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Breathe deeper for asthma relief

During your lifetime you may take more than a hundred million breaths. And chances are you won't pay attention to most of them, unless you have a respiratory problem - like asthma. In that case, you'll notice the wheezing and the frightening feeling that comes when you can't get enough air.

But you can breathe easier with asthma if you learn to breathe better. A group of 4,741 people with asthma were asked in a survey about alternative treatments they had tried. The most common response was breathing techniques, especially from those with severe asthma. And most of the asthma sufferers said they found the exercises helpful.

Scientific studies show you can improve the functioning of your lungs and reduce your need for medication by learning to breathe better. You can also improve your mental outlook and spend more time being physically active.

Psychologist and breathing expert Dr. Gay Hendricks has taught "conscious breathing" to many people with asthma. To learn his technique, read Banish stress with better breathing in the Stress chapter, but check with your doctor before you begin. For people with asthma, he offers these additional suggestions.

Make a lifetime commitment. "Asthma can feel like a frightening and complex problem, but the solutions are often quite simple," says Hendricks. He finds that training people to breathe deeply is the quickest way to get the most benefit. Then, as you get results, he encourages you to think of conscious breathing as a lifelong practice.

Let it all out. Hendricks says most people with asthma don't empty their lungs when they breathe out. "They tend to hold air in," he says, "particularly high in their chests."

He believes this is probably an emotional response to the fear that if you completely let go of a breath, you may not get another good one. But with practice, you can learn to feel comfortable about pushing all the air out. You'll know there will be another, as Hendricks puts it, "free for the taking."

Drink lots of water. "Keeping moist is important," says Hendricks, "especially in climates where the air is very dry. But even if you live in a humid climate, extra breathing can dry out the sensitive passages of your airways." Keep a glass of water nearby and drink often when you are practicing conscious breathing.

Stop if you feel dizzy. While you are doing the breathing exercises, your body is adjusting to getting more oxygen. You may experience dizziness or sonic other unusual sensation. This could mean you are trying too hard. "Rest until it has passed," says Hendricks, "or return to the activities on another occasion. Better to take them slow and easy."

Be patient with yourself. Dr. Hendricks says deep breathing exercises can require a lot of effort for people with asthma. Since frustration can trigger an asthma attack, it's important to remain calm.

Practice for a few minutes, then rest. Having a helper with you while you practice may make it easier. If impatience interferes with the exercises, you might want to work with a psychologist, like Hendricks, or other professional breathing coach.

For specific breathing exercises designed especially for people with asthma, check out Hendricks' book, Conscious Breathing, published by Bantam Books. You may find it at your local library or bookstore. Or you can order it, and his audio and videotapes as well, from his website <>. 


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