You may have heard of breathing exercises for singers or swimmers, but did you know that specific breathing exercises can help you overcome respiratory diseases? Training your lungs to cope with the difficulties posed by asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is an everyday challenge, but with time and dedication you can regain control of your breathing and your life.
In healthy lungs, your diaphragm performs about 80% of the work required to fill the lungs with fresh oxygen, while expelling waste. As lungs atrophy with respiratory disease such as asthma and COPD, stale air compiles in the lungs, restricting the diaphragm’s capacity to contract fully in order to take in fresh oxygen. With the diaphragm handicapped, the body strains other muscles such as those in the neck and chest to assist in breathing. These combined difficulties result in lower oxygen levels, and less oxygen available for physical activity.
A regimen of prescribed breathing exercises can strengthen the lungs, enabling them to increase oxygen levels and rehabilitate the diaphragm to regain its full capacity.
Breathing Exercises for Asthma and COPD
Scientists have found that asthma patients not only tend to breathe faster than their non-asthmatic counterparts, but that they also tend to breathe through the mouth. These result in the intake of cooler and drier air, which may trigger asthma symptoms. Therefore, breathing exercises which focus on controlled, shallow breaths are encouraged to prevent asthma flare-ups.
Breathing exercises can also help combat the impact of COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Butekyo focuses on learning breath control through consciously reducing either breathing rate or breathing volume. While sitting upright, relax the chest and abdominal muscles. Inhale slowly through the nose, taking shallow breaths. Exhale steadily until your lungs are emptied. Try to hold your breath for as long as you can manage, before returning to shallow breathing. A goal of Butekyo breathing is to try to maximize the amount of time you can last before taking another breath.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly-breathing, is a technique which starts with inhaling deeply through the nose, focusing on how the belly rises and expands as it fills with air. Exhale through the mouth for at least twice as long as you inhaled. Keep your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed, letting your diaphragm take control of the process.
Pursed Lip Breathing
The pursed lip breathing technique requires inhaling through the nose, then exhaling twice as long through pursed lips. This aims to minimize the number of breaths you take while keeping your airways open for a longer period of time. This enables more oxygen to pass through the lungs, leaving the body better equipped for physical activity.
The Papworth Method is most beneficial to asthmatics whose attacks are linked to their mouth breathing or rapid breathing. This method involves shallow, diaphragmatic breathing, with a conscious effort to tailor your breathing pattern to fit the needs of your physical activity. The objective is to remain aware of your breathing technique and adjust your breathing patterns to match the demands of the occasion.
Progressive Relaxation Technique
The progressive relaxation technique allows asthma patients to steady their breathing by taking shallow, mindful breaths through the nose. Focus on your breathing pattern while using the diaphragmatic breathing technique. As you mind your breathing, flex a muscle and hold it for 30 seconds, savoring the tension that leaves as you release. Repeat with each muscle group in the body. Enjoy the warmth gradually spreading throughout your body until you have reached a state of total relaxation.
Breathing Exercises for Respiratory Diseases or Infection
Congestion and coughing can make breathing labored during respiratory infection. Try these exercises to clear your lungs and give your body the oxygen it needs to recover.
Catch Your Breath
Respiratory infections can leave you breathless and fatigued due to intense nasal congestion. Fortunately, there are better positions you can take to improve your airflow. Sit with your back straight against a hard surface, with your shoulders and head rolled forward, facing downwards. Breathe slowly through your nose and mouth, drawing out your breath slightly longer than usual. Avoid breathing too deeply, as this may instead trigger a cough.
Coughing fits are among the most irritating, painful, and persistent parts of respiratory diseases/illnesses. Controlled coughing allows you to dislodge mucus in your lungs on your own terms, preventing a coughing fit before it hits. Sit with your head leaned forward and both feet planted firmly on the ground. Inhale deeply, and hold the breath for three seconds. With your mouth open, cough forcibly two times into a tissue: the first cough should dislodge any mucus as your diaphragm rises, and the second should expel the mucus from the throat.
Schedule a Consultation with Dr. Shukla
Schedule a consultation with trusted pulmonologist Dr. Mayank Shukla at the Asthma Allergy Sleep Center of New York to begin breathing better today.