Coughing to clean your lungs... purposely.
Breathing exercises should focus on both filling and emptying your lungs. Coughing breathing exercises are a direct way to cleanse your lungs.
I've previously talked about the Cleansing Breath exercise for lung health. In the instructions on the Cleansing Breath, I mention purposefully exhaling to the level that you cough. Generally, we think of coughing as a sign that there is something wrong in our lungs and our body is trying to eliminate whatever it is that is irritating the lung tissues. So how can an automatic response to irritation be used to improve your breathing?
If your lungs have been compromised through injury or illness, please consult your physician before beginning any focused breath work.
The autonomic purpose of coughing is cleaning out debris or phlegm that is impairing or has the potential to impair your body's ability to breath properly. You can't properly fill your lungs if your lungs are filled with phlegm! By purposely, forcibly coughing, it's a preemptive strike against excess phlegm.
Often when I'm working with clients who haven't put much focus into their breathing throughout the years, they'll get to the level of coughing accidentally, often while performing an abdominal crunching exercise. I'm sure that for every one of those clients, when I more or less congratulated them on coughing, they were thoroughly confused! What kind of evil trainer likes it when his clients cough?
I'll tell you what kind... the kind that likes healthy lungs.
Before moving forward, just in case you think I'm some kind of extremist nut job, look up coughing + COPD and you'll see that coughing is a recommended breathing exercise for those with COPD. (COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ie: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.)
On that front, if you are aware that you have pulmonary distress or illness, ALWAYS get your primary care physicians advice prior to attempting new breathing exercises.
Two different coughing breathing exercises
(always keep a tissue handy! You never know what might come up)
Shallow coughing. Best if strong breathing exercises are new to you:
- Sitting upright on a firm chair, take 2 or 3 diaphragmatic breaths.
- On the next inhale, hold the inhale a few seconds, then make fake coughing sounds as you exhale. Often you'll find that 4 fake coughs will be enough to complete your exhale.
- If you do cough up excess phlegm and it is yellow, green or red in color, stop the exercise and consult your physician.
- If no excess or odd colored phlegm is produced, take one or two more coughing breaths.
- Since this is already a coughing/cleansing breath, there is no need to perform the Cleansing Breathing as you would in other breathing exercises.
Deep Coughing. A more powerful and advanced form:
- Sit upright on a firm chair and take 2 or 3 diaphragmatic breaths.
- On the next inhale, hold the inhale a few seconds, then hug your arms to your waist and place your joined fists into the middle of your belly, almost like giving the Heimlich maneuver.
- As you exhale, bend your body over into your fists and forcibly cough.
- With this being a more powerful and thorough cough, one powerful round of controlled coughing should be enough.
- Once again, a Cleansing Breath is not needed.
Keeping your pulmonary passageways clear of excess phlegm can help prevent common illnesses. The point of mucus is to trap invasive particles such as dust, pollutants and infectious bacteria, before they can enter the sensitive alveoli or all the way to the blood stream. If the phlegm isn't cleared naturally, illnesses such as bronchitis, common colds and the flu could result, be more common, or last longer durations. While most people will naturally clear the invasive particles, giving your body a little helping hand, or helping cough, is an ounce of prevention.
Try this breathing exercise out and in the comments, let me know how they made you feel.