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Let's try heavy breathing: doing it right feels a little different.

A chronic asthma sufferer, I figured it was finally time to check out a deep-breathing session with New York City fitness and nutrition expert Kendra Coppey, so I could finally learn how to breathe correctly. The first thing the famed holistic goddess asked was if I'm a nose breather or mouth breather. Nose, I told her. Cool, good start.

Coppey, founder of Barefoot Tiger, told me most asthmatics are mouth breathers, though it's better for us to breathe through our noses because we can bring in more oxygen that way. Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth is for a "regular" person, while inhaling and exhaling only through the nose has great benefits for those with asthma. This slows the breath, making it deeper and increasing oxygen intake. "Different people have different opinions on this, but my experience leads me to believe inhaling and exhaling through the nose can work wonders," she said.

At my session, Coppey had me lie down flat on my back on a mat and put my right hand below my sternum and my left hand on my lower abdomen to feel my normal breathing pattern. She instructed me to take a deep breath and exhale, then repeat several times. She then asked me to retain on the exhale. After a while I started to retain on the inhale as well. Two counts and retain on the inhale; three counts and retain on the exhale. With each inhale, I filled my chest and belly with air, and on the exhale let my ballooned belly drop to the floor. This exercise is a pelvic floor technique and part of the retention exercise. Pulling in the pelvic floor can help deepen the retention by allowing the lower abdomen to contract more firmly, thus pushing more on the diaphragm. Coppey told me to think of wearing a corset to visualize this exercise.

Why is deep breathing important, particularly for asthmatics? Well, asthmatics usually have very shallow breathing patterns. Breathing deeply expands lung capacity, encourages endurance and increases oxygenated blood flow to the brain, our largest and most important muscle. Deep breathing helps counter the lung inflammation that plagues asthmatics and people with other disorders.

Some funky and interesting natural anti-inflammatories such as pineapple, onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric complement deep breathing exercises; also fish oils or flax seed oil for vegetarians and others who dislike fish oil. Use them on salads instead of olive oil. These oils lubricate membranes and contain critical omega-3s for better health.

Deep breathing is also an excellent relaxation technique for reducing chronic pain. Because it affects the parasympathetic nervous system, deep breathing can be extremely calming and relaxing for affected areas and the muscles that are clenched because of the pain, such as holding tension in the shoulders.

Consciously breathing deep takes work and, while asthmatics may not take breathing for granted, most of us do and therefore don't breathe for maximum efficiency. You should breathe through your mouth only when engaged in endurance activities. Use mouth breaths when you need to release a lot of air, such as when lifting heavy weights, sighing or releasing a clenched jaw, which sometimes happens during yoga, or when you're stressed out by your girlfriend or boss. Asthmatics should be breathing through our noses except when participating in endurance activities. In that regard, we're just like "regular" folks.

Perhaps most importantly, proper breathing techniques can maximize the potential in those lusty situations where heavy breathing and endurance are involved. Be prepared by practicing every day.
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Title Annotation:I Tried It
Author:Schroeder, Stephanie
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2007
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