How Does Yoga Enhance Lung Capacity for Runners

Running and yoga may seem like two very different activities, but they share an essential element: the breath. When running, proper breathing enhances performance, aids in pace regulation, and can even help prevent side stitches. In yoga, breath, or “prana,” the life force guiding every posture, or “asana.” For runners, yoga offers an opportunity to deepen and control breathing, thereby increasing lung capacity, a critical factor in endurance and performance. In this post, we will look at how does yoga enhance lung capacity for runners.

What is Lung Capacity

Lung capacity refers to the total air your lungs can hold. More air means more oxygen available for muscles engaged in running. As a result, runners with higher lung capacity can often run longer distances with less fatigue.

What is the Role of Yoga in Enhancing Lung Capacity

Yoga, particularly the practice of pranayama or breath control, offers various techniques that can improve lung capacity. Yoga helps to strengthen the diaphragm, increase oxygen intake and efficiency, and trains your body to maintain deep and controlled breathing, not just during yoga practice but in other activities such as running.

Which Yoga Practices Enhance Lung Capacity

Yoga practice enhances lung capacity in two ways – breathing and yoga poses.

Breathing Techniques

Anulom Vilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Anulom Vilom, also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, is a traditional yogic breathing technique often practiced as part of pranayama or breath control. The method balances the energies in the body and calms the mind, but it also has physical benefits such as enhancing lung capacity and improving respiratory health.

To practice Anulom Vilom, begin by sitting comfortably with a straight spine, either on the floor or in a chair. Then, close your eyes and take a few deep, calming breaths.

Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril. At the end of the inhalation, close the left nostril with your right ring finger, release the thumb from the right nostril, and exhale slowly through the right nostril.

Next, inhale through the right nostril, close the right nostril with your thumb, release your ring finger from the left nostril, and exhale through the left nostril.

This completes one round of Anulom Vilom. You can continue this alternating pattern of breathing for several minutes. Keeping the breath slow, smooth, and controlled throughout the practice is recommended.

This practice is often recommended for its stress-relieving benefits and ability to balance the body’s energy levels. However, it’s also beneficial for respiratory health, as it encourages full utilization of the lungs and can help to clear any blockages in the nasal passages.

This technique involves inhaling through one nostril, holding the breath, and exhaling through the other. It’s an excellent practice for lung and respiratory health, improving circulation and reducing stress.

Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath)

Kapalabhati Pranayama, also known as the Skull Shining Breath, is a traditional yogic breathing technique often used to clean and energize the body.

To practice Kapalabhati Pranayama, sit comfortably with a straight spine. Then, begin with a few deep, slow-breathing rounds to center yourself. Once you are ready, start the practice by taking a medium-length inhalation and then quickly and forcefully exhaling through your nose, drawing your navel towards your spine.

The force of the exhalation will naturally draw in a new breath, so there’s no need to focus on inhaling. The inhalation is passive and automatic, while the focus is on forceful exhalation.

This technique consists of rapid, forceful exhalations followed by automatic inhalations. Start with a round of 10-20 breaths, then let your breath return to normal and observe the sensations in your body. With practice, you can gradually increase the number of breaths per round.

Kapalabhati Pranayama is said to clear the respiratory system, improve circulation, energize the body and the mind, and enhance digestion. It’s also often used as a warming-up exercise before a yoga session to prepare the body for other pranayama or asana practices.

While Kapalabhati can be a powerful technique, it’s unsuitable for everyone. Pregnant people, those with high blood pressure, or anyone with a medical condition affecting the heart or lungs should avoid this practice or consult a healthcare professional before starting.

A rapid breathing technique where you focus on forceful exhales and passive inhales. This technique can clear the respiratory tract and improve lung capacity.

Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath)

Bhastrika Pranayama, also known as Bellows Breath, is a breathing technique in yoga where both inhalation and exhalation are forced. The technique gets its name from a blacksmith’s bellows, a device used to generate a strong flow of air.

To practice Bhastrika Pranayama, sit comfortably with a straight spine. Start with a few rounds of deep, calm breaths. When you are ready, take a deep, forceful inhale through your nostrils, filling your lungs with air. Immediately follow this with a forceful exhale through the nostrils, expelling all the air from your lungs. Your breaths in this technique should be loud and strong, like the gust of wind from a bellow.

Repeat this for several rounds, keeping the inhales and exhales equal in duration. For example, you might start with 10 rounds and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the practice. After a round of Bhastrika Pranayama, return to normal breathing and observe the effects on your body and mind.

Bhastrika Pranayama is considered a warming breath because it generates heat in the body. It’s believed to purify the body by eliminating toxins, increase blood circulation, enhance lung capacity, and invigorate the nervous system.

While Bhastrika Pranayama can be a powerful practice, it’s not suitable for everyone. Those with high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, gastric ulcers, or epilepsy should avoid this technique. Also, avoid practicing Bhastrika Pranayama if you are pregnant.

This breathing technique involves a series of forceful inhales and exhales. It can help to increase your lung capacity by enhancing the elasticity of your lungs and strengthening your diaphragm.

Yoga Poses

Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana in Sanskrit, is a common backbend pose that strengthens the back muscles and opens the chest and heart. It’s often used as a counterpose to core and forward-bending asanas.

To perform Bridge Pose, lie on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-distance apart, and heels close to your buttocks. Keep your arms at your sides, palms facing down.

Press your feet and arms into the floor on an inhale and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Roll your shoulders under your body and, if comfortable, interlace your fingers beneath your hips. Keep your thighs and feet parallel – resist letting your knees splay to the sides.

Keep your head and neck relaxed on the floor, and gaze straight towards the ceiling.

Hold the pose for a few breaths, then slowly lower your hips back to the floor on an exhale.

Bridge Pose is beneficial for improving digestion, reducing backache, calming the brain, and reducing anxiety. It’s also known to open up the lungs, potentially increasing your lung capacity and making breathing easier.

This pose opens up the chest and lungs, making more space for the breath.

Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose, or Bhujangasana in Sanskrit, is a beginner-friendly backbend that strengthens the spine, stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders, and abdomen, and can help to alleviate stress and fatigue.

To perform Cobra Pose, lay prone on your yoga mat with your legs extended behind, the tops of the feet resting on the mat. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, fingers pointing towards the front of the mat. Keep your elbows close to your body.

Press your palms into the mat on an inhale and slowly lift your head, chest, and abdomen off the floor. Keep a slight bend in your elbows and roll your shoulders back and down, away from your ears, to open the chest and avoid straining the neck.

Press the tops of your feet, thighs, and pelvis into the floor. Lift your chest towards the ceiling, but be careful not to over-extend your lower back. Depending on your neck comfort, your gaze should be straight ahead or slightly upwards.

Cobra Pose is often used as a starting point for deeper backbends. It’s also a vital part of the Sun Salutation sequence.

Cobra Pose opens the chest and strengthens the diaphragm, improving breathing and lung capacity.

Upward-Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit, is a back-bending yoga pose that strengthens the upper body while opening the chest and lungs. It’s often included in vinyasa sequences, such as Sun Salutations.

To perform this pose, lay flat on your stomach with the tops of your feet on the mat. Place your hands next to your lower ribs, fingers spread wide, and press the palms into the mat. On an inhale, straighten your arms and lift your torso, hips, and thighs off the mat.

Your shoulders should be over your wrists, but not leaning forward. Instead, roll your shoulders back and down, away from your ears, to open the chest. Keep your neck neutral, gaze straight ahead or slightly upward, but be careful not to overstrain your neck.

Engage your leg muscles and push the tops of your feet into the mat. Your weight should be distributed evenly between your palms and the tops of your feet.

This pose improves posture, strengthens the spine, and stimulates abdominal organs. It also stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders, and abdomen, aiding in the relief of mild depression, fatigue, and sciatica.

Integrating Yoga Practices into Running Training

Regularly practicing these yoga techniques can significantly improve your lung capacity and running performance. Begin your day with a few minutes of pranayama, practice the poses after your runs, or include them in your cross-training days. Over time, you may notice improved breath control and endurance during your runs.


Yoga offers runners a treasure trove of benefits, particularly enhanced lung capacity and improved respiratory efficiency. In addition, by incorporating regular pranayama and specific asanas into your training regimen, your running performance may reach new heights.

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