Breathing Techniques

Breathe better with these breathing techniques

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a medical condition that can make it very challenging to breathe at times.


Symptoms like chest tightness, wheezing, and cough from mucus plugging in the lungs are common and can make everyday life difficult. While there’s no quick way to completely get rid of these symptoms, using special breathing techniques and devices can make them easier to manage.

In this article, we’ll look at several breathing techniques and devices that can help improve your breathing.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Many of these breathing techniques and devices are much more effective if you can master diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing. Your diaphragm is a muscle that lies underneath your lungs. As you breathe in, the diaphragm pulls downward, helping air move into the lungs. As you breathe out, the diaphragm moves up, helping to push air out of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing helps move as much air into the lungs as possible.

How to do it:

• First, practice diaphragmatic breathing lying down or reclined.
• Place your hands gently on your lower belly, near your belly button.
• Take a slow, deep breath in. Focus on watching your hands rise as your belly expands.
• Try to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.
• Next, begin to exhale slowly. You may use pursed-lip breathing (discussed below). Focus on watching your hands lower as your belly contracts.
• Once you feel you have mastered the technique lying down, you can try it while sitting upright or even standing.


Regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing can actually help strengthen your breathing muscles.

Huff Cough

Huff coughing is similar to controlled coughing but is slightly gentler and requires less energy.

How to do it:

• Sit in a comfortable position with your head tilted slightly forward and your feet firmly planted on the ground.
• Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. Feel your belly expand while you breathe in.
• Open your mouth and exhale in 3 short breaths, like you are fogging up a window.
• Spit the mucus into a tissue. Repeat if needed.

Pursed-lip Breathing

If you have COPD, and especially if you are experiencing a flare-up, breathing fast may seem like the thing your body needs to do. Unfortunately, this makes you expend a lot of energy while only taking in a small amount of air. Fast breaths can trap carbon dioxide that needs to be exhaled. On the other hand, pursed-lip breathing helps you to take in more air while expending less energy and helps push out excess carbon dioxide. Pursed-lip breathing can help you regain control of your breathing when you are experiencing shortness of breath.

How to do it:

• Sit back or lie down in a comfortable position and relax your body.
• Slowly breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed until you can feel your lungs filling with air.
• Purse your lips as if you are about to whistle or blow out a candle.
• Breathe out slowly, without forcing too much air, while keeping your lips pursed.
Spend more time breathing out than you do breathing in. Remain relaxed, keep your lips pursed, and remember not to force your lungs to empty.
• Repeat until your breathing has slowed to a comfortable level.

Devices for breathing easier and mucus clearance

There are many devices available that you can use to help clear more mucus and improve your breathing. These devices are called oscillating positive expiratory pressure (PEP) devices. Some examples include:

• Flutter®
• Acapella®
• Aerobika*


These small, handheld respiratory devices are used to clear out excess mucus from your lungs and remove trapped carbon dioxide. They are often recommended during a flare-up and can be used multiple times per day.

These devices perform two functions: oscillation and positive expiratory pressure. Oscillation is another word for vibration; it helps to release sticky mucus from your airway walls, allowing it to move up and out of your lungs. Positive expiratory pressure, similar to pursed-lip breathing, helps keep your airways open and remove trapped carbon dioxide. This device should be paired with a controlled cough or huff cough (discussed above). It is not a replacement for good coughing technique.
Oscillating PEP devices are relatively easy to use.

How to do it:


• Place your mouth on the mouthpiece, forming a good seal.
• Inhale (breathe in), then exhale (breathe out) slowly into the device. Keep your cheeks firm and flat.
• The device should make a fluttering sound.
• Exhale for as long as you can to remove as much mucus as possible.
• When you are done exhaling, use a controlled cough or huff cough to bring up any loosened mucus.
• Repeat as many times as required or recommended.
• Stop and rest if you feel dizzy or light-headed.

The specific technique varies with the device you use. Some devices can even be connected to your nebulizer system. To find a device that will be right for you, discuss your options with your physician, pharmacist, respiratory therapist, or another healthcare provider to learn about your options and where you can purchase them. If you are struggling with any of these breathing techniques, please speak to your healthcare team.

Using proper breathing techniques can help you be more in control of your breathing during a flare-up. If you are experiencing significantly more mucus, coughing, or shortness of breath than normal, you may be experiencing a flare-up (also called an acute exacerbation of COPD [AECOPD]).

Want to know more about AECOPDs

and how they can be managed, read this article.