How to Breathe Better: 10 Ways to Help Improve Your Breathing

Science
October 19, 2021

Everyone knows that breathing is a crucial bodily function, so having difficulty breathing can be bothersome and even distressing. This leaves many people, from athletes to those with chronic conditions, asking, “How can I breathe better?”

The good news is that there are many different options that can help, including daily breathwork exercises. If you’re someone who wants to know how to breathe better, we’ll cover all of the following:

  • Can you improve your breathing and what can you do to breathe better?
  • 10 ways to improve your breathing & breathe better naturally
  • How to breathe better at night: 4 breathing exercises that can help
  • How to breathe better while running: 4 effective breathing techniques to try
  • 4 breathwork techniques for improved breathing when you have a condition
  • Top 9 FAQs about breathing better

Let’s begin to answer the question “what can you do to breathe better?” by first covering the basics. 

If you’re looking to improve your CO2 tolerance instead, check out our guide to CO2 tolerance.

Can you improve your breathing and what can you do to breathe better?

Fortunately, it is possible to improve your breathing. There are many methods available for those wondering how to improve breathing hindered by daily habits, temporary illness, and even more chronic conditions. Depending on your situation, you might be able to fully correct your breathing, or at least make some gradual improvements. If you’re dealing with any medical conditions, you should consider consulting your doctor on your options.

So what can you do to help you breathe better? There are actually many different natural remedies and exercises for better breathing that you can choose from. Nose surgery to breathe better, called a septoplasty, is also an option for those with more complex difficulties. There isn’t a single best way to breathe better, as your best option is entirely dependent on your situation and preferences.

Here are some examples of how to make your breathing better:

  • Start a breathwork practice
  • Meditate daily
  • Improve your sleeping patterns
  • Change your diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Use essential oils
  • Repair nasal difficulties with surgery
  • Clean and improve airflow in your home
  • Exercise your respiratory muscles

We’ll explore most of these ways to breathe better and more in the next section.

10 ways to improve your breathing naturally

When it comes to different ways to improve breathing, there are many options that are completely natural. Here are detailed options on how to improve your breathing using natural remedies for better breathing.

1. Breathwork

A group of people deep breathing in a circle

Breathwork refers to a variety of exercises and techniques that allow for breath control. The exercises that exist today range from ancient practices to modern techniques. Many of these breathwork techniques are suitable for beginners as well. Breathwork has gained popularity in recent years, primarily for the ways regular practice can benefit physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. And there are many breathing exercises for better breathing that can help you instantly and over time.

Try these breathwork exercises: Diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and pursed lip breathing.

2. Meditation

Meditation is a mindfulness technique designed to bring your attention and awareness to the sensations of the present moment. It's often practiced in order to achieve mental clarity and relaxation. Although the emphasis is on focusing on the present moment, deep breathing is usually an important component of meditation exercises.

Try these meditations: Guided meditation, present-moment meditation, candle-gazing meditation, and visualization meditation.

3. Change your sleeping position

While many sleeping positions exist, some might actually have a negative effect on your breathing. This is due to the way gravity could be impacting your airways. Try sleeping in positions that allow your airways to function at full capacity.

Try these sleep positions: On your side, on your stomach, or on your back using pillows to elevate your knees.

4. Healthy lifestyle changes

A person exploring outdoors

The choices you make every day of your life can also contribute to difficulty breathing. Making positive changes to prioritize your health is a great way to improve your breathing abilities. Diet, exercise, and smoking are some of the things to be mindful of when trying to make improvements.

Try these changes: Switch to a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, quit smoking, improve your sleep routine, exercise regularly, and drink more water.

5. Practice good posture

How you carry yourself can also play a role in your ability to breathe. This is due to the way your posture can impact your sternum, diaphragm, and other abdominal muscles. By working to correct your posture, you can help give your diaphragm more room to do its job.

Try these exercises: Head-to-hand neck release, lunge with a chest opener, traditional quadriceps stretch, and wall chest stretch.

6. Singing

Singing along to your favorite songs is another easy way you can improve your breathing and overall lung health. When you sing, you're actually strengthening the muscles needed to breathe. This means that the more often you sing, the better your breathing will become.

Try these exercises: Sing along to your favorite songs, karaoke, humming, vocal sirens exercise, and vocal slides technique.

7. Stretching

Stretching can also help strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. Learning and practicing different exercises regularly is an easy way to help retrain your body to use the respiratory muscles to breathe properly. There are plenty of options for stretches you can learn, including some that can be done in water.

Try these stretches: Lung meridian stretch, opening the chest stretch, hand stretch with leg lift, opening the chest in rotation stretch, lifting hands behind the back stretch, and flower stretch.

8. Surround yourself with clean air

Another way you can improve your breathing is by breathing in cleaner air. This can be done in a few different ways, including purchasing fans and cleaning around your home. You should also check the levels of air pollution outside before leaving the house if you know you've been having difficulty breathing.

Try these methods: Cleaning your home regularly, using an air fan, changing your air filters, monitoring outdoor air quality for the day before leaving home.

9. Essential oils

Essential oils are used for many things, but there are actually several essential oils for breathing better. When searching for what essential oils help you breathe better, seek out the ones that are recommended for respiratory health. They’re able to ease coughs, soothe sore throats, reduce inflammation, and clear mucus. Some are available as nasal sprays, while others can be added to a diffuser or rubbed on the body. Remember, though, it’s always important to follow the instructions and recommended dosages for whichever oils you choose to use.

Try these essential oils: Eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, frankincense, oregano, thyme, bergamot, geranium, cinnamon, and tea tree.

10. Eat nutrient-rich foods

As mentioned above, the food you eat can play a role in your respiratory health. While improving your diet in general can help relieve breathing difficulties, there are several foods that help you breathe better. If you’re wondering what foods help you breathe better, look for ones that are rich in nutrients. They can help protect your lungs from environmental effects on your breathing, reduce any damage to your lungs, and manage the symptoms of conditions like COPD and asthma.

Try these foods: Beets, peppers, apples, pumpkin, tomatoes, blueberries, green tea, red cabbage, turmeric, edamame, olive oil, oysters, yogurt, brazil nuts, coffee, Swiss chard, barley, anchovies, lentils, and cocoa.

How to breathe better at night: 4 breathing exercises that can help

If you’re looking to improve your breathing in the evening to help you sleep, breathwork can help you relax while forming an ideal breathing pattern. This section covers how to breathe better at night using specific breathing exercises.

1. 4-7-8 breathing

A group gathered at a bonfire

4-7-8 breathing, sometimes called relaxing breath, is a breathwork exercise with its instructions right in the name. It is done by inhaling, pausing, and exhaling for specific intervals to help your body relax quickly. This is why it's great for helping you breathe better as you're falling asleep. It also offers many other benefits in the process.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  4. Exhale through your mouth over the course of 8 seconds.
  5. Repeat this cycle as many times as desired.

2. Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, also known as nadi shodhana or anulom vilom, is a pranayama breathwork technique that focuses on cyclical breathing through the nose. This exercise helps improve breathing through the nose while promoting relaxation, making it ideal for practicing at night. It has been practiced for many years, and continues to be one of the most popular breathwork techniques today.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up in a comfortable position.
  2. Raise your right hand and use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  3. Slowly inhale through your left nostril.
  4. Close your left nostril using your right ring finger.
  5. Lift your thumb and slowly exhale through your right nostril.
  6. Inhale through your right nostril.
  7. Close your right nostril using your thumb.
  8. Lift your ring finger and exhale through your left nostril.
  9. Repeat this cycle as many times as desired.

3. Humming bee breath

Humming bee breath, also called Brahamari in pranayama practices, is a breathwork technique for relaxation. The main component of this technique is humming, which is how it gets its name. It's great for helping to improve airways and calming you down while you’re preparing to go to sleep for the night.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up straight and close your eyes.
  2. Take a moment to feel the sensations throughout your body and embrace the quiet.
  3. Gently press down on your ears using your index fingers.
  4. Take a deep breath in.
  5. As you exhale, begin to hum loudly. You can choose to press down on your ears the entire time, or press and release while you’re humming. Keep humming until you’ve finished exhaling.
  6. Repeat this cycle a few more times.

4. Breath focus technique

The breath focus technique is a breathing exercise that can help with relaxation and stress relief. It involves focusing on an image, word, or phrase of your choice that helps to promote positivity. This is really great for deep breathing and mindfulness as you're winding down for the night.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Take note of the way you’re breathing while trying not to change it.
  3. Switch between your normal breathing and slow, deep breathing a few times, paying attention to how they differ from each other.
  4. Spend a few minutes deep breathing, with one hand placed on your stomach and the other on your chest. As you breathe in and out, pay attention to the way your stomach rises and falls.
  5. While continuing to breathe deeply, begin to focus on your chosen image, word, or phrase.
  6. For example, as you inhale, picture calming waves entering your body.
  7. As an example, as you exhale, picture any anxiety and tension being washed away.
  8. Continue this technique for as long as desired.

How to breathe better while running: 4 effective breathing techniques to try

Two people moving with a sheet

Athletes who are looking to improve their breathing while running can also benefit from some breathing techniques. Here’s how to breathe better when running using breathwork.

1. Box breathing

Box breathing - also called square breathing, 4-4-4-4 breathing, and sama vritti - is a breathwork technique that involves inhaling, exhaling, and holding your breath for equal lengths of time. It's seen as a step up from diaphragmatic breathing, with a focus on improving breathing rate and the ability to intake oxygen. It's a great technique for runners, as it can help them improve their breathing in a way that assists with endurance.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  4. Exhale through your mouth over the course of 4 seconds.
  5. Hold your breath again for another 4 seconds.
  6. Repeat this cycle as many times as desired.

2. Coordinated breathing

Coordinated breathing is a technique that combines pursed lip breathing with exercise. It involves breathing during the most difficult moments of physical activity. This makes it a great technique for running, as it can help you get through the most difficult parts of a run.

How to do it:

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose before the most strenuous part of your run.
  2. Purse your lips as if you’re about to blow air.
  3. Exhale through your lips during the strenuous part of your run.
  4. Repeat these steps throughout your run whenever you experience strain or discomfort.

3. Ujjayi breathing

Ujjayi breathing, also known as victorious breath or ocean breathing, is a breathwork technique predominately used for calming. It can be practiced anytime to relieve stress and help improve breathing rate. It's recommended for runners to do this technique before running in order to practice mindfulness and calm their breath.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up straight in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your mouth while attempting to constrict the muscles in your throat.
  3. Inhale through your mouth, allowing air to pass through your constricted throat. It’s normal to hear a slight friction sound.
  4. Continue to inhale until your chest feels full, then hold your breath for a count of 6.
  5. Exhale as naturally as possible while trying to keep your facial muscles and nose relaxed.
  6. Relax and spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
  7. Repeat this cycle as many times as desired, up to 5 times a day.

4. Skull shining breath

Skull Shining Breath, also known as Kapalabhati or Breath of Fire, is a breathwork technique that can help cleanse and warm up the body. This is why it's great for runners, since they can use it as a warmup before they begin their run.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up in a comfortable position.
  2. Take a deep breath in.
  3. Exhale by using the muscles in your lower belly to force the air out in a short burst.
  4. Relax your muscles and inhale again.
  5. Do this up to 20 times.
  6. After you’ve completed the round, close your eyes and focus on the sensations you’re experiencing.
  7. Repeat these steps up to 2 more times.

4 breathwork techniques for improved breathing when you have a condition

A woman standing in the ocean

Breathwork is also widely recommended by medical professionals for treating sickness or any conditions that can affect breathing. Whether you’re asking how to breathe better with COVID, how to breathe better with asthma, or even how to breathe better with pneumonia, here are some breathwork techniques you can try.

1. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly or abdominal breathing, is one of the easiest deep breathing exercises for improving breathing and overall health. It's great for anyone who is struggling with a condition or illness that affects their breathing, as it gives the diaphragm and abdominal muscles a workout. Many other breathwork techniques make use of diaphragmatic breathing, but this is the simplest form that can be done anytime and anywhere.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  3. Inhale through your nose, feeling your stomach expand as the air enters your body.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, allowing your stomach to relax as you feel the air leave your body.
  5. Repeat this cycle as many times as desired.

2. Numbered breathing

Numbered breathing is an exercise that makes use of linear counting as you breathe. This can be considered a breathwork meditation technique, since it allows you to practice mindfulness as you breathe. It's an easy exercise that can help improve breathing while helping to direct your focus away from your struggles.

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in.
  3. Exhale until your lungs feel empty.
  4. Inhale while thinking of the number 1.
  5. Hold your breath for 2 seconds, then exhale.
  6. Inhale again while thinking of the number 2.
  7. Hold your breath for 3 seconds, then exhale.
  8. Continue this exercise up to the number 8.

3. Rib stretch

The rib stretch is a widely-recommended exercise for helping to improve breathing, especially for people experiencing various medical conditions. It's easy to learn and can be quickly completed up to 3 times throughout the day. Those struggling with lung conditions, such as COPD, will benefit from practicing this exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Stand up straight.
  2. Inhale to your maximum capacity.
  3. Hold for 20 seconds (if possible) as you place your hands on your hips. Your thumbs should be forward-facing while your pinkies touch the small of your back.
  4. Slowly breathe out.
  5. Relax for a moment, then repeat the cycle up to 3 times.

4. Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing is another breathing exercise widely recommended by medical professionals. It's done in order to help slow breathing and establish a normal breathing rate. This is one of the most popular exercises for helping to treat medical conditions and illnesses that impact the lungs and breath.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale through your nose.
  3. Purse your lips as if you're about to blow air.
  4. Exhale through your lips.
  5. Repeat this cycle as many times as desired.

Top 9 FAQs about breathing better

If you still have questions about how to breathe better, here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions.

1. Is it better to breathe through your nose or mouth?

A man and a woman practicing breathwork

Many often ask if it is better to breathe through your nose or mouth. The answer is that it’s usually better to breathe through your nose. Granted, there will be times where it might be necessary to use your mouth to help you breathe, such as when you’re dealing with nasal congestion. However, in general, breathing through the nose offers more benefits, while breathing through the mouth can lead to health risks.

2. Why is it better to breathe through your nose?

So why is it better to breathe through your nose? Because breathing through the nose is the safest way to breathe properly, and also offers many different benefits. These include reduced exposure to foreign particles, increased oxygen and circulation, improved lung capacity, slower breathing rate, a strengthened diaphragm, and a strengthened immune system.

3. How can I breathe through my nose better?

If you’re wondering how to breathe through your nose better, you have many different options. Breathwork exercises that prioritize the nose, improved diet and exercise, essential oils, and changes to your home’s air quality can all help to improve this. However, if you’re dealing with a nose injury or chronic condition, you should consult a medical professional to determine additional options.

4. Will my breathing get better if I quit smoking?

Two people preparing a fire on a beach

Quitting smoking can help you greatly improve your breathing. Smoking can cause significant lung damage, but the lungs are able to repair themselves to a certain extent. You’ll notice immediate improvements once you make the decision to quit, and your breathing abilities will continue to improve over time.

5. Can losing weight help you breathe better?

Losing weight can help you breathe better. If you’re overweight, you might experience various different breathing difficulties. These include shortness of breath, reduced lung capacity, and even sleep apnea. Introducing a healthier diet and making changes to your exercise routine to lose just a few pounds will help relieve these issues.

6. Do humidifiers help you breathe better?

Using a humidifier can help get rid of dry air in your home. This can help relieve breathing problems (or at least their symptoms) such as runny noses, nosebleeds, asthma, allergies, sinus congestion, and dry throats. However, it’s extremely important that you properly clean and maintain your humidifier. Otherwise, it could release bacteria and toxins back into the air that could make breathing difficulties worse.

If you’re concerned about air quality beyond dry air, explore additional options. Clean your house more thoroughly and frequently, purchase fans, or change out your air filters.

7. Does a nose job help you breathe better?

A woman with her hands on her head as she breathes

If you’re wondering if a nose job can help you breathe better, the answer is yes. There are two types of nose surgery to breathe better: septoplasty and functional rhinoplasty. Septoplasty is a surgery that can alleviate your breathing difficulties by repairing your deviated septums. A functional rhinoplasty, on the other hand, involves changing the shape of your nose to target nasal dysfunctions. You can also receive both surgeries at the same time with a septorhinoplasty.

While it’s possible that a cosmetic rhinoplasty could introduce some positive changes to your breathing, it could also have negative impacts in addition (or instead). If you’re wanting to prioritize relieving nasal difficulties, it is best to opt for a septoplasty and/or a functional rhinoplasty.

8. How can I open up my lungs to breathe better?

When it comes to how to open up your lungs to breathe better, breathwork offers one of the best options. There are many deep breathing exercises that can actually strengthen your lungs and improve your lung capacity, as well as devices that can help your lungs regain their strength. When you’re dealing with a temporary or chronic illness, starting a breathwork practice can help you gain temporary relief and improve your breathing gradually.

9. How can I open my throat to breathe better?

If you’re asking “How can I open my throat to breathe better?”, you'll want to prioritize exercises that target the muscles in your throat in order to help open it up. There are several breathwork exercises that prioritize the throat muscles, including humming bee breath and ujjayi breathing. There are also some swallowing exercises that can help. Even something as simple as singing can help massage the throat muscles and help improve your breathing.

Ready to see how breathwork can help you improve your breathing? Try the Othership app for free today!