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Breathing Retraining: Diaphragmatic Breathing

If you watch a baby sleep, you’ll see the baby’s stomach rise and fall with each breath. Babies naturally breathe with the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle under the lungs). With chronic lung disease, you may start using your accessory muscles (a combination of muscles in the chest, shoulders, and neck) instead. Using more muscles takes more effort and makes shortness of breath worse. You can and should learn to breathe with the diaphragm again. Because you’ll be using only one muscle to breathe instead of many, you’ll use less energy.

Step 1. Sit or lie on your back so you feel at ease. (At first, this technique may be easiest to do lying down.) Inhale slowly through your nose. Count to 2. As you inhale, your stomach should move out.

Trachea and lungs on diaphragm. Arrows show diaphragm moving down and air moving into lungs.Woman sitting back in chair with one hand on chest and other hand on abdomen. Arrow shows her inhaling through nose.

 

Step 2. Breathe out through pursed lips. Count to 4. As you exhale, you should feel your stomach move in.

Trachea and lungs on diaphragm. Arrows show diaphragm moving up and air moving out of lungs.Woman sitting back in chair with one hand on chest and other hand on abdomen. Arrow shows her exhaling through mouth.

Try This!

You can build strength in the diaphragm the same way you do in any muscle—by working against resistance. Once you’ve mastered diaphragmatic breathing, try a little weight training! Lie on the bed with a weight on your stomach and do a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing. Start with a lighter weight, such as a bag of dried beans. Work up to a heavier weight, such as a small bag of flour.

 

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 1/15/2007
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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