Effective breathing is steady and controlled. Your abdomen expands with inhaled breaths and contracts with exhalation, and you feel relaxed and comfortable. If breathing is not like that for you, here are some tips to help.

If you’re breathing effectively, your breath will be smooth, steady, and controlled. You should feel relaxed and as though you’re able to get enough air without straining.

It should feel easy to breathe, and your breath should be silent or quiet. Your abdomen area will expand with each inhalation and contract with each exhalation. You can also feel your ribs expand to the front, sides, and back with each inhalation.

Your diaphragm is the main muscle used for breathing. It’s the dome-shaped muscle found below your lungs, separating your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.

Your diaphragm tightens when you inhale, allowing your lungs to expand into the space in your chest.

Your intercostal muscles also help to create space in your chest by contracting to pull your rib cage upward and outward during inhalation.

The breathing muscles are located near the lungs and help them to expand and contract. These muscles include the:

Your lungs and blood vessels bring oxygen into your body and remove carbon dioxide. The airways transport oxygen-rich air into your lungs and carbon dioxide out of your lungs. These airways include:

  • bronchial tubes (bronchi) and their branches
  • larynx
  • mouth
  • nose and nasal cavities
  • trachea

Effective use of the respiratory system ensures that we’re breathing well and to our maximum capacity.

There are several diaphragm breathing exercises and techniques that you can do at home. This will help you to use your diaphragm correctly. It’s best that you do this technique when you’re feeling rested and relaxed. Regularly performing these diaphragmatic breathing practices may help you to:

  • decrease the amount of oxygen needed
  • slow down your breathing rate to make breathing easier
  • strengthen your diaphragm
  • use less exertion and energy to breathe

Always talk to your doctor before starting any breathing exercises, especially if you have any medical conditions that have an effect on your breathing or if you are on any medications.

You can practice the diaphragmatic breathing at home on your own. When you’re first getting started, aim to do about 5 to 10 minutes of this exercise three to four times per day.

You may find that you get tired while doing this exercise since it takes more effort to use your diaphragm correctly. But once you get used to diaphragmatic breathing, it will feel more natural and be easier to do.

Slowly increase the duration of time you spend each day. You can place a book on your abdomen to increase the difficulty of the exercise or to help you focus.

Diaphragm breathing exercise lying down

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your head.
  2. Place a pillow under your knees to support your legs.
  3. Put one hand on your upper chest and the other below your rib cage so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your stomach expand to press into your hand.
  5. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
  6. Engage your stomach muscles and draw them toward your spine as you exhale using pursed lips.
  7. Again, keep the hand on your upper chest as still as possible.
  8. Continue breathing like this for the duration of your exercise session.

After you learn this breathing technique lying down, you may wish to try it while sitting in a chair. This is slightly more difficult.

Diaphragm breathing exercise in a chair

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your knees bent.
  2. Relax your shoulders, head, and neck.
  3. Put one hand on your upper chest and the other below your rib cage so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose so that your stomach presses against your hand.
  5. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
  6. Engage your abdominal muscles as you exhale through pursed lips, keeping the hand on your upper chest still.
  7. Continue breathing like this for the duration of your exercise session.

Once you’re comfortable with both of these positions, you can try incorporating diaphragmatic breathing into your daily activities. Practice this breathing when you:

  • exercise
  • walk
  • climb stairs
  • finish carrying or lifting objects
  • shower

There are other things that effect how you breathe and tips to improve breathing.

Your breath is also affected by air quality, sudden changes in the weather, and extreme weather conditions. While these changes may be noticeable if you have a respiratory condition, they can affect all people. You may notice that it’s easier to breathe in certain weather conditions or temperatures.

Hot and humid weather can affect your breathing. This may be because breathing in hot air has been shown to cause airway inflammation and exacerbate respiratory conditions.

Hot, humid weather also affects people with asthma, since the inhaled air causes airway constriction. Plus, there is more air pollution during the summer months.

In summertime and humid conditions, the Lung Association in Canada recommends drinking plenty of water, staying indoors if you’re able to be in an air-conditioned space with good air quality, and to stay aware.

That means knowing what your warning signs are if you have a condition like asthma or COPD and checking air quality indexes like AirNow.

Cold, dry air often accompanying cold weather can also affect your lungs and breathing patterns. Dry air, regardless of the temperature, often aggravates the airways of people with lung conditions. This can cause wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

To breathe easier in cold or extremely dry conditions, consider wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth. This can warm and humidify the air you inhale.

Be consistent with your doctor-prescribed medications or inhalers. They will help to control inflammation, making you less sensitive to temperature changes.

There are several things you can do to improve your breathing. Here are a few ways you can breathe more easily and efficiently:

  1. Adjust your sleeping position. Your sleeping position may also affect your breathing. You could try sleeping on your side with your head elevated by pillows and a pillow between your legs. This helps keep your spine aligned, which in turn helps to keep your airways open and may prevent snoring. Or sleep on your back with bent knees. Place a pillow under your head and your knees. However, sleeping on your back may cause your tongue to block your breathing tube. It’s not recommended if you have sleep apnea or you snore.
  2. Consider lifestyle changes. Keep your lungs healthy by making positive lifestyle changes. Maintain a healthy weight and eat nutritious foods, including foods rich in antioxidants. Get the flu vaccine and pneumonia vaccine to help to prevent lung infections and to encourage lung health. Avoid smoking, inhaling secondhand smoke, and environmental irritants. Improve indoor air quality by using air filters and reducing irritants such as artificial fragrances, mold, and dust.
  3. Meditate. Practice meditation regularly. This can be as simple as taking the time to focus on your breath without trying to control it. Added benefits may include mental clarity, peace of mind, and less stress.
  4. Practice good posture. Practicing good posture helps to ensure that your chest and the thoracic region of your spine are able to fully expand. Your rib cage and diaphragm will also be able to fully expand and increase the range of motion on the front side of your body. Overall, by practicing good posture, you’ll be able to breathe more effectively and efficiently, allowing for more ease in both your daily and physical activities.
  5. Sing it out. You may consider taking up singing to improve your breathing and improve lung function. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who sing regularly reduce their shortness of breath and are able to better manage their symptoms. They also feel more in control of their breathing. Singing helps people with lung conditions by teaching them to breathe more slowly and deeply as well as strengthening the breathing muscles. The British Lung Foundation recommends singing to enhance your ability to breathe, help to improve your posture, and increase the strength of your voice and diaphragm.
  6. Stretch and flex. Take steps to relieve any tightness in your shoulders, chest, and back. You can do exercises that focus on flexibility, resistance, and stretching to improve posture. This can help you to be able to fully expand your ribcage in all directions when you breathe. You can do stretches or go for massages to help loosen up any areas of tightness. It’s also a good idea to engage in activities that keep you active. These can include swimming, rowing, or any activity that gets you moving.

There are lots of different breathing techniques you can practice. Doing these exercises on a regular basis may help you to gain more awareness and control of your breath. You may experience other benefits such as deep feelings of relaxation, better sleep, and more energy.

Examples of breathing exercises include:

Breathing comes naturally to a lot of people, and it may not be something you think about a lot. There are lots of body parts that are used during respiration. Because of this, some postures and patterns are more effective for comfortable breathing than others.

Breathing practices may help to enhance the effectiveness of your breathing. For some people with conditions that affect their lung function, bringing this awareness to daily routines may help improve the sensation of breathing and, as a result, their daily activities.

Speak to a doctor about any questions you may have about your own breathing as well as breathing exercises you’d like to try.