This post was my asthma column from MyAsthmaCentral.com on March 14, 2011: "Breathing Exercises to Control Asthma." You can also view the slideshow version by clicking here.
I remember the first time a respiratory therapist talked to me about the importance of breathing exercises to control my breathing. I was 11, and the year was 1981. Several years later, 2006 to be exact, a study was completed to confirm that breathing exercises really do help us asthmatics.
In fact, the study was completed in Australia and first reported inThorax, and showed that asthmatics who used their rescue inhalers regularly for mild asthma, and who performed breathing exercises on a regular basis, reduced their need for rescue inhaler use by 86 percent. Also, inhaled corticosteroid use dropped by 50 percent.
Likewise, the study confirmed that it does not matter what breathing exercises you do, all that matters is you do one or the other. Other evidence already confirmed, as the RT back in 1981 already knew, that breathing exercises during asthma episodes can help make breathing better.
How does the way we breath affect our asthma?
Experts now believe that asthmatics tend to breath faster than people with normal lungs, and many also have a tendency to be mouth breathers. This exposes the lung to cooler and drier air which is an asthma trigger. This results in increased need for rescue medicine.
So it only makes sence that breathing exercises that encourage shallow breathing at a controlled rate may actually reduce asthma symptoms and the need for rescue and preventative medicine.
What are good breathing exercises for asthmatics?
1. Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing): (Click here for video) This is what I was taught back in 1981, and what I was encouraged to teach in RT school. It's a basic and simple breathing technique that maximizes air distribution in your lungs.
- You can lie down or sit.
- Concentrate on your breathing
- Preferably you should breathe in slowly through your nose
- When you inhale your abdomen should go out (not your chest)
- Exhale slowly with your abdomen going inward
- Ideally exhalation should be twice as long as inhalation
- Sit upright, relax, focus on posture feet on floor with legs uncrossed
- Relax chest and belly muscles while breathing
- Focus, close your eyes and look up
- Breath through your nose gently (keep mouth closed)
- Breath slowly and shallow
- After exhaling slowly until you feel their is no air left in your lungs
- Hold your breath as long as you can and then return to gentle breathing (do not hold breath so long that you feel urge to inhale through mouth)
- Focus on good posture (sitting in firm chair with feet on floor, legs uncrossed with your back straight)
- Relax (Tense all muscles, and then relax, paying particular attention to muscles in shoulders and belly. This should release all tension) This makes breathing easier. This is rest position
- Concentrate on breathing (close eyes)
- Focus on breathing while relaxed in rest position
- Focus on breathing with shoulder rotation
- Focus on breathing with Forward curl
- Focus on breathing with arm raises
- Rest position with focus breathing can be done anywhere
5. Buteyko: According to the Mayo clinic this is a a breathing technique that teaches asthmatics to "habitually breathe less." Click here for the Buteyko website.
6. Papworth method: Similar to diaphragmatic breathing and Buteyko method. You can read more about it here.
These breathing exercises are believed to be beneficial to patients with mild asthma that is caused by rapid breathing and mouth breathing, and may not necessarily benefit those with more severe asthma, or those asthma episodes caused by other asthma triggers, such as colds and allergies.
There are other methods of controlling your asthma:
7. Pursed lip breathing: This can be used when you are having an asthma attack. Since asthma causes air to become trapped in your lungs, this may help you get more air out and may make breathing easier. This is where you inhale slowly through your nose and then exhale through pursed lips, or exhale slowly as though you were going to whistle. You should exhale twice as long as you inhale. This should be done while using diaphragmatic breathing as described above.
8. Progressive Relaxation Technique: This is a technique I was taught while I was a patient at National Jewish in 1985, and it works great. In fact, I think this works so great that I might dedicate an entire post to it some day.
- Lie down and close your eyes
- Concentrate on breathing through your nose
- Use Diaphragmatic breathing
- Tighten muscles of right foot and hold for 20-30 seconds, relax, feel tension release
- Do same for right upper leg, left foot, left upper leg, right hand and forearm, right shoulder, left hand and forearm, left shoulder, jaw area, mouth chin, and forehead.
- Continue to concentrate on your breathing this entire time.
- When done your body should feel "heavy and warm... weightless."
- Stay in relaxed state for as long as you want or need
9. Other: Work with your doctor and use whatever method that works for you.The recommendation of the researchers is that asthmatics incorporate breathing exercises to go along with asthma preventative medicine. The recommendation is first thing in morning, and last thing at night (the same as most asthma controller meds are taken).
Likewise breathing exercises should be incorporated into your asthma action plan. If you're feeling mild asthma symptoms slow down and concentrate on your breathing. Do this and you may find you won't need your rescue medicine.