Over time with respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD, our lungs lose their ability to stretch and recoil. They don’t return to the same level as when you started your breath, and air gets trapped in our lungs. That leaves less room for the diaphragm to contract. When the diaphragm is not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels in the body and less reserve for regular daily activities and exercise. If practiced regularly you may be able to increase your oxygen levels and re-condition the diaphragm to do its job of helping you breathe.
Pursed lip breathing: This exercise reduces the number of breaths you take and keeps your airways open longer. You are able to move air more easily in and out of your lungs so you can become more physically active. To practice it, simply breathe in through your nose and breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth, with pursed lips, like you’re blowing a kiss.
Belly Breathing: As with pursed lip breathing, start by breathing in through your nose. Pay attention to how your belly fills up with air. You can put your hands lightly on your stomach, so you can be aware of your belly rising and falling. Breathe out through your mouth at least two to three times as long as your inhale. Be sure to relax your neck and shoulders as you retrain your diaphragm to take on the work of helping to fill and empty your lungs.
While these two exercises seem simple, it will take time and practice to master them. In the beginning, only try them when you’re not experiencing shortness of breath. After you have mastered the technique, you can use them to help your breathing when you experience shortness of breath. Practicing 5-10 minutes a day can help your breathing in a very short time.
As always, check with your physician before you start any exercise program, even breathing exercises.