Breathing exercises for enhancing lungs’ capacity

A healthy mode of living


March 24, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Breathing exercises

Though with ageing, lung capacity is bound to decrease, air pollution and smoking trigger the deterioration much before

Several reports have been putting forth the deteriorating impact of air pollution and smoking on our lungs from time to time. While it is natural for the lung capacity to decrease with ageing, factors like poor air quality and smoking, trigger the process much earlier. Here are some breathing exercises that help in enhancing our pulmonary capacities. 

As I sit against the yellow painted sky decorated with strokes of pink and violet in my front porch dotted with bright red Daffodils, I can feel the gush of fresh air entering my lungs. Breathing alternately through one nostril at a time, a practice famous by the name anulom vilom in the Indian medicinal system Ayurveda, the impact of today’s fast-paced lifestyle hits me hard. While ageing brings along the perils of reduced lung capacities, the rising levels of pollution, increased carbohydrate intake and smoking are triggering the phenomenon much earlier in all the age groups. There are some breathing exercises that help in reversing the damage, up to a certain extent.

Purse lips breathing

The simple technique of purse lips breathing, also known as the numbered breath technique is one of the easiest exercises known to be effective against shortness of breath. It involves inhaling two breaths through nose, with the mouth tightly shut, and then slowly exhaling the air through a pursed pout of lips, while counting till four. The technique is known to keep the airways open by releasing all the trapped air, thereby increasing the efficiency of pulmonary ventilation.

The technique is often accompanied by other exercises such as flexing the elbows and put fingers on the shoulders, resembling a chicken, followed by the rotation of elbows during exhalation.

A five-minute-long session of numbered breathing is known to be sufficient. Practising the technique in a good posture with relaxed shoulders, adds on to the efficiency.

Abdominal Breathing

Stress often triggers shallow breathing, thereby reducing the oxygen intake which leads to hypertension and, at times, dizziness. The abdominal breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing technique, addresses this issue and increases the muscle strength, facilitating the natural course of breath from the diaphragm.

The technique requires the person to place one hand over belly, under the chest and the other one over heart. A deep breath is taken, allowing the belly to rise with air, followed by a relaxed exhalation through mouth leaving a soft belly. While following the practice, it should be ensured that the abdomen rises more than the chest.

The technique can be followed for three to ten minutes in both sitting as well as lying down positions. 

Anulom Vilom (Breathing through alternate nostrils) 

The relevance of this age-old practice has been stressed upon in Ayurveda. Anulom Vilom begins with a deep exhalation. Thumb of the dominant hand is placed over one of the nostrils to completely block the passage of air and oxygen is inhaled through the other nostril, until the person is full of breath.

It is followed by the sealing of open nostril temporarily with the ring finger, which holds the air in lungs for some time.

It is followed by the exhalation from the nostril originally blocked with the thumb. After a pause of two to three seconds, a fresh bout of air is inhaled through the same nostril.

Though initially the exercise can be a little challenging and tiring to master, eventually the body gets used to it and is relaxed with each session. Beginners can breathe in till the count of four, hold the air till a count of eight and exhale while counting till four. The cycle can, on an average, be followed ten times at a stretch.

A form of yoga, anulom vilom has multiple health benefits detoxification of blood, increased concentration and reduced stress. The technique also helps in a sound sleep.


One of the six shatkarmas (breathing techniques) of yoga, Kapalbharti, also called the breath of fire, is a rather aggressive breathing mechanism that calls for strength. While following the technique, the person needs to sit in a rigid posture with a straight spine and exhale forcefully all the air from the lungs. A gentle breath is inhaled using both the nostrils, which is followed by a sharp exhalation while pulling one’s navel towards the stomach. Similar to the inhalation, exhalation needs to be sharp and quick.

For beginners, the complex technique can be started with a daily practice for one to two minutes. However, the duration eventually needs to be raised to 10-15 minutes, for best effects.

The technique is known to cleanse and tone the respiratory tract internally, besides rendering a natural glow to the face. As per some of the ancient texts, the technique is also known to brighten the intellect.

However, being an advanced technique, it is advisable to try this one after having practised an easier one before. If done in an incorrect fashion, the technique can cause dizziness, headache and nausea.

Besides the above-mentioned breathing exercises, aerobics, water exercises, rib stretches, and cardio exercises are known for improving lung capacities. Coupled with a healthy and balanced diet, these exercises can help in improving the overall health of a person.



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