Natural strategies such as breathwork, yoga, and essential oils can also help support the immune system and reduce irritation and inflammation in the respiratory system. Here are a few non-invasive and generally safe things to try when breathing isn't easy.
If you're feeling breathless from anxiety, take a deep breath, or several. Breathe in slowly and release the breath slowly too. This helps to calm the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a role in the "fight or flight" response. A regular breathing practice can also help to keep the respiratory system healthy, but if you have a respiratory condition like COPD, pulmonary fibrosis or asthma, it's wise to check with a medical provider before giving it a try.
Breathing exercises have also been recommended to patients suffering from COVID-19 and even as a preventative measure. It turns out that the better condition your lungs are in, the better your system will be in fighting the novel coronavirus. The best way to get your lungs in tip-top shape is the old fashioned way – with regular aerobic exercise.
But, simple breathing exercises can help to strengthen your lung capacity as well. Deep breathing allows your body to clear secretions in the lungs and this practice is especially helpful for people who are unable to exercise.
Here we outline 6 different ways to support your respiratory system and increase your overall immunity.
1. Simple Breathing Exercise
This exercise is perfect for people who are looking for deeper relaxation or are unable to undertake any strenuous aerobic activity.
Sit tall in a chair, relax your belly and your shoulders - close your eyes. Inhale deeply and allow your belly to extend with your deep breath. Hold the breath for a few seconds and exhale slowly until all the air is released. Repeat for as a long as possible. If you are sick, allow yourself to cough so that your lungs may release any additional secretions. According to Bruce Levy, chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, this “exercise is a preventive measure “that gets out the secretions sitting in the gravity-dependent portions of your lungs and decreases your risk of pneumonia and infection”
2. Wim Hof Breathing Exercise
Wim Hof, is an extraordinary man and endurance athlete, also known as the "IceMan". He is known for his extreme ability to withstand freezing cold temperatures and set a Guinness Book World record for swimming 57 meters under ice. He also set a record for running the fastest half marathon, while barefoot, over snow and ice.
Wim Hof attributes his superhuman abilities to three "pillars": cold therapy, breathing, and meditation. With these, he has not only been able to achieve enormous goals but also to increase immune response.
The Wim Hof breathing technique can be learned through his online course which includes a series of breathing techniques, meditation exercises, and cold water immersion (which is not as bad as it sounds). Learn more about the Wim Hof Method on his site.
Some research suggests that yoga can help to improve lung function in people with COPD and asthma. The slow and meditative movements of yoga practice typically include breathwork as well. Yoga can help to open the chest, strengthen the lungs and improve the flow of oxygen throughout the body. Yoga can also help to calm anxiety and reduce panic attacks, which can also cause dyspnea and hyperventilation.
4. Steaming with Terpene-Rich Essential Oils
Steaming with peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils can help to open up the airways, reduce congestion and make breathing easier. Add a few drops to a pot of hot water, and breathe in the steam as it rises. Repeat as needed for comforting relief of temporary congestion from respiratory infections, colds and flu.
5. Herbs and Spices
A variety of herbs and spices can help to relieve mild breathing problems too. A cup of steaming, hot green tea can reduce symptoms of bronchitis and clear congestion in the airways, and so can brews made from ginger, turmeric and lemongrass. A recent study also indicates that the ancient herb panax ginseng shows promise as a treatment for COPD. Add a bit of honey for taste and some additional antioxidants.
6. Vitamins and Minerals
A healthy diet supports the whole body, but some foods can be especially beneficial/for the respiratory system. New Research reveals that Vitamin D can promote a stronger resistance to respiratory infections, and Vitamin C can help keep the entire immune system strong. Flavonoids, found in many foods such as blueberries, red grapes, tomatoes and grapes, also support a healthy immune system and reduce levels of inflammation that can contribute to breathing problems. So can quercetin, a chemical found abundantly in apples.
The causes of breathing problems are many and varied, and so are the treatments aimed at relieving them. If you have a chronic respiratory condition or another health issue that interferes with breathing, it's important to work with your healthcare provider to find the best way to manage your condition. But in many cases, cannabis and other natural remedies can support the body's own defenses and help you breathe easier, too.