What You Can Do To Help Yourself
In practicing Breathing Coordination, it is advisable to lie on your back with a pillow under your knees and a pillow under your head. In this position the diaphragm is not working against gravity and you are not bringing any voluntary muscle into play just to balance and support the body. The hardest thing you have to do is to think that you are not going to work. You are not going to work on the inhale or the exhale.
The goal is to extend the exhale to its natural conclusion. You make sure the jaw is loose and you open your mouth on the inhale. This doesn't mean you have to do all mouth breathing; but at this point, it helps to keep your throat open. After the inhale comes, you start with the only thing that can be called an exercise, making audible sound. This is the developing process. It is like a weight lifter lifting weights. So, you should start to count very simply. Sometimes it is better to start with two at a time.
That means that you count quietly until the inhale comes as a reflex. When the inhale comes, you count "1-2" out loud; then you count quietly (almost a whisper) again to relax the rest of that exhale as far as it will go until the next breath comes. Then you count "1-2-3-4" and continue in this manner. If that is very, very easy for you, you may increase the count by 5's instead of by 2's. For example: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10; then start over from 1.
The other important thing to remember is that ultimately you want to be heard. That doesn't mean that you are making an effort to be loud; but at the same time, you have to think of projecting the sound, otherwise the throat won't stay open when you're making sound.
If this goes easily, every so often prop your knees up and let your knees swing from side-to-side to loosen the lower back. You may also put your hands together in front of you and let them swing from side-to-side to loosen your shoulders. All of this should be done while you are lying down. Also, be sure that while you are making the swing and moving the body, you are doing that on an exhale; and counting quietly helps to keep that exhale going.
The point is to be able to extend the exhale as long as possible with sound, but not by making a great deal of effort. You never want to force when either inhaling or exhaling. Just the fact of priming the diaphragm to make the sound is enough. You may be able to get to a length of count of 40 or 50 without rushing, but keeping it moving, by doing it in a sort of sing-song manner. If you do a count that is too precise, the diaphragm may not be moving smoothly. Whereas, if you make a sort of sing-song sound, you are making one single effort.
While you are counting, you can make sure that the diaphragm is rising. If the diaphragm tenses, you can feel the pressure in your lower abdomen, between your hip bones. The lower abdomen is not contracting, but it drops inward when the diaphragm rises. When the diaphragm rises, everything above it and below it releases, so that you can feel the chest and the lower abdomen both dropping toward your spine.
If the count goes too far and the diaphragm begins to tense, you feel the pressure in the lower abdomen. Don't push past that. When this becomes easy, you may see whether you can accomplish the same thing sitting or standing. The sensation should be similar.
In addition to the quiet counting, you may also do "la-la-la" sounds, in which the tongue moves from behind the top teeth to behind the bottom teeth. It does not involve the jaw. This can be done without any sound and with the mouth hardly open, so that you can use it any time, any place, just for relaxation and to prime the exhale.
The best time to practice is the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. You should prime your breathing before you start making physical demands. If you do it the last thing before bed, it should be very relaxing, you get better sleep, and your breathing doesn't become too shallow.
Of course, at any time in your schedule that is convenient, you may practice for about 10 minutes. The more you do it, the faster you can develop, as long as it is done in a relaxed manner. The length of the practice should depend on your success. If it is going very well and you have the time, you should continue much longer. If it is not going well, let it go and come back to it at a later time.
Breathing Coordination Principles Help Many People With Asthma
All respiratory problems are primarily the result of high residual volume. Residual volume is the amount of carbon-dioxide-laden air left in the lungs at the end of an exhalation. Asthma patients often have difficulty inhaling because of this. Sensations of shortness of breath are always directly related to high residual volume.
In the asthmatic this is primarily due to the fact that they have very sensitive bronchial tubes, bronchi, and even alveoli. The tissues swell, and the person experiences shortness of breath. The person tends to hyperventilate, employing accessory breathing musculature in the upper chest instead of the diaphragm, the primary muscle-organ of breathing. The chest is lifted on the inhale, as the person grabs for a breath. Shortness of breath results because you are inhaling more than you can exhale, thus building up carbon dioxide in the lungs.
Without reducing the residual volume, there is no way to treat asthma except with medication. When you have a high residual volume, the pressure in the lungs constricts the bronchial tubes and the alveoli. Asthmatics take medications to dilate these airways. This undue pressure may extend to the trachea, the neck and the jaw. The opening of the throat may be reduced. Voice production remains caught in the throat, which creates more pressure and further closes off the airway.
Breathing Coordination provides the only known way to reduce residual volume, by redeveloping the diaphragm. Breathing Coordination has demonstrated that by extending the exhalation to its logical conclusion, the inhalation will occur as a neurological reflex and the diaphragm will begin to strengthen. When you redevelop the diaphragm, you can prevent an asthmatic attack. Once you can alleviate the panic that goes with an attack, you can develop the breathing further.
The stronger the diaphragm becomes and the higher it rises inside the ribcage on an exhale, the less residual volume you have. The goal is to develop the diaphragm to its maximum potential. Often the diaphragm has weakened as a result of allergies, asthma, and an unrecognized pattern of holding the breath. Breath-holding may begin in early childhood. This causes stress, which becomes part of a vicious cycle of stress and breath-holding.
When the diaphragm moves upward inside the ribcage on the exhale, there is a simultaneous relaxation of the upper chest and the abdomen. The abdominal muscles rest more fully into the abdominal cavity because the diaphragm rises. The goal of Breathing Coordination is to gradually extend the length of the exhale without using any accessory muscular force.
To systematically develop the diaphragm, you would practice a building count, counting from 1 to 10 repeatedly, increasing the duration of the exhale slightly on each successive exhale. You would start by counting 1-2 out loud on the first exhale; 1-2-3-4 on the second exhale; 1-2-3-4-5-6 on the third, and so on. This primes the diaphragm to rise higher and higher inside the ribcage. This has been done successfully even with young children. As soon as they would begin to be short of breath, they would start to count and would never even have the asthmatic attack.
There are two ways of counting to extend the exhale. It can be done with or without vocal sound. The exhale can be extended by counting silently, using a very soft, phonated whisper, with no audible sound. This can be done any place. When the extended exhale is practiced without sound, the diaphragm performs very little work. The exhale can easily extend to its maximum length. When the extended exhale is practiced with sound, it creates an exercise for the diaphragm. The diaphragm has to work harder to rise within the chest cavity to make the pressure to produce the sound.
A school teacher who has studied Breathing Coordination introduced these principles to third, fourth and fifth grade children who had asthma. She would have the children count, to extend the exhale without forcing. They were able to feel their upper chests and abdomens release in unison. It was so successful in the school situation that the teacher learned from the children's parents that many were able to reduce or eliminate medication.