Pursed lip breathing is a slow breathing technique that enables a person to control how much air enters and leaves their lungs. It can help people with lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Long term, it may strengthen the lungs and improve their efficiency.

The technique involves breathing in through the nose and breathing out slowly through the mouth. Repeated pursed lip breathing should slow breathing and empty the lungs.

Pursed lip breathing can form part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program. It may help people with lung conditions, namely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Improving the breathing process has many benefits. Getting more oxygen to the body can help with everyday activities, such as climbing the stairs or walking. It may allow a person to do more exercise or reduce the stress that shortness of breath can cause.

Pursed lip breathing is beneficial for people with chronic lung disease. It can help strengthen the lungs and make them more efficient.

Two key conditions that come under the term “COPD” are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Some doctors also include nonreversible or refractory asthma under this term.

People with these conditions may:

  • feel breathless
  • cough often
  • produce mucus when they cough
  • wheeze
  • have a tight feeling in their chest

Pursed lip breathing can help the lungs work better, and it may ease these symptoms.

For people with healthy lungs, the diaphragm plays a role in the mechanics of breathing, contracting when a person breathes in to draw air into the lungs. Every time a person breathes out, the diaphragm relaxes into a dome shape, which forces air out of the lungs.

In people with COPD, the diaphragm becomes weakened and does not work as well. When it relaxes, stale air remains trapped in the lungs.

This trapped stale air leaves less room in the lungs for fresh air containing oxygen, which means that a person will feel short of breath. They may not have enough air available in their lungs to exercise.

As the lungs are not working normally, the body starts to use muscles in the back and chest to breathe. This irregular muscle use can be tiring and cause discomfort.

With regular practice, pursed lip breathing can get rid of stale air in the lungs. It can also help the lungs and diaphragm work better to get more oxygen into the body.

The technique involves breathing in and out in a specific way.

A person with COPD will often take lots of shallow breaths. Pursed lip breathing keeps the airways in the lungs open for longer. As a result, a person will take fewer breaths. However, these breaths will be more efficient.

A person should try to relax before starting pursed lip breathing. They can take a minute to drop the shoulders and release the tongue from the roof of the mouth, both of which are common ways to hold tension in the body. It may help to close the eyes when trying pursed lip breathing for the first few times.

Here is how to do pursed lip breathing, followed by a video demonstration by the American Lung Association:

  1. Breathe in through the nose for 2 seconds.
  2. Purse the lips as if about to blow out the candles on a cake.
  3. Breathe out very slowly through pursed lips for 4-6 seconds.
  4. Repeat.

A person can use pursed lip breathing during any activity that causes shortness of breath. Such activities can include exercise, standing up from a seat, or lifting something. More air can flow in and out of the lungs to help the body during these activities.

It may take some time before the technique feels natural. However, with regular practice, it can become comfortable. Even 5-10 minute practice every day can be beneficial.

Along with helping the lungs work better, pursed lip breathing can have several other health benefits.

These benefits may include:

  • slowing the breath
  • making it easier to breathe
  • reducing the work that other muscles in the body are doing to breathe
  • increasing a person’s ability to carry out their usual activities or exercise
  • getting rid of stale air from the lungs

Pursed lip breathing can be particularly beneficial as part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program. A healthcare professional will supervise this program, which may include exercises, information, and support.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help improve a person’s quality of life. As well as helping with breathing, it may reduce stress and make it easier for a person to exercise or socialize.

Pursed lip breathing is a low risk practice. However, a person with a respiratory condition, such as COPD, should consider seeking advice from a healthcare professional before trying it.

This breathing technique can help a person be more active. However, it is important to increase exercise or activity levels slowly to avoid straining the body or causing an injury.

Lung capacity increase should occur with pursed lip breathing. If the amount of air that a person breathes out decreases, they should seek medical advice.

Pursed lip breathing is a simple technique that can have a positive effect on a person’s breathing. Improved breathing can facilitate exercise, reduce stress, and increase the oxygen supply to the body.

The technique can take a little time to perfect. It is best to try pursed lip breathing for the first time when feeling relaxed and breathing well. With regular practice, the technique can help the lungs work more efficiently.

How do you do pursed lip breathing exercises?

To do pursed lip breathing, a person simply needs to breathe in nasally for about 2 seconds while shaping the lips as if about to blow out. Then a person should breathe out more slowly for about 4-6 seconds.

What other breathing techniques may benefit people with COPD?

For people with COPD, belly breathing or diaphragmic breathing can help retrain the diaphragm, helping this muscle do more work in the breathing process.

A person should sit in a chair or lie on their back before breathing in through the nose and noticing how the belly expands with the breath. Each breath out through the mouth should take two or three times as long as the inhalation.

Can pursed lip breathing be used for anxiety?

Since anxiety can cause breathing difficulties, pursed lip breathing may help a person slow their breathing pace and take in more oxygen.