Breathing Techniques

COPD - Learning to Breathe More Efficiently Can Really Save Your Breath

You can retrain yourself in breathing to help your airways stay open longer as you breathe out. If you empty more of the old "stale" air out of your lungs, you will have more room for "fresh" air when you breathe in. This also takes less energy to get air in and out. 

The diaphragm is the main muscle for breathing and is located between the chest and the abdomen. The diaphragm moves down as you breathe in, making the chest size larger so that air can flow into the lungs. When you breathe out the diaphragm moves upward and reduces the chest size so that the air is pushed out of the lungs. 

Most people breathe using their diaphragm. Other people, because of certain lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD don't use their diaphragm to the fullest extent. Exercising the diaphragm can improve its function. Learning how is a part of re-teaching yourself to breathe.

Steps to Follow

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest.
  2. Relax your stomach muscles. Now inhale through your nose and feel your abdomen expand as your diaphragm contracts. You should be able to feel this movement with your hand. The chest hand should move very little or not at all. This type of breathing is often referred to as "diaphragmatic breathing."
  3. Exhale slowly through your mouth while pursing your lips (like whistling). This reduces the tendency for airways to collapse. While exhaling, tighten your abdominal muscles. This moves the diaphragm up and helps to get all the stale air out. You should be able to feel an inward movement of your abdomen with your hand.
  4. Try to make your exhalation twice as long as inhalation. To do this, try counting silently: Inhale 1, 2. Exhale 1,2,3,4.

While breathing in and out, keep the muscles in your chest and neck as relaxed as possible because using these muscles will increase tension and waste energy.

Pursed lip breathing creates back pressure on your airways and helps keep them open. This will allow more of the stale air in your lungs to get out and create room for fresh air to get in. You will be able to catch your breath faster and easier and will feel less short of breath.

Making It Work For You

The only way to retrain yourself to breathe is by practicing. Begin by going through the steps a few times an hour when you are relaxed. When you feel comfortable doing the exercises lying down, then begin practicing them while standing, walking, and sitting. You will find eventually these breathing exercises will decrease your episodes of shortness of breath. You will actually be able to do more activity.

Don't become discouraged and quit if breathing doesn't seem to be helping. Remember you are retraining your muscles and that takes time. The more you practice, the more natural and automatic it will become.


When you become tense or short of breath then slow down, concentrate, relax, and do your breathing retraining exercises. This will help you catch your breath.

Help Yourself

Coordinate diaphragmatic and pursed lip breathing with your activity.

  • When walking inhale for two steps, then exhale for four steps.
  • When walking up stairs, exhale as you step up, then inhale and rest before the next step.
  • Pushing or pulling should be done when exhaling.
  • Exhale while lifting.
  • Exhale when you move from lying to sitting.

Exhale when you move from sitting to standing.

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