Improve Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms in Children with Yoga

Improve Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms in Children with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“There are two main types of breathwork that are particularly helpful for people with Cystic Fibrosis that can either increase lung capacity or facilitate airway clearance. Any physical activity or breathing exercise that expands the chest, encourages full breath starting with the belly, and includes pauses will help increase lung capacity, whereas any activity or breathing exercise that encourages quick bursts of breath will help clear out the lungs.” – CharmedYogi


Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease caused by a recessive gene that is a mutation of the normal gene. It is generally diagnosed in early childhood. It is an incurable progressive disease that produces a “thick, buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria leading to infections, extensive lung damage and eventually, respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients.” (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation). The disease results in increasing difficulties with breathing.


The persistent lung infections in Cystic Fibrosis lead to a persistent cough, shortness of breath, pneumonia or bronchitis, stunted growth, constipation, poor sleep, and infertility in males. Cystic Fibrosis affects about 30,000 people in the U.S. With modern treatment with lung clearance, inhaled medicine, and pancreatic enzyme replacement, longevity with the disease has increased to about 40 years. Patients, however, suffer from declining health and quality of life over the course of the disease, including increasing anxiety and depression.


Exercise can be beneficial for Cystic Fibrosis patients. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation recommends that the exercise chosen is an enjoyable exercise that fits their schedule, connects them socially, and makes the heart and lungs, or bones and muscles stronger. Yoga practice perfectly fits this profile and has been shown to improve lung function in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In today’s Research News article “Yoga Therapy in Children with Cystic Fibrosis Decreases Immediate Anxiety and Joint Pain.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

McNamara and colleagues examine the ability of yoga practice to relieve the symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis in youths aged 7-21 years. They provided individual yoga instruction by certified instructors for 40 minutes in 6 sessions over 10 weeks and were encouraged to practice at home. They were measured before and 2 weeks after the 10-week period for Cystic Fibrosis symptoms, anxiety, depression, pain, sleep, and quality of life. They found that after the yoga intervention there was a significant decrease in anxiety levels and joint pain.


These results are interesting and fit with the general findings that yoga practice results in improvements in anxiety and improves joint function.  But, the improvements noted were small. In addition, there was no control condition in this pilot study. So, it is difficult to reach firm conclusions. The fact that the yoga training was confined to 6 individual sessions may not have been sufficient to produce significant benefits. In addition, the lack of a social component in the yoga practice may have limited its impact on quality of life. The results, though, are sufficiently encouraging to justify further research.


“Yoga as a complementary therapy may be a valuable option for patients with CF who are experiencing pain or anxiety related to their health, school, or social activities.” Christopher McNamara


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary

McNamara, C., Johnson, M., Read, L., Vander Velden, H., Thygeson, M., Liu, M., … McNamara, J. (2016). Yoga Therapy in Children with Cystic Fibrosis Decreases Immediate Anxiety and Joint Pain. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2016, 9429504.



This study was designed to determine whether yoga might alleviate symptoms of pain, sleep disturbance, anxiety, and depression in children with cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is the most common genetic, life-limiting chronic disease among Caucasian populations. It primarily affects the lungs but also many other secretory organs and consequently leads to significant morbidities. Research has shown that children with CF have significantly increased depression, anxiety, and pain compared to their healthy counterparts. Subjects participated in six one-on-one sessions over a 10-week period with a certified instructor who designed each yoga practice based on a preestablished list of 30 yoga asanas. Questionnaires evaluating pain, sleep disturbance, sustained anxiety, immediate anxiety, and depression were administered. Differences between premeasures and postmeasures were evaluated using a two-sided test. Twenty subjects were assessed (12 females/8 males), median age of 11 (7–20) years. Mean immediate anxiety scores decreased (before session to after session 29 to 23.6, respectively, p < 0.001). Joint pain improved (3.25 to 3.65, p = 0.028). CFQ-R emotion subscale improved from 79.2 to 85 (p = 0.073), and the respiratory subscale improved from 66.7 to 79.2 (p = 0.076). Other results were less notable. We conclude that yoga may reduce immediate anxiety and joint pain in patients with CF.