When taking a deep breath in, it is a common mistake that people lift their shoulders and expand their chest to do so. This method is not efficient and if done repeatedly would result in feelings of anxiousness especially if you were in a situation where you were finding it difficult to breathe such as with asthma or if you had a lung infection. The more natural and efficient breathing technique would result in the expansion of your abdomen on inhalation. This would indicate the diaphragm is lowering to help the expansion of the lungs downward to fill with air. Conversely, the stomach would move back inward when exhaling, and no movement of the shoulders or chest would occur.
There are two techniques that can help you get the air you need without working so hard. Pursed lips breathing and diaphragmatic (also called belly or abdominal) breathing. Pursed lips breathing helps you focus, slow your breathing down and stay calm.
Pursed lips breathing should be used during and after exercise. It should be used with any activity that makes you feel short of breath. Here is how to do it:
- Breathe in through your nose (as if you are smelling something) for about 2 seconds.
- Pucker your lips like you are getting ready to blow out candles on a birthday cake.
- Breathe out very slowly through pursed lips, two to three times longer than you breathed in.
This will slow your breathing down, keep your airways open so your lungs can get rid of stale trapped air, reduces the work of breathing, increases the amount of time you can exercise or perform an activity, and improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Diaphragmatic breathing is best tried for the first time while lying down and feeling rested. Here is how to do it:
- Place one hand on your abdomen. Place one hand on your upper chest.
- Focus your breathing on your abdomen.
- As you breathe in, the hand on your abdomen should rise.
- As you breathe out, the hand on your abdomen should lower.
- Breathe in through the nose. Breathe out slowly through pursed lips.
- Practice this 2-3 times a day for 5-10 minutes. Start by doing it while lying on your back. Then try it while sitting. Then try it while standing. Finally, try it while doing an activity.
Gradually you will be more comfortable and feelings of shortness of breath will improve. You can try it with stair climbing, long walks, or any other activity.
Breathing fitness trainers
There are many advertised devices in the marketplace claiming to help you improve the respiratory muscles and lung function with their use. Most of them offer resistance during both the inspiratory and expiratory phases of breathing. This could result in the failure of not bringing in enough air on the inspiratory end or even worse, failing to eliminate all the carbon dioxide on the expiratory phase. This retention of carbon dioxide in the lungs is not healthy for us and would keep stale air in the lungs preventing full inhalation on the next inspiration phase.
There are only two trainers that I am aware of that separates the work done on inspiration and expiration. One was invented by Bas Rutten called the O2 Trainer. Rutten is a retired mixed martial artist champion with a very accomplished career as a fighter. Rutten was elected to the MMA Hall of Fame in 2015. As a young boy growing up in Holland he suffered terribly from asthma but he noticed that after staying home from school periodically with difficulty breathing due to his asthma condition, he would return to school and his track running races with improved speed and personal best times. He did not understand why until he went to his doctor and saw charts of how the bronchial tube inflammation from asthma was forcing his lungs and surrounding muscles to work harder. He realized if there was a product to make it harder to pull air in, you could strengthen the muscles to aid in breathing. He also realized that by focusing on the resistance solely on the inspiration phase of breathing this would not only help asthma patients like himself with expiratory breathing but anyone who was training like he was for improved athletic performance. The second trainer is Power Breathe invented by Professor Alison McConnell a research scientist who has been studying lung fatigue in the elderly and athletes for many years. She says that by age 60 we can lose between 30-40% of our lung inspiratory strength. Both trainers sell in the 50-75-dollar range.
The O2 Trainer
This is the device Bas Rutten developed. It has varying sized attachments that progressively put a smaller opening on the inspiratory breathing end of the device.