That’s because the harder it is for you to breathe, the more apt you are to avoid physical activities that make you feel breathless. The less you do, the more likely your muscles will become even weaker, and the weaker you are the more breathless you become…and so on.
While you need to stay as active as possible within your doctor’s guidelines, you may also benefit from COPD breathing techniques. Two exercises are explained below:
Before starting these or any new techniques, you should talk with your doctor or healthcare provider. You may also want to ask for a demonstration and assistance as you learn to use these COPD breathing techniques effectively. And discuss with your medical team the duration and frequency that you should practice these COPD breathing exercises.
The two primary advantages of practicing enough to develop muscle memory and make these exercises second nature will be the:
- Development of stronger muscles in and around your respiratory system, and particularly the abdomen.
- Ability to call upon these COPD breathing techniques as needed when exercising or any time you feel short of breath.
Pursed-Lips Breathing Technique
Pursed-lips breathing is the easier of the two techniques. All you do is:
- Breathe in through your nose for about two seconds.
- Pucker your lips as though you are blowing out a candle.
- Breathe out slowly through pursed lips.
- Repeat and continue for five to ten minutes (if your doctor agrees).
The pursed-lips breathing technique helps slow down your breathing while keeping your airways open longer so you can expel more stale air trapped in your lungs. You’ll help improve the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, reduce the effort of breathing, and may increase duration of your exercise or physical activity.
Abdominal (Diaphragmatic) Breathing Technique
Although the diaphragm is the main muscle of breathing, many patients with COPD use the muscles in the neck, shoulders and back to push oxygen through lungs and airways. You may need to train your diaphragm. It’s a bit more difficult to master this breathing technique so talk with your COPD healthcare professional or physical therapist. Here’s the basic procedure:
- Lie down or sit back in a relaxed position.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your tummy.
- Inhale through your nose for about two seconds.
- As you breathe in, try to push your tummy out. At the same time, try not to move your chest. In this way, the hand on your tummy should move while the hand on your chest remains still.
- Breathe out slowly through pursed lips and gently press on your tummy to help push up on your diaphragm and expel as much air as possible.
- Repeat with duration and frequency recommended by your doctor.
- You can use controlled coughing to clear airways and lungs of mucus while doing your abdominal breathing.
Manage Shortness of Breath Using COPD Breathing Techniques
Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, can be frightening. First, try to stay calm. Then, take a series of steps to put your COPD breathing techniques into action:
- Stop all other activity.
- Sit with your back against the back of the chair while head and shoulders drop forward in a relaxed position. If you need to remain standing, place your back against a wall with feet slightly apart and a comfortable distance from the wall and again allow head and shoulders to drop into a relaxed position.
- Begin your pursed-lips breathing to get breathing under control.
- As you stop gasping and feel more in control, begin diaphragmatic breathing.
- Continue controlled breathing for 5 to 10 minutes or until you feel that you have caught your breath.
Practice these techniques until they become second nature. It may help you breathe more easily at critical moments.