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).
Here's another one too, even more interesting than the other.
"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."
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
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."
My experience in my recent journey to Everest Base Camp (5200 masl) in Nepal is that I had my face, particularly around the eyes swelling when I got up after a night (with very little sleep) on the Base camp. I did one hour of Pranayam, anulom bilom combined with head and hands exercise, the swelling was significantly reduced and I felt fresh and mild headache during night was also gone.
I climbed Mt. Killamanjaro with my husband last year, and did a lot of research about altitude sickness before going. In our group was a doctor who was also up-to-date on the latest findings. I'm also a yoga teacher, and am very enthusiastic about pranayama for it's affects on the mind and concentration.
However, There is hardly anything that anyone can do to prevent altitude sickness, and the only real treatment is to return to a lower elevation. There is very little real research on how altitude sickenss actually comes about, and what combination of factors causes some people to experience problems and others no worries. And sometimes people will do OK on one trip and feel miserable the next.
The only proven technique is to acclimatize yourself before you go, and the only way to do that is to spend time at higher altitudes - going up and coming down in the lead up to your trip. In the case of Killi, people who take the short routes up and down the mountain have more than a 50% chance of not making it do to altitude sickness. The 9-day route that we took has about an 80% success rate. The difference is simply time.
Mountaineers climb high and sleep low in steps. Only with time will the body adjust to the different levels of oxygen per square inch. I'm a strong advocate of pranayama, but I truly don't believe that in this case it will make a difference b/c you need time at altitude for your body to adjust. Pranayama would be a quick fix, and in this case it wouldn't work. You can't force your body to make adjustments on a cellular level without prescription medication.
Another factor to consider is that if someone has strong headaches or more severe symptoms like vomiting, total loss of appetite - all things that don't seem to get better with time - the only thing to do is to go down. When people travel by air to high elevations (I've also been to Quito, Ecuador and experienced very mild altitude sickness), they often have little choice but to simply rest. People visiting these places should be encouraged to make the first day a rest day above all other advice.
I appreciate that yoga and pranayama do help people in a lot of situations, but I have to strongly disagree with the information provided in this article. Altitude sickness is serious and does kill many people each year, all things that could have been prevented if the person simply went lower. Suggesting that anything might cause relief when it isn't proven, in this case, could be a grave liability.
However, without illness, moving about at altitude is very difficult and feels extremely laborious. I agree with Ana that focusing on the breath while hiking is very beneficial, but not to alleviate altitude sickness. It helps immensely just to get through what feels like the most difficult physical challenge of your life.
Another symptom of altitude sickness not mentioned in the article is loss of appetite. I had to laugh at even the notion that you could overeat at altitude. We were encouraged to eat heartily while on the mountain, and we joked that we were going to come back fatter than we were before the start of the climb. And indeed, I was very grateful for the heat that my digestion created while I slept. It can be quite cold at altitude, even at locations along the equator.
As yoga professionals, we need to know when to say that yoga doesn't always provide the answers. We'll all be a more credible lot when we highlight the ways in which yoga does truly help. Most of the time, our advice about yoga wouldn't have the potential to literally kill someone, but in this case - a more carefully considered response would be more prudent.
This has to be explained medidcally to make it plausible. No oxygen means no oxygen no matter how much kapalabahti one does. Acclimating makes sense and that takes time. Flying into Lhasa from Beijing, for example, then going directly to Mt. Everest with a pranayama routine is quite simply, insane.
Kapalabhati works wonderfully.
One of the signs of a thin air is the tingling on the extremities. This sign goes away in ~2min of kapalabhati.