Breathing Techniques to Increase Oxygen at Home
If you are struggling with breathing difficulties or feeling short of breath, you might wonder how to get more oxygen in your blood. Read on to learn more about how to get more oxygen with each inhale to help relieve the symptoms of your breathing difficulties.
Why Practice Breathing Techniques
When you have healthy lungs, your diaphragm does about 80 percent of the work of breathing, to fill your lungs with a mixture of oxygen and other gases, and then to send the waste gas out. Over time, stale air builds up, leaving less room for the diaphragm to contract and bring in fresh oxygen. With the diaphragm not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels, and less reserve for exercise and activity. If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.
The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle for breathing. It’s a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of your lungs. Your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs. Besides strengthening the diaphragm, diaphragmatic breathing (also known as abdominal or belly breathing) helps you use your diaphragm correctly while breathing to:
- Decrease the work of breathing by slowing your breathing rate.
- Decrease oxygen demand.
- Use less effort and energy to breathe.
During diaphragmatic breathing, you consciously use your diaphragm to take deep breaths. When you breathe normally, you don’t use your lungs to their full capacity. Diaphragmatic breathing allows you to use your lungs at 100% capacity to increase lung efficiency.
Conditions like COPD may prevent the diaphragm from working effectively by trapping air in your lungs. This pushes down on your diaphragm. Your neck and chest muscles must then assume an increased share of the work of breathing. Conditions like COPD can leave your diaphragm weakened and flattened, causing it to work less efficiently. Diaphragmatic breathing offers several benefits to your body including: increasing how much oxygen is in your blood, making it easier for your body to release gas waste from your lungs, reducing blood pressure and heart rate.
Diaphragmatic breathing can be used as an adjunct treatment to help several conditions that cause symptoms that affect how you breathe including COPD, asthma, anxiety and stress.
When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down.
- 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, causing your hand to rise. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, so that your stomach moves in, causing your hand to lower as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible.
Pursed Lip Breathing
Pursed lip breathing reduces the number of breaths you take and keeps your airways open longer. More air is able to flow in and out of your lungs so you can be more physically active. To practice it, simply breathe in through your nose and breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth, with pursed lips.  Pursed lip breathing gives you more control over your breathing, which is particularly important for people with lung conditions such as COPD. Pursed lip breathing should be practiced until it becomes second nature. It’s most effective when you’re focused or relaxed. Here’s how to practice. 
- Sit with your back straight or lie down. Relax your shoulders as much as possible.
- Inhale through your nose for two seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen. Try to fill your abdomen with air instead of just your lungs.
- Purse your lips like you’re blowing on hot food and then breathe out slowly, taking twice as long to exhale as you took to breathe in.
- Then repeat. Over time, you can increase the inhale and exhale counts from 2 seconds to 4 seconds, and so on.
Humming While Exhaling
Humming while exhaling helps increase nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide helps with building and repair of the nervous system and it dilates blood vessels, enabling more oxygen to be delivered throughout the body. Humming is also calming and soothing, it reduces stress and it can help the patient remain in restoration mode.
- Sit upright on the edge of your bed or in a sturdy chair.
- Place your hands around the sides of your stomach.
- With your lips closed and your tongue on the roof of your mouth, breathe in through your nose and pull air down into your stomach where your hands are. Try to spread your fingers apart with your breath.
- Once your lungs are full, keep your lips closed and exhale while humming, making the “hmmmmmm” sound. Notice how your hands lower back down.
- Again, inhale through your nose, and then exhale through your nose while humming.
- Repeat for one minute.
As with learning anything new, the first few times you practice these breathing techniques, it may be difficult. Take a couple of minutes each day to practice this new skill, which offers many benefits to your overall health and can help you relax. If you have a condition like COPD, asthma or anxiety, talk to your provider about breathing techniques to see which ones are right for you.
- “Breathing Exercises” American Lung Association, American Lung Association , 27 May 2020, www.lung.org/lung-health- diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises.
- Lien, Peiting. “Coronavirus Recovery: Breathing Exercises.” Johns Hopkins Medicine – Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Accessed 18 Sept. 2020, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-recovery-breathing-exercises.