COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Breathing control techniques

There are techniques to help you reduce breathlessness.

Try to practise them every day. They can also help if you get out of breath suddenly. Being in control of your breathing means breathing gently, using the least effort, with your shoulders supported and relaxed.

Different things work best for different people but these are all techniques to try:

  • relaxed slow deep breathing: breathe in gently through your nose and breathe out through your nose and mouth. Try to feel relaxed and calm each time you breathe out.
  • pursed-lips breathing: breathe in gently through your nose and breathe out with your lips pursed as if you are whistling.
  • blow as you go: use this when you’re doing something that makes you breathless, such as standing up. Breathe in before you make the effort. Then breathe out while making the effort. Try using pursed lips as you breathe out.
  • paced breathing: this is useful when you’re active, such as climbing stairs. You pace your steps to your breathing. For example, breathe in when on the stair, and breathe out as you go up a stair.

Your physiotherapist can help you find what works best for you.

There’s more detail in patient information developed by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care.

Helpful positions

Use these positions to help you practise your breathing control, or to recover your breath when you get breathless. Your physiotherapist will help you find positions that work for you.

Standing up with arms leaning on a chair

Stand leading forward

Lean from the hips, with your forearms resting on something at the right height, such as a chair or kitchen work surface.

When you’re out and about, you could lean on a walking stick or a frame with wheels. If you’re shopping, use your supermarket trolley.

Sitting on a chair, leaning forward with arms resting on knees

Sit leaning forward

Lean resting your elbows on your knees.

Sitting on a chair, leaning forward and resting on a pillow on a table

Sit leaning forward at a table

Rest your head and arms on pillows on a table when you’re really short of breath.

Stand leaning back

You can also stand leaning back or sideways against a wall. Have your feet apart. Relax your arms down by your sides. If you prefer, rest your hands or thumbs in your waistband or belt loops, or across the shoulder strap of your handbag.  

For more information about managing your breathlessness, go to our breathlessness information.

If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

We'll take good care of your personal info and you can update the way we contact you at any time - check out our privacy policy at to find out more.

Download this information (2.2MB, PDF) Order your COPD products >

Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.