Most of the time when we breathe the air goes in, the air comes out, and we're not even conscious of how much of our lungs we are using or even which lung we tend to use more.
If you have scoliosis, asthma or other physical/health challenges that have contributed to limited lung and rib movement, or a muscle imbalance through the upper back, these conditions can create tension, stress and changes in your posture. Becoming more conscious of your lungs and practicing one lung breathing can be a great exercise for you to improve posture and reduce stress, tension or pain.
But even if you DON'T have any health challenges, there's a really great chance that you have one lung that is stronger, or more dominant than the other, and you might not even realize it! While it might not be a big deal now... Over time, you may accumulate new aches and pains because other muscles in your torso (core, back and shoulders) respond to the breathing imbalance creating a domino effect that can leave you wondering why you now hurt even though you never had an "injury."
Our posture and muscle habits for balanced body development will only get better if we take action and train the body. Good breathing habits both stretch AND strengthen our system for better posture and better health.
Here are 3 Easy One Lung Breathing Exercises You Can Practice to Strengthen Your Lungs as You Improve Balance, Posture and Health
Alternate One Lung Breathing with a Partner
One Lung Breathing is best started with a partner. This extra sensory feeling from your partner can make it easier to feel each side of your lungs and will help you begin to alternate sides. It's normal for one side to fill easier than the other - however the goal is to develop equal strength and movement on each side while you alternate breathing into each lung.
One Lung Scarf Breathing
- Have your partner place their hands on your back ribs; tap on the back ribs with the fingers to indicate which side should fill with air.
- Take 8-10 breaths (or more) alternate filling the right lung and expanding the right side of the ribcage, and filling the left lung and left ribs.
- Switch partners and repeat the exercise.
Use a Winter scarf. (Cloth works better than a sweater knit)
- Wrap the scarf around the bottom of the ribcage.
- Hold both ends of the scarf in your right hand, gently pulling the ends to the right front corner. This will give you leverage to focus on filling the LEFT lung with air.
- Take 3-5, up to 10 deep breaths on this side, then switch and repeat.
- Hold both ends of the scarf with the left hand, gently pulling to the left front corner, to focus on breathing into the RIGHT lung.
Note which side is easier and which side is more challenging. As needed, repeat on the weaker side to improve it. Ideally, it should feel the same and be easy to take a deep breath on either side.
One Lung Turtle Breathing
You may find it easiest to practice one lung breathing when you are on your stomach and your back is open to the free space. Visualize being a turtle and filling one side of your shell with air.
- Take 5-10 or more deep breaths focusing on filling into one side of your "turtle shell" at a time, and alternating sides.
You can practice One Lung Turtle Breathing in any of the following positions:
Finish your one lung breathing exercises with 3-5 deep two lung breaths.
- Child's Pose
- Seated in a chair, bent forward with your chest on your thighs
- Draped forward over a Fit Ball
- On your Stomach draped over the Pilates Spine Corrector / Arc Barrel
- On the floor with several pillows under your belly and hips
Strive to feel an equal amount of air filling both lungs at the same time.
By becoming conscious of your dominant and weaker lung for breathing and practicing one lung breathing exercises, you can significantly improve your posture, body alignment and muscle balance for better health to look good and feel great.
Click to read the other articles in this breathing series:
Better Breathing Habits to Improve Posture and Reduce Pain
Two Simple Breathing Exercises: Improve Posture and Be Well
A Simple Exercise To Develop Better Breathing Habits with Exercise
Using Percussive Breathing Techniques To Reduce Neck and Back Pain