How often do you focus on your breathing? When you’re nervous, you may take quick and shallow breaths. When you’re exasperated or relieved, you let out a sigh. Are you one of the millions of Americans who have adopted yoga and meditation for self-care? You may know some deep breathing techniques to calm your nerves and put your mind at ease. But you might not have known there is a “right” and “wrong” way to breathe. According to the American Lung Association, there is.
Keep It Simple
The human body breathes by design. Breathing is a basic human function. Your body knows when you breathe the right way. That is to say, it feels right and your body knows it.
Nose Versus Mouth Breathing
Breathing through your nose has many benefits. In fact, it is better than breathing through your mouth. Nose-breathing filters, warms, and humidifies the air. This is especially true in very cold and dry climates. Hence, nose breathing is the recommended way to breathe.
Of course, there are circumstances in which you must breathe through your mouth. Such as after intense exercise or physical exertion. Or when you have a stuffy nose. That’s fine for a little while. But, try to return to nose-breathing as soon as you can.
Your diaphragm is a major muscle that sits right above your stomach. The muscles that make up the diaphragm are essential to the breathing process. Proper breathing is deep breathing. In other words, it is when the breath comes in through the nose and moves downward. Thus, filling the stomach with air. As your diaphragm contracts, your belly expands, and your lungs fill with air. Mark Courtney is a respected respiratory therapist. On the Lung.org website he says, “It is the most efficient way to breathe, as it pulls down on the lungs. Creating negative pressure in the chest, resulting in air flowing to your lungs.”
Your Lungs with Lung Disease
Your lungs are muscles which spring back with every breath. When you exhale out the old air, the muscles jump into action and expand. Next, they begin filling with new air that brings oxygen to your blood. “Over time, though, with asthma and especially with COPD, our lungs lose that springiness. They don’t return to the same level as when you start breathing, and the air gets trapped in our lungs,” Courtney explains.
When stale air accumulates in the lungs, it leaves less room for the diaphragm to contract. Thus leaving it without the ability to bring in fresh oxygen. An impaired diaphragm causes the other muscles in the back, neck, and chest to try and breathe deeper. Not only is this difficult on a physical level. But it leaves you with fewer reserves of oxygen for exercise and activity.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, there are solutions to help. The breathing exercises described below rid the lungs of stale air. This allows for the diaphragm to function better. Further, it provides an increase in oxygen level. Which brings much needed relief to your tired muscles.
Breathing Exercises for Healthy People and
Those with Lung Disease
The American Lung Association considers there to be two most useful breathing exercises. The first is “belly breathing.” And the second, is “pursed lip breathing.” The exercises are great for everyone. But, are especially helpful to people with lung diseases such as asthma and COPD.
Pursed Lip Breathing
A simple way to practice this breathing exercise is to take a deep breath through your nose. Next, exhale for twice as long through your mouth. All the while keeping your lips pursed. The exercise is good for you because it decreases the number of breaths you take. In other words, your airways stay open for longer periods of time. With more air flowing in and out of your lungs, you can exert more energy.
Belly Breathing/Diaphragmatic Breathing
This breathing exercise has you place your hands on your belly. Hence, allowing you to feel it fill up with air when you inhale. Also, you will feel it empty when you exhale. Take a deep breath in. Do you feel your belly rise with your hands? Next, exhale for at least two-to-three times as long. Do you feel your belly fall?
An important step in this exercise is to relax your neck and shoulders. Because you are restraining your diaphragm, this is important. In other words, you are letting other muscles do the work.
When to Practice Good Breathing
The ideal practice would be to start these exercises when you are not short of breath. Although they seem simple, this is deceptive. Breathing exercises take time to master. So, take a few minutes any time you can remember to practice breathing well. It will come in handy when you are short of breath and need the relief.
Dr. Mayank Shukla
Dr. Mayank Shukla is a premier asthma, allergy, and sleep specialist in New York. As an asthma and allergy specialist, he treats over 5,000 asthma patients per year in the New York City area. His patients include both children and adults. Are you or your child suffering from asthma, allergies, or sleep disorders? If so, please contact Dr. Shukla today. Help is here!