We breathe in and we breathe out; it sounds simple but breathing is complex. There are many things that affect the way we breathe and the way we breathe will affect many things. Much of the information that is available to the public is too simple and too general.
Generalised breathing protocols do not fit everyone, especially if there is a respiratory disorder. If this applies to you, you probably need an individualised, tailor-made programme from a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist who is highly skilled in your specific condition or disorder.
Breathing well at rest for an adult involves breathing in and out of the nose and into the belly with a rate of 10-14 breaths per minute. For some, this may be too hard. See this as a general guide. There are many types of breathing therapy and breathing retraining approaches. The quoted 5.5 breaths per minute in the Autumn magazine is for a specific advanced breathing technique called resonant breathing. This should not be attempted unless you have had guidance in this technique.
There is also mindfulness / meditation / yoga breathing. These are exercises, and are NOT how we should be breathing at rest or during movement. They often involve advanced techniques that are not tailor made for you and may cause more harm than good.
Breathing well at rest should be the first step. If you can breathe well then you may benefit from these other practices, but if not, they will not be effective.
For this audience we suggest focus on your out breath. To all of you with a respiratory condition, try pursed lipped breathing to gain control and try to slow your breath. This involves breathing in through the nose and out through puckered lips, as if you are blowing out a candle. It slows your breath and helps reduce the amount of air trapped in the lungs.
Breathing more slowly with more control has also been shown to reduce a stimulated nervous system and help induce a state of calm and reduce breathlessness. That is why we advocate the pursed lipped breathing exercise for you to try on your own. It is safe and can be used in any situation, whether you are climbing a flight of stairs, mowing lawns or jogging and becoming breathless.
Our Advice - Talk to your GP and see a cardiorespiratory physiotherapist or join a pulmonary rehabilitation class.
Want to know more about breathlessness strategies?
Visit nzrespiratoryguidelines.co.nz to download our breathlessness quick reference guide.
Tania Clifton-Smith has 30 years of experience in the field of breathing dysfunction, breathing pattern disorders and hyperventilation syndrome and physiotherapy.
She co-founded the Breathing Works clinics in 1998, which have treated over 30,000 people with breathing pattern disorders and breathing dysfunction. Tania also established the BradCliff Breathing Method in 2008, a physiotherapy treatment programme for breathing dysfunction.
Winter can be a difficult time for those with a respiratory condition, as the cold can exacerbate symptoms. We’ve put together a few tips to help you manage your respiratory condition through the winter months