The straw-breathing exercise*, which is used in one form or another by a number of breath therapists and teachers, can have a powerful and beneficial influence on your diaphragm and your breath. The exercise can help condition your diaphragm to relax and contract harmoniously and move slowly and evenly through its entire range of motion. It can also help empty your lungs more completely on exhalation, and allow a larger, more spontaneous inhalation. In addition, it can have a beneficial influence on all muscles related to breathing.
Use an old-fashioned straw with a relatively small diameter, not one of the new ones with huge diameters designed for fast consumption. Pick up the straw and hold it very lightly in your fingers. Inhale naturally through your nose (be sure not to force your inhalation in any way). When you’re ready to exhale (it’s important not to hold your breath at the end of the inhalation), place one end of the straw between your lips and make sure your face and the straw are pointed straight ahead. Use your fingers to ensure that the straw does not dangle toward the ground. Your lips and face should be very relaxed. As you exhale, let the exhalation take place naturally and gently only through the straw (we suggest that you pinch your nose closed with the fingers of your other hand to be sure that no air is exhaled through your nose). Do not use force as you exhale. Just exhale in a relaxed, natural way, being sure that the air leaves only through the straw. When your exhalation is almost complete (80-90 percent), take the straw out of your mouth, close your mouth, finish your exhalation in a natural, relaxed way through your nose, and then simply wait for the inhalation to occur on its own. After using the straw for one exhalation, just breathe normally (without the straw) for two or three breaths through your nose, letting your breath settle by itself into a natural rhythm. Then, inhale through your nose again, return the straw to your mouth, and repeat the entire process.
You can work in this way four or five minutes at a time on the first day, and then add a minute or two each day until you can breathe in this way for 10 minutes or more at a time without any discomfort. You can do the exercise several times throughout the day. During or after each session, you may find yourself stretching, yawning, and so on. This is quite normal, especially at the beginning. If at any time during the exercise you find yourself short of breath, hyperventilating, or having any other experience that does not feel quite right, simply stop and let your breathing normalize itself for several natural breaths before continuing.
If you work with this exercise on a regular basis, you will soon observe your breathing becoming spontaneously fuller, slower, and freer. Some people have noticed dramatic changes in just one or two sessions. Of course, to fully reeducate your diaphragm and your overall breathing coordination will take continued and varied work over a period of weeks, months, and even years.
Copyright 2014-15 by Dennis Lewis
*The straw-breathing exercise on this page is my adaptation of an exercise given by Carola Speads in her wonderful book Ways to Better Breathing. Versions of it have appeared in other books and manuals as well.