Not only do our lungs provide life, but the act of breathing also contributes to our day-to-day sense of well-being. The act of controlling one’s breath to enhance health has been practiced by certain Eastern cultures for many years. While we don’t fully understand the mechanisms, slow breathing techniques can alter brain activity as well as nerve signals going to other organs such as the heart.
Deep breathing exercises can lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and even cortisol levels, which are a measure of the body’s stress response. Slow breathing can also improve your mood and reduce stress. For patients with obstructive lung diseases like COPD, pursed-lip breathing maneuvers can actually improve blood oxygen levels.
Pursed-lip breathing can be done by breathing in slowly through the nose and exhaling against “pursed” or “puckered” lips as if you were going to blow out a candle. This technique helps to keep the small airways open longer to allow trapped air to be expelled. Many patients find this technique helps them to feel less anxious when they are short of breath. More information about this technique including an explanatory video can be found on the American Lung Association website.