. At that point, I decided that, if I’m going to become a certified Yoga instructor by the end of the course, I’m going try weaning my dad off his sleep apnea mask.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is when airflow is obstructed and breathing pauses during sleep. The condition is considered serious once the pauses last for more than 10 seconds and occurs more than 10 times an hour.
Sleep apnea symptoms include excessively (but are not limited to) loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and changes in mood.
Can Yoga cure Sleep Apnea?
Yoga may not be able to cure sleep apnea, but can help reduce the symptoms to some extent. Asanas and Pranayama that target the throat are generally used to help reduce symptoms as they improve muscle tone in the throat and air passages. The following two are a couple –
In Matyasana, the neck area lengthens and lightly squeezes the pharynx, forcing air to massage the throat with every inhale and exhale. The muscles of the neck and throat thus get stronger and can reduce possibility of collapsing during sleep.
Ujayji breathing (directly translated to hissing breathing)
Ujayi breathing is breathing that creates sounds of waves crashing the shore with every forcefull inhale and exhale. The sounds come from the throat by slightly contracting the neck muscles, squeezing the air passage slightly, to create a hissing or wave-like sound with every breath. Breathing is done through the nose.