What is pursed lip breathing?
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, particularly those with 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.
Who does it benefit?
Pursed lip breathing can benefit people with conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Pursed lip breathing is beneficial for people with chronic lung disease. It can help strengthen the lungs and make them more efficient.
People with these conditions may:
- feel breathless
- cough often
- produce mucus when they cough
- 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, a strong muscle called 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, and this 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 that contains 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.
How to do it
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, but 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:
- Breathe in through the nose for 2 seconds.
- Purse the lips as if about to blow out the candles on a cake.
- Breathe out very slowly through pursed lips for 4 to 6 seconds.
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, but with regular practice, it can become comfortable. Even 5 to 10 minutes' practice every day can be beneficial.
Pursed lip breathing is one of the techniques that experts most commonly recommend for people with COPD. However, other techniques can also help slow breathing and fill the lungs properly.
For example, belly breathing or diaphragmic breathing can retrain the diaphragm, helping this muscle do more work in the breathing process.
To do belly breathing, 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. It can help to place the hands on the belly to feel this happening.
Each breath out through the mouth should take two or three times as long as the inhalation.
Pursed lip breathing can improve a person's ability to exercise and carry out normal tasks.
As well as 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 normal 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, but it is important to increase exercise or activity levels slowly to avoid straining the body or causing an injury.
Lung capacity should increase 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 feeing relaxed and breathing well. With regular practice, the technique can help the lungs work more efficiently.