Breathing exercises


Breathing exercises are consciously performed breathing techniques to train the respiratory muscles. The exercises are performed in different positions and contain different elements, such as: B. targeted breathing through the mouth and prolonged exhalation.
This is particularly useful if you have difficulty breathing. Here breathing exercises can help to reduce the shortage of breath. Better oxygen circulation is achieved. Breathing exercises can also be used to reduce stress or to prepare the expectant mother for childbirth.

Breathing exercises for relaxation

Breathing exercises for relaxation are part of many psychotherapeutic approaches as well as part of self-help programs. Breathing also plays an important role in meditation.

When you are physically or emotionally stressed, it often happens that you unconsciously train yourself to breathe incorrectly and inefficiently. This can lead to an inadequate supply of oxygen to the body. To compensate, you breathe shallower and faster (Hyperventilation), which puts additional stress on the body.

However, if you consciously influence your breathing, this can have a positive effect on physical and emotional factors. There are various breathing exercises for relaxation, but the basic principle remains the same:

  • You close your eyes and focus entirely on your breathing.
  • It is inhaled through the nose and exhaled through the mouth.
  • Breathing should be as deep and slow as possible. Often the length of breaths is controlled by slowly counting up to a certain number.
  • A classic exercise is trying to exhale for twice as long as you inhaled.

Read more on the topic: Breathing exercises to relax

Exercise 1: abdominal breathing

For the first breathing exercise for relaxation, it is best to sit straight against a chair, with your head tilted slightly downwards, while your shoulders are relaxed. It's best to concentrate on a point on the ground in front of you. This keeps the head fixed and the shoulders relax. The hands can either be placed relaxed on the thighs or placed on the stomach. This makes it easier to control whether you are breathing deeply into your stomach.

If you have taken the correct position, you should now concentrate on breathing. Inhalation is through the nose. Care should be taken to breathe deeply into the stomach and not just superficially into the chest. If you put your hands on your stomach, you can feel the stomach bulge forward. When inhaling, you should count from 1 to 3 in your head. The exhalation is then also for 3 seconds, but not through the nose but through the slightly parted lips.

If you do not feel short of breath, you should try to inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. If this is not a problem either, the process can be extended by an additional second. In general, you always have to pay close attention to your breathing and your body and only increase the intervals slowly. After a week of training, however, it may well be possible that inhaling and exhaling each take 10 seconds, which leads to a significant reduction in stress.

More on this: Abdominal breathing

Exercise 2: count to 5

Another breathing exercise for relaxation can also be done while sitting. However, the head should be tilted slightly upwards. It is best to fix a point on the ceiling. Here again it is important that the back is straight and the shoulders are relaxed.

Now inhale through the nose for about 5 seconds and exhale through the nose for 5 seconds. If you do not feel short of breath, the number of seconds can be increased.

The aim is that you only need 3-4 breaths per minute to supply the body with sufficient oxygen. This breathing exercise for relaxation works very quickly and can also help depressed or anxious patients to better control their emotions through breathing.

Exercise 3: raise your arms

The next breathing exercise for relaxation can also be done in the office, for example during the lunch break.
You should press yourself against the office chair with your back straight. As you inhale, your arms should go straight up and straight up. As you exhale, slowly lower your arms again, with your hands resting on your stomach.

Only when the impulse to breathe in comes again, you breathe in again and the arms are taken up again. This exercise should be done 2-4 times. It is particularly important to breathe abdominally as deeply and evenly as possible. Overall, you can do the breathing exercises in between to relax. The advantage of breathing exercises is that they not only lead to relaxation, but are also proven to improve sleep and relieve the heart. Short breathing exercises are therefore very worthwhile and can be easily integrated into everyday life.

Breathing exercises against stress

With simple breathing techniques or special yoga exercises you can learn to calm your body and mind and thus to reduce stress. The trigger for this is the conscious concentration on the breathing and the conscious control of the breaths, which normally take place without our noticing.

By focusing on breathing, the patient can no longer deal with the stress that surrounds him. The concentration itself is also improved through breathing exercises. In high-performance sport, these exercises are an important training unit, as targeted and conscious breathing increases athletic performance. Singers and musicians also need to practice proper breathing on a regular basis.

Read more about this under: Abdominal breathing

As a breathing exercise against stress, an exercise with prolonged exhalation is very suitable. It is important to consciously pay attention to your breathing and your own body, to feel the breathing and to watch how your chest or stomach rise and fall. This exercise is easiest if you mentally count the seconds, counting to 4 when inhaling and to 6 when exhaling. The exercise should be carried out for several minutes in order to get into the rhythm and to use the exercise effectively.

This exercise can also be extended to relieve tension in the shoulder and neck area, which are common with stress. An upright and relaxed stance is important for this; when breathing, care should be taken to keep the shoulders relaxed and, if necessary, to pull them down a little. The relaxation can then be supported by additional shoulder circles. It is best to repeat this exercise several times a day.

Find out more: Stress relief

Breathing exercise for calming

Breathing exercises are also used in the area of ​​calming down when excited. A very classic and well-known example is taking three deep breaths before reacting to an annoyance.

It is possible to lower body functions that change during stress, such as increased blood pressure or pulse, with the help of forced calm breathing. Again, it is advisable to close your eyes so that you can fully focus on your breathing. Ideally, you should always inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. There should be pauses of about 2 seconds between breaths. This is also helpful to prevent hyperventilation, especially in the event of emotional excitement.

If you feel tense, the breathing exercise “sighing” can help: you breathe in through your nose, hold your breath and then exhale with a loud sigh. Alternatively, you can try to hold the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation, for example you can count to 5 while inhaling and then counting to 10 while exhaling at the same speed.

Basically, it goes without saying that this breathing should not cause you any trouble. Shortness of breath is not conducive to calming down and every breathing exercise must be adapted to you as an individual.

Breathing exercises for a panic attack

In the case of an acute panic attack, breathing is often shortened and insufficient, which is why calming breathing exercises can help very quickly.

A simple exercise to calm down involves inhaling deeper than usual and then exhaling again immediately.This means that the air should not be held, but inhaling and exhaling is a fluid movement.

After exhaling, hold your breath for a few seconds, it helps to count slowly in front of you. This is followed by another deep inhalation and a subsequent exhalation in a fluid movement without a break. The respite always comes after a breath. This exercise should be repeated for a few minutes until the body has calmed down.

In another exercise, the ubiquitous panic can also be reduced by targeted inhalation of the air through the nose into the abdomen and then exhalation through the mouth. It is important that the exercise is carried out slowly and evenly.

A panic attack usually also leads to hyperventilation. You breathe far too quickly and far too deeply, so that too much CO2 is exhaled and too much oxygen is absorbed. Due to the low CO2 saturation in the blood, the blood vessels in the brain constrict and it can even lead to fainting spells.

The solution is to raise the CO2 level again by breathing into a bag. This inhales the exhaled air enriched with CO2 again.
An alternative is to hold your breath because the carbon dioxide saturation rises again.

Find out more belowr: panic attack

Breathing exercises at birth

Many pregnant women attend antenatal classes during pregnancy. In such courses, the woman learns to deal with various pregnancy complications and prepares herself physically and mentally for the upcoming birth. Among other things, the expectant mother learns certain breathing exercises for childbirth. Targeted breathing should help the woman to distract herself from labor pains, thereby reducing them and also relaxing the muscles. In addition, deep and targeted breathing helps to provide sufficient oxygen for the child.

  • One of the most important breathing exercises for childbirth is deep, regular inhalation through your nose. The mother-to-be should not panic or start gasping. This is why practicing nasal breathing is extremely helpful. It is important, however, that the woman only breathes through her nose while inhaling.
    The exhalation then occurs through the lips, which are loosely on top of one another. Since labor can cause severe pain during delivery, it is often very difficult to breathe out easily. The pregnant woman can try to control her exhalation with a spoken "A" or a "Yes".
  • Another breathing exercise for childbirth is to breathe regularly and with as much concentration as possible and not hold your breath in between. During a squeeze, the woman will have to hold her breath briefly. Nevertheless, regular breathing should be practiced over and over again. Various examples can help you perform the breathing techniques during childbirth. During the birth, the pregnant woman can imagine having to inflate a balloon. To do this, you have to inhale deeply and evenly through your nose into your stomach.
  • The so-called railroad exercise helps when exhaling. The mother should always exhale on “ch, ch, ch” in order to suppress the urge to press. If it is then so far that the cervix opens wide and the baby's head can be seen, the pregnant woman should no longer support the pressure.
  • The hacking exercise can be performed. You should pant like a dog in order to reduce the pressure and not to push yourself. Aids to practicing deep and even breathing are blowing soap bubbles, filling balloons, or swimming. Which breathing exercise is best for childbirth depends on the woman individually.

You can also read our articles on this:

  • Breathing at birth
  • How can you relieve birth pains?

Breathing exercises during labor

Breathing exercises can be very supportive during labor. It is important to keep calm in this stressful situation and to concentrate on yourself and your breathing.

Breathing should be deep and as even as possible, with the exhalation taking about 3 times as long as the inhalation. Supportive sounds such as "Ah" or "Oh" can be spoken when exhaling.

Some also use the “let go” technique, where you think “let” when you breathe in and a long “go” when you breathe out to lengthen your exhalation.

Breathing exercises for COPD

The brake lip is a crucial element for breathing exercises in COPD. Here you breathe consciously against the resistance of the slightly parted lips. This increases the pressure in the upper airways.
The problem with COPD is that the airways narrow, especially when you breathe out, making it difficult for air to escape. Due to the increased pressure created by the lip brake, the bronchi are kept open and the air can escape.

In addition, better oxygen circulation can be achieved and thus the shortness of breath is reduced. This plays a major role in patients with advanced COPD, as they often feel that they are losing control of their breathing. This feeling can be reduced with the lip brake.

Other breathing exercises include deepening your breathing and decreasing the work of breathing, e.g. by exercising abdominal breathing, as well as exercises to promote mobility in the chest

Another important technique is diaphragmatic breathing. Attempts should be made to actively concentrate on breathing with the help of the diaphragm, especially with the abdomen. This can relieve other respiratory muscles and the diaphragm is strengthened at the same time. This can be combined well with the lip brake.

Many patients with COPD also find it helpful to assume the driver's seated position, i.e. to rest their elbows on their thighs. This stimulates other muscles to support breathing. The muscles in the back are relaxed, which means that less oxygen is used.

Also read:

  • Therapy of COPD
  • Breathing exercises for COPD

Breathing exercises for asthma

Since the respiratory muscles are stressed by frequent coughing in asthma, it is important to stretch them through breathing exercises.
To do this, it can help to twist the upper body against the lower body while standing and above all to breathe with the help of the diaphragm. This trains this and the space between the ribs is stretched. This supports the respiratory function and strengthens the diaphragm as an important respiratory muscle.

A crucial part of breathing exercises for asthma is learning to cough properly. A dry cough often occurs in asthma, which can cramp the bronchi and weaken them. Therefore, a morning bronchial toilet is recommended for asthma.
This means that when you get up you cough in a targeted manner in order to cough up any mucus that has accumulated in the lungs during the night. A deep inhalation is followed by a gentle throat clearing with the exhalation of part of the air. The rest of the air left in the lungs is used to cough lightly. This should be repeated several times to completely clear the airways.

In addition to the lip brake, breath-relieving techniques are also used, such as the "coachman's seat":
Here, the person concerned sits upright with their arms propped up on their legs or on the table. The fixation of the arms ensures that the so-called auxiliary respiratory muscles are used and so the regular respiratory muscles are relieved.

Abdominal breathing and chest stretching exercises also play an important role in asthma. For detailed instructions, please refer to videos on the Internet (for example from the German Allergy and Asthma Association).

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Breathing exercises in case of shortness of breath

Difficulty breathing can have various causes. It can occur psychologically, due to illness or stress. Our body actually shows us automatically how to deal with it: It moves into a position that makes breathing easier:

  • This includes, for example, the coachman's seat, in which the arms are propped up while sitting on a table or both are supported.
  • Another breath-relieving position is the goalkeeper stand, where you put your hands on your knees while standing.
  • On the other hand, lying flat on your back is a bad position if you are short of breath.

In addition to these positions, it is important to make sure that you continue to breathe effectively despite the excitement about the shortness of breath: the faster and the shallower you breathe, the more ineffective your breathing becomes, as so-called dead space breathing increases. As a countermeasure, it can help to consciously inhale in such a way that the chest widens very laterally.

Learn more at: Shortness of breath

Breathing exercises against snoring

To prevent snoring, breathing exercises that strengthen the palate and throat muscles can be used. This includes, for example, the daily singing, especially sharp sounds like "Ya" or "Ye" strengthen the muscles by shortening the relaxation phases. Singing the vowels out loud can also help.

In addition, exercises to strengthen the jaw muscles with tension against pressure and the tongue muscles with strong pressure on the palate are helpful in the fight against snoring.

More on this: What can you do against snoring?

Breathing exercise to fall asleep

There are several breathing exercises that can help you fall asleep. The most effective, so-called alternating breathing, ensures relaxation and an emotional balance.
Sit on a chair with your back straight and fix a point on the ceiling so that your head is slightly raised. However, the shoulders and back are as relaxed as possible. The left hand lies loosely on the knee and the thumb of the right hand closes the right nostril so that you can only breathe in through the left nostril.

Inhalation should take about 5 seconds (longer if possible) and go as deep as possible into your stomach so that it arches slightly forwards. While exhaling, hold the left nostril closed with the little finger of the right hand. Exhaling should also last at least 5 seconds. This exercise can be done for about 10-20 minutes and helps to relax the muscles and to shed emotional ballast and stress.

Read more on the topic:

  • Breathing exercises to help you fall asleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep

Breathing exercises for pneumonia

In the case of pneumonia, it is important to properly cough up the secretion and mucus that is sitting in the lungs, as there are also many bacteria in them.

A breathing exercise is used for this, in which you should first inhale and exhale 5 deeply. The focus of breathing is on the diaphragm in order to strengthen it and at the same time to protect and relieve the lungs. So you should breathe as deeply into your stomach as possible. Furthermore, the lip brake can be combined with it, in which the lips are placed on top of one another and the air is only blown out through a small opening when you exhale.
If this has been repeated 5 times, the mouth remains open after inhaling and the breath is held. Now the chest and stomach have to be tensed and the air forced out of the lungs as quickly as possible.
This will trigger a cough reflex if done correctly. This loosens mucus in the lungs, which can then be spat out.

Another technique for cleaning the airways is to expel air in response to certain sounds such as "T" or "K". This causes the chest to vibrate and loosens the mucus. The hum of an "M" when you exhale has the same effect.

In addition, in the case of pneumonia, it is important to keep the airways open, which can be achieved through simple body positions such as standing with the arms on the thighs or lying on the side by slightly raising the upper body.

You might also be interested in this topic: Therapy of pneumonia

Which breathing exercises can prevent pneumonia?

After operations and in other situations that require extended bed rest, a Pneumonia prophylaxis (= Pneumonia prevention) made. Pneumonia prophylaxis is also used in cases of immunodeficiency and pulmonary congestion due to cardiac insufficiency.

It consists of targeted breathing exercises, which are usually shown by a physiotherapist.
The aim of the exercises is to cough up secretions from the lungs, which accumulate in the lungs when the patient is lying predominantly on their back and is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. In addition, the ventilation of all lobes should improve the blood flow to the lungs, which in turn serves to prevent infection.

In addition to the early mobilization of the patient and rubbing in with breath-stimulating substances, a so-called flutter is used. During this breathing exercise, the patient breathes against a resistance in the device, so that a positive pressure remains in the airways, which loosens the mucus and makes it easier to breathe out.
In principle, the same effect can also be achieved without accessories using the lip brake described under COPD.

Breathing exercises for lung cancer

In lung cancer, regardless of the type and spread of the cancer, it is important that the lungs are strengthened and breathing is improved. The lip brake, in which the lips lie on top of one another and exhalation only takes place through a small gap between the lips, is very important for this. In addition, exercises to strengthen the diaphragm and the other auxiliary respiratory muscles are important to ease breathing.

also read: Lung Cancer Therapy

Breathing exercises for broken ribs

After a broken rib, it is important to strengthen the muscles between the affected ribs again. This can be supported by simple breathing exercises. The upper body is turned against the legs so that the muscles between the ribs on the affected side are stretched. It is also important to strengthen the diaphragm through conscious breathing into the abdomen in order to support the muscles between the ribs that are not able to function properly.

Breathing exercises to improve lung volume

Improving lung volume is very important for more comfortable and healthy breathing and can be achieved through various breathing exercises.

One possible exercise begins in an upright position with deep inhalation and simultaneous extension of the arms, first forwards and then upwards over the head. When you then exhale, bend your entire upper body forward, bend your knees and grasp the ankles of your feet with your hands. To get all the air out of the air, breathing out can be supported by a sound. This exercise should be done for several minutes.

Another exercise involves pulling your arms straight back. As you exhale, bend your knees and bend your upper body forward with your head towards your knees. The hands are folded behind the back. During the subsequent inhalation, the hands are taken apart again, but remain behind the back. The upper body straightens up again and you come back to an upright position.

This exercise should be repeated at least 10 times, preferably several times a day.

Breathing exercises in yoga

Yoga is a sport that aims to unite body and mind. The breathing exercises play a central role in this. They are also known as pranayama and are used to invigorate and relax body and mind. Translated, Pranayama means something like "control of life energy". In yoga, it is assumed that oxygen and thus energy is added to the body through breathing, and harmful energy is excreted with exhalation.

An important breathing exercise in yoga is abdominal breathing. You put your hands on your stomach and consciously try to breathe in and out into your stomach. The stomach bulges clearly forwards and backwards. Both inhalation and exhalation take about 5 seconds.

Another breathing exercise in yoga is rapid breathing. First you breathe in and out deeply a few times. This is followed by a very quick and sharp exhalation, which lasts about half a second and an inhale for twice as long. Repeat this 20-100 times and then take a deep breath and hold your breath briefly. This cycle is repeated about 3 times.

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Who will benefit from breathing exercises?

Breathing exercises serve to improve more even breathing and thus calm the body. Therefore, they are especially useful in stressful situations.
People who are constantly under pressure due to work, for example, benefit significantly from breathing exercises, as these also provide more energy in the body at the same time. But other forms of stress, such as psychological stress, can also be reduced through breathing exercises.

But there are also many diseases of the respiratory tract with breathing disorders, in which breathing exercises can achieve an increasing improvement. Regular training can prevent a negative development of the disease. This improves the health of the person concerned and improves the quality of life and recovery in the case of previous frequent shortness of breath. Examples of such diseases are COPD (a chronic obstruction of the airways), asthma, pulmonary fibrosis (in this case, lung tissue is converted into connective tissue and is therefore no longer available for breathing) and various forms of paralysis that restrict the auxiliary respiratory muscles.