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Natural Awakenings New York City

Support Lung Health Through Better Breathing

Apr 05, 2020 10:58AM ● By Michael Lehrman

Support Lung Health Through Better Breathing

One of the pioneers in the field of pulmonology wasn’t a pulmonologist—in fact, he wasn’t a physician at all. Carl Stough was a singing and choral conductor in New York, but he changed the way medical science understood the diaphragm. He developed a breathing method that pulmonologists adopted in the late 1950s to help bedridden emphysema patients expand their lung capacity.

Jean McClelland, a faculty member at the Columbia University School of the Arts, studied extensively at the Carl Stough Institute for Breathing Coordination and is one of fewer than a dozen people he personally selected to teach his work.

She was reminded of Stough’s words as Americans began to grasp the threat represented by COVID-19, which can kill by ravaging the lungs. 

Stough, who worked closely with pulmonologists at a Veterans Administration hospital in West Haven, Connecticut, once quoted them as saying, “All infection in the lungs stems from pockets of dead air.”

So what does that mean?

Our diaphragm cleanses our lungs of carbon dioxide when we exhale, so that revitalizing oxygen can enter our lungs when we inhale, McClelland says. A strong diaphragm can rise high up in the chest, pushing on the lungs so they expel more carbon dioxide and more oxygen can enter. A weak diaphragm can’t rise very high, if at all. When a lot of carbon dioxide—dead air—is left sitting in the lungs, the result is constricted breathing, a strained voice, fatigue, anxiety, digestive problems and, more seriously, lung infections. People with asthma usually have weak diaphragm.

The diaphragm is an involuntary muscle, so we can’t actively engage it, McClelland says, but we can “encourage it to do the right thing”—move up when we exhale—through specific exercises that strengthen it.

She suggests this one:

“Let your exhalation come out on a gentle sss sound. Imagine that there is a motor in the pit of your belly that drives the diaphragm upwards. Place your hands on your belly to mentally focus on letting the hiss originate from deep within. At the end of your exhalation, simply let oxygen enter through your nostrils.” 

For more ways to support health through breathing, go to YouTube and search Jean McClelland The Inspiration of Breath. For more information, visit


 “All infection in the lungs stems from pockets of dead air.”