Even if you have never heard about a stroke, you can do this exercise frequently! This drill is called diaphragmatic breathing. It is also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle at the base (below) of your lungs. This muscle plays an important role in breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest cavity. It causes your lungs to expand as you take a breath (inspiration).
Remember, this exercise helps you to mobilize your airway secretions, to use more of your cough reflex, to better control your breathing, and teach yourself to become more aware of proper posture. Also, it helps you cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from your stroke. It improves your core muscle stability. The activity lowers your chances of injuring or wearing out your muscles’ breathing. It helps lower your blood pressure. It helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body. Finally, regularly done, this action slows your breathing rate so that it expends less energy.
When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier to follow the instructions lying down. As you gain more practice, you can use the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair.
The technique of this exercise:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support if that’s more comfortable.
- If you can, place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage. If you have paralysis or your feeling is gone on one side of your body, position a mirror, so you can watch yourself.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise. Or in the mirror.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.
To perform this exercise while sitting in a chair:
- Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. If you have paralysis or your feeling is gone on one side of your body, position a mirror, so you can watch yourself.
- 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 slowly through your nose, so your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
First, practice this exercise for 5 minutes about 3 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise over the next three weeks. It means, getting to five times a day, 5 minutes each time. You can even increase the effort of the exercise by placing a hardback book on your abdomen while lying down.
That is it. Easy-peasy. It is simple, but you need to do the repetitions for the exercise. Never allow yourself to force the expiration. Respiration should always be relaxed or lightly controlled. Forced respiration only increases turbulence in the airways, leading to bronchospasm and increased airway restriction. That’s a no-no!