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Breathing Exercises & Techniques

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This information was reviewed and approved by Russell P. Bowler, MD, PhD, Irina Petrache, MD (3/1/2021).

Learning new breathing techniques will help you move air into and out of your lungs.

It is helpful to use effective breathing techniques with exercise to minimize shortness of breath and assure adequate oxygen to your working muscles. These breathing exercises have the added benefit of helping you relax when you are anxious or stressed. Three types or breathing techniques are pursed lip breathing, coordinated breathing with exercise and diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is also sometimes called “belly breathing.”

Learn more about our pulmonary rehabilitation program.

Pursed Lip Breathing

The purpose of pursed lip breathing is to help keep your airways open. This helps your airways to remain open. Pursed lip breathing also slows down your breathing rate and calms you down.

Here are the steps for pursed lip breathing:

  • Inhale slowly through your nose with your mouth closed; try to take in a normal amount of air.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth with your lips in the whistling or kissing position.

  • Breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in.

Do not take in a large deep breath. Never try to force out the air.


 Pursed Lip Breathing 1
Inhale 1, 2
Pursed Lip Breathing 2
Exhale 1,2,3,4


Coordinated Breathing

The purpose of coordinated breathing is to help assure adequate oxygen to your working muscles and to prevent you from holding your breath.

Here are the steps for coordinated breathing.

  • Inhale through your nose before starting the exercise or activity.

  • Exhale through pursed lips during the most exerting part of the exercise or activity.

If coordinating your breathing with exercise is difficult, as you perform the movement, count out loud. This helps prevent you from holding your breath. If you become very short of breath, stop the exercise, use pursed lip breathing to help control your breathing, then start exercising again.


Diaphragmatic Breathing

The diaphragm is a major muscle used in breathing and is located beneath the lowest two ribs. At rest, the diaphragm muscle is bell shaped. During inspiration, it lowers and flattens out.

Optimizing the use of the diaphragm is beneficial because it pulls air into the lower lobes of the lungs where more gas exchange takes place. Not only is the diaphragm the most efficient of all respiratory muscles, but using it tends to be very relaxing and calming.

Here are the instructions for diaphragmatic breathing, also called “belly breathing.”:

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Relax your shoulders.

  • Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly.

  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. You should feel your belly moving out, and your chest should move very little.

  • Relax your stomach and breathe out slowly through your mouth. 

Practice these breathing techniques daily so they become routine. When you feel short of breath, anxious or just wound up, use these breathing techniques.

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