Top 2 Breathing Techniques for COPD

Like bronchiectasis, living with COPD causes you to experience breathing difficulties, especially during the colder months of the year. According to the COPD Foundation, there are two effective breathing techniques for COPD: pursed-lip breathing and diaphragmatic “abdominal” breathing. Both breathing exercises require practice, relaxation, and concentration to help you create a healthy flow of oxygen that travels through your lungs and airways.1

When we experience shortness of breath, it’s easy to feel anxious and tense, which may keep air trapped in your airways; therefore, it’s helpful to understand these COPD breathing exercises to practice at home or on the go. 

It’s recommended that you consult your clinician prior to performing any new breathing techniques for COPD or for another chronic lung condition. 

What is Pursed-Lip Breathing?

When you’re experiencing shortness of breath, tightness of chest, wheezing, or other common COPD symptoms, pursed lip breathing allows you to regain control of your breathing by slowing down its pace and helping you make each new breath more controlled and effective.2 

How to Perform Pursed Lip Breathing

To begin the pursed lip breathing technique, the COPD Foundation recommends the following steps3:

  1. Begin by breathing in through your nose for a count of 2 seconds.
  2. Pucker your lips as if you’re about to blow out a candle. 
  3. Slowly breathe out through your pursed lips for 2 seconds. 
  4. Repeat this process again until you’re able to slow your breathing down and release any trapped air inside your airways. 

 

What is Diaphragmatic “Abdominal” Breathing?

A second breathing technique for COPD is abdominal breathing. This exercise, though considered more challenging than pursed lip breathing, is used to help retrain your diaphragm to perform most of the breathing work for you. 

How to Perform Abdominal Breathing?

According to the COPD Foundation, you’ll want to perform the following steps lying down and feeling relaxed4:

  1. While lying down, place one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your upper chest.
  2. As you breathe in through your nose, focus on your abdomen area. Your stomach should rise when you inhale air.
  3. When you’re ready to breathe out, release the air through pursed lips (see pursed lip breathing steps). As you do so, your abdomen should fall back in the starting position. 
  4. Repeat at least 2-3 times a day for up to 10 minutes. Once you’ve mastered this breathing exercise for COPD, try performing the same technique while sitting in a chair or while standing up. 

 

Pairing COPD Breathing Exercises with Airway Clearance

Are you experiencing recurring shortness of breath or a worsening of other COPD symptoms that are keeping you from living a healthy, active lifestyle? You may be experiencing an overlap of bronchiectasis and COPD and effective airway clearance therapy may be the best solution to help relieve your chronic symptoms and get you back to feeling your best! 

High frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) therapy via the SmartVest Airway Clearance System actively works to thin, loosen, and propel mucus from the lungs to the major airways, where it can be easily coughed out, preventing the build up of mucus and spread of respiratory infection. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of SmartVest, request an informational packet today! Or if you think you might have an overlap of COPD and bronchiectasis symptoms, watch our “Ask a Pulmonologist” video series, featuring Dr. Frederic Seifer, to learn how to talk to your doctor and request a HRCT scan for an accurate diagnosis. 

 


  1.  COPD Foundation. “Breathing Exercises and Techniques for COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/I-am-a-Person-with-COPD/Breathing-Exercises-for-COPD.aspx
  2.  American Lung Association. “Pursed Lip Breathing.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/patient-resources-and-videos/pursed-lip-breathing-video.html
  3.  COPD Foundation. “Breathing Exercises and Techniques for COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/I-am-a-Person-with-COPD/Breathing-Exercises-for-COPD.aspx
  4.  COPD Foundation. “Breathing Exercises and Techniques for COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/I-am-a-Person-with-COPD/Breathing-Exercises-for-COPD.aspx
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