The Prince's Foundation The Prince's Foundation
Piping For Health, a new health programme, is launched at Dumfries House by The Prince's Foundation & The National Piping Centre, 11.10.23 (by Iain Brown) (6) (1)

Participants on world-first health programme by The King’s Foundation and The National Piping Centre report improvements in breathing issues by playing bagpipes

Participants of a world-first pilot health programme by The King’s Foundation and The National Piping Centre have reported that playing bagpipes and complementary therapies such as reflexology and mindfulness have caused a positive impact on their breathing issues.

The programme, Piping For Health, primarily accommodates people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a group of lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties. In-person weekly two-hour workshops have run at Dumfries House, the headquarters of The King's Foundation, in East Ayrshire, for the past six weeks.

A pilot programme has offered the first cohort of participants an introduction to playing the chanter and bagpipes, breathing techniques, chair yoga, hand reflexology, qi gong (a traditional Chinese wellness system), mindfulness and mindset work.

Karen Cairney is a 54-year-old former taxi driver (retired through ill-health) from Cumnock. To reach her front door in the Netherthird area of the town requires 28 steps from street-level, a journey that used to cause her to stop to catch breath at least twice but which she can now undertake without stopping. She said: “None of us make much music with the chanter yet! But getting together in a group and coming together with the same problem is really nice. I’ll say ‘I’m going to my piping class’ and my friends will say, ‘What? You can’t even blow up a balloon!’.”

Karen has lived long-term with symptoms of bronchiectasis and was diagnosed with the condition last year. She also suffers from a partially-deflated lung. “I get breathless dead quick," she said. "It can keep you up at night and cause panicking when you can’t breathe.

“I’ve learned a lot of new breathing exercises as well as reflexology, and I have been keeping them up and use them at home, particularly on a bad day. At this time of year, with the cold and dampness, I feel it particularly badly.”

Seventy-eight-year-old Lorna Ferguson from Ayr, who has COPD and experiences occasional breathing difficulties, has found breathing and relaxation exercises on the course have made her more mindful of how to breath and have caused an improvement in her condition.

Robert Taylor, 64, from Mauchline, says his catalogue of conditions over the years – including COPD, sepsis, and pneumonia – has caused significant lung damage. He said: “The programme has shown me more ways to think about breathing, which is often brought on by anxiety, which is normally caused by breathlessness. I didn’t know what the course was going to be like but I’m very thankful to everyone who has run it. When you play the chanter, take a slow breath in and blow out, it controls your breathing and you feel much better.” Robert, previously a very active person who retired from his job of 30 years as a lorry-driver due to ill-health, says he may purchase an instrument similar to the chanter to prolong the benefits of the programme in his spare time.

Ann Black, 57, from New Cumnock, presented with symptoms of COPD and has reduced her use of the blue ‘reliever’ inhaler since adopting the techniques and mind exercises taught on the programme. Like Robert, she remains keen on playing the chanter as a form of improving her breathing ability.

Some bagpipe players have reported playing the instrument can be beneficial to the cardiovascular system and can regulate breathing, increase lung capacity and lower blood pressure. Referrals for the pilot programme are being co-ordinated by East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership.

Fiona McManus, health and wellbeing co-ordinator at The King’s Foundation, said: “This new holistic approach is geared to help people live better with COPD. With The National Piping Centre and East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, we are delighted to pilot a unique healthcare programme introducing techniques based on bridging bagpiping and holistic therapies. The aim is to provide participants with a range of self-management tools to empower them to improve their overall health and wellbeing.”

The pilot programme was targeted at people with a diagnosis of moderate COPD.

The King’s Foundation espouses “People, Place and Planet – in harmony” in its charitable delivery, which includes health and wellbeing programmes that benefit nearly 2000 people each year. The work of the charity is inspired by His Majesty The King’s philosophy of harmony: that by understanding the balance, order and relationships between ourselves and the natural world we can create a more sustainable future. Its vision is for a world where we live in harmony with nature to improve the wellbeing of people and the planet.