As all of us will be aware the Covid 19 virus mainly seems to be targeting the lungs and causing affected patients breathing difficulties. Keeping ourselves healthy is important at this time and we should be doing everything we can to support our immune systems. This means eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and taking regular exercise. Even fast walking for 30 minutes daily is good and the aim should always be to try and get a little out of breath.
It also makes sense to try and increase the fitness of the main muscle responsible for getting us to take a breath! The muscle responsible for keeping us breathing is the diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs.
When this muscle contracts we breathy in and when it relaxes the air is pushed out of our lungs. Your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs ( See diagram below)
So good diaphragmatic breathing is essential for keeping our lungs working to their full capacity something that is really important at this time. Like any muscle the diaphragm can be exercised to make it stronger and work more efficiently – bringing more air into our lungs.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
Learning and practising good diaphragmatic breathing will help you use the diaphragm correctly to:
- Strengthen the diaphragm
- Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate
- Decrease oxygen demand
- Use less effort and energy to breathe
Diaphragmatic breathing technique
Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips . (as if you’re about to drink through a straw) The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down, as shown above. As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair, as described below.
To perform this exercise while sitting in a chair:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
Note: You may notice an increased effort will be needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you’ll probably get tired while doing this exercise. But keep at it, because with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.
How often should I practice this exercise?
At first, practice this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise, and perhaps even increase the effort of the exercise by placing a book on your abdomen.