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Start Today to Breathe Easier by
Retraining Old Breathing Habits!

By Jane M. Martin, BA, CRT

Disclaimer: This information is not to be substituted for medical advice. Always consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise or technique. These breathing techniques should be demonstrated and taught by a pulmonary health care professional, and when beginning, should be practiced for a just a few minutes at a time, a few times a day. This is for your information only. Feel free to bring this information to your doctor and ask him or her if working with these breathing retraining techniques would be appropriate for you.

Relax Your Shoulders

Begin by relaxing your shoulders, and while still sitting up straight, letting them fall as low as you can. For people with chronic lung disease, it is very common to have a lot of upper body tension. You will not be able to do this breathing retraining effectively if your shoulders are raised and tense.

Pursed-lips Breathing

1. Inhale slowly through your nose.

2. Purse your lips as if you were going to whistle.

3. Breathe out slowly while keeping your lips pursed.

4. Take twice as long to breathe out as you do to breathe in. If you breathe in for two seconds, breathe out for four seconds.

5. Never force your air out. Just let it flow out through your pursed lips.

Pursed-lips breathing will help you:

  • Slow down your breathing
  • Get rid of more of the stale, trapped air, and carbon dioxide.
  • Be in control of your breathing, instead of your breathing controlling you!

Practice this when you are sitting still and relaxed, and then be sure to use this technique whenever you exert yourself. If you practice it, it will come naturally after a while.

Diaphragmatic (belly or abdominal) Breathing

Your diaphragm is a large, flat muscle just below your rib cage and above your abdomen (your belly). Your diaphragm was meant to do most of the work of breathing, but over time some people with lung disease tend to use the weaker muscles up around the collarbone and between the ribs. By using your diaphragm when you breathe, you help your lungs expand more fully so they take in more air with less effort.

Diaphragmatic Breathing is kind of hard to do. It takes practice, but it is worth it!

1. Relax your shoulders.

2. Put one hand on your abdomen.

3. Make your abdomen push out while you breathe in through your nose.

4. Breathe out using pursed-lips. As you do this, your belly should go in.

5. Practice this from time to time throughout the day and it will become automatic.

Accessory Muscle Breathing

Now, this is something you should not be doing, but it is important to know what it is, because you have probably done it. Accessory muscles are the muscles up around your collarbone, and your neck, and between your ribs. Using these muscles to breathe takes a lot of energy and can make you sore and tense in your shoulders and back.

Go for maximum efficiency and try your best to relax your shoulders and use your diaphragm. Once you catch on, you will breathe easier and be less tired. And you will also have a tool to help you relax and get through anxious episodes. Once you know this trick and are breathing more easily, you will no doubt be able to spot people who are struggling to breathe by using their accessory muscles.

Please - be careful of breathing methods you may hear about in magazines or on the internet. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Once again, always consult with your doctor about starting any new exercises or techniques to improve your health.

© Jane M. Martin, 2005

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