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  • Christina Hunt

The INs and OUTs of Breathing Techniques



Education on breathing techniques is one of the first things we cover in pulmonary rehab. It is a helpful foundation to educate my patients on especially if our goal in rehab is to increase strength and endurance by exercising the patient. Many people with lung conditions are often frightened of becoming short of breath and one way we combat this fear is by teaching breathing techniques that will assist them during the activity and will also help to shorten recovery time. Knowing that we can breathe easier during exercise and recover faster builds confidence not only in the exercise arena but in life as well. Employing the use of a breathing technique can also help to relax you during anxious and stress filled moments. As mammals we are naturally inclined to breathe with our mouths open or pant when we get out of breath. It will take conscious thought to employ the use of these breathing techniques if you plan to use them.


Pursed Lip Breathing

Blowing out through pursed lips increases a slight back pressure in the lungs (which we therapists call PEEP). This is the pressure that helps the tiny air sacs in our lungs remain open after exhalation (breathing out). This end exhalation pressure helps the lungs to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen which in turn helps a person breathe more effectively. (Okay, all done with the medical terms… but hopefully you get my drift.) So, how do you do it? You want to inhale (breathe in) through your nose like you are smelling roses. Then, exhale (breathe out) by puckering your lips and blowing out gently as if you are trying to extinguish a candle. Practice this technique when climbing stairs and purse lip breathe while taking each step. Use it with activity or just bending over to tie shoes. If you find this breathing technique is too difficult to do while exercising, try to use it every few breaths and increase your frequency as you get more comfortable with it!


Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing) is a breathing technique in which you use your abdominal muscles to help pull your diaphragm down to bring air into the lungs and push your diaphragm up helping to push the air in your lungs out. This breathing technique must be practiced in order for it to work for you and be effective in helping you recover from your breathlessness. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, take a deep breath in and push your abdominals out. When exhaling pull your abdominal muscles in and blow out gently. Exhaling generally should take 2-3 times as long as inhaling. If you are having trouble coordinating your abdominal muscles and your breathing, you can place your hand gently on your stomach to feel the rise and fall of your stomach. You can also practice this technique lying down and placing a light book on your stomach so you can see the rise and fall of the book.


Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a fairly simple way to help prevent air trapping and also to help prevent alveolar collapse. (There I go with those medical terms again.) Essentially taking large breaths in has been widely accepted to help with relaxation, oxygenation, and ventilation. To deep breathe, stand or sit up with your shoulders back. Take a large deep breath in through your nose and hold your breath for 2-5 seconds and then slowly exhale. You can perform this breathing technique in conjunction with another breathing technique you are doing or you can do it on its own periodically throughout the day to help breathe more comfortably.


Have you tried any of these breathing techniques? How has it helped you? Do you feel as if one of these breathing techniques is more helpful to your lung condition than others? Comment below. I would love to hear your experiences and thoughts!


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