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Exercises for Altitude Sickness

I am traveling with a group of students to Peru next month, and I have been asked if there are yoga breathing exercises to help avoid or deal with altitude sickness. Do you have any suggestions?


—Katie

Read Ana Forrest's response:

Dear Katie,

Altitude sickness is due to the decrease in available oxygen. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and insomnia.

Your students need to stay hydrated and do things that encourage the flow of oxygen throughout their bodies. Here are some tips:

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. You must drink water and stay hydrated.
  2. Increase the oxygen in your blood. Do pPranayama three times a day: 10 breaths when you first wake up, 10 at midday, and 10 before you go to bed.
  3. Do alternate-nostril breathing, but with fewer holds than usual.
  4. Practice kappalabhati, because it pumps up your oxygen level quickly. But do not use Ujjayi in this pranayama.
    • Do short, sharp exhales, with a relaxed minimal inhale after each exhale, for 75 to 100 pumps.
    • Then inhale deeply once, holding for as long as it is interesting.
    • Exhale, take a deep inhale, and do at least one more round of 75 to 100 pumps.
  5. When hiking, especially uphill, take short, strong inhales and exhales. Do not take the usual long yoga breaths. Keep your attention on your breath. For example, inhale for five counts and exhale for 10, or whatever numbers feel good to you.
  6. Do not eat too much at any one meal. Overeating will overload your system and make your digestion sluggish. Your body will then deplete itself during the night trying to digest all the food, and you'll feel tired and slow in the morning.
  7. Make sure not to go too long without food. Nibble along the way. Headaches can be caused by low blood sugar as well as lack of oxygen and hydration.
  8. Research herbal remedies for altitude sickness, being mindful of their strength and other effects.

Most of all, enjoy your journey and walk in Beauty.

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Reader Comments

Kelly

I'm a Wilderness EMT and yoga teacher. The most important thing to remember when venturing into higher than normal altitude areas is to recognize the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) such as those stated by Anna Forrest. Those symptoms must be resolved before someone ascends. If those symptoms are not resolved, climbing to even higher altitudes puts someone at risk for serious, potentially death causing altitude illnesses High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).

Safe Hiking!

Corrie

Here's another one too, even more interesting than the other.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17206440?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=1&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

and this is their conclusion...

"In conclusion, Caucasian subjects practicing yoga maintain a satisfactory oxygen transport at high altitude, with minimal increase in ventilation and with reduced hematological changes, resembling Himalayan natives. Respiratory adaptations induced by the practice of yoga may represent an efficient strategy to cope with altitude-induced hypoxia."

Corrie

This is funny, I love contrarians and paradoxes -that is everything right, and so harmonious too. I see the yoga who suggest research, but then doesn't do the research. lol. It's not hard to do an academic search to see what medical studies have been conducted on altitude and yogic breathing.

Here's one medical study regarding hypoxia, altitude, and yoga, the link is long so I hope it works...enjoy

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11393679?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=3&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

PS for those who don't want to read the article, here's my summary (I'm not a doctor or medical researcher). Tested western yogis against controls in a simulated altitude/oxygen environment. The study was small, but not insignificant and here is their formal conclusion..

"Well-performed slow yogic breathing maintains better blood oxygenation without increasing VE (i.e. seems to be a more efficient breathing) and reduces sympathetic activation during altitude-induced hypoxia."

Happy Climbing!

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