“How do I control the breathing capacity when I am reciting the Qur’an?”
“Is there a way, one can have longer breath capacity?”
“Can I be advised on how to increase my breath capacity?”
“I struggle with breathing while reciting verses, what do I do?”
“I try to recite like Qari X, but my breath is short, what do I do?”

You get the idea.

These are common questions I get asked every now and then. So, today, I’ll discuss and share exercises with you that you could try to adopt in order to increase your breath capacity.

Is having a longer breathing capacity natural or something that can be acquired (through training)?

It’s a combination of both.

As human beings we are species who survive and live with air. We breathe, we live. We don’t breathe, we don’t live. As healthline.com notes: “Your lung capacity is the total amount of air that your lungs can hold. Over time, our lung capacity and lung function typically decreases slowly as we age after our mid-20s. For many people with a chronic lung disease, shortness of breath presents many challenges. Some conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can significantly speed up these reductions in lung capacity and functioning. This leads to difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. There can also be other conditions that affect lung capacity. So there is an element of nature. Fortunately, there are exercises that can help maintain and increase lung capacity, making it easier to keep your lungs healthy and get your body the oxygen it needs.”

Things that are part of this are:

  1. Big lungs / big chest
  2. Strong stomach muscles
  3. Regular rhythmic breathing pattern
  4. Breathing that done right and is not easily restrained
  5. A pleasant breathing rate even when you are reciting to or before someone (confidence)
  6. Exercise
  7. Motivation
  8. Persistence
  9. Hard work
  10. Self-awareness (you need to know and understand what you’re capable of, including the health factors).

Having a big breathing capacity naturally therefore is as a result of both good health and training.

Work on improving your health and fitness

Many in our community are not in good shape. If you want to improve with breath function, you need to take care of yourself. I have witnessed this first hand. When I was active, I had better breath control and when I wasn’t, I didn’t.

You should also work on core strengths: (1) the breathing exercises (2) the push-ups to strengthen the chest muscles (3) cardiovascular exercises such as brisk walking, running, swimming, etc.

One of the largest differences between someone who is active and not active concerns the heart’s ability to pump blood and consequently deliver oxygen to working muscles. Cardiac output is a major limiting factor for prolonged exercise. In addition, an exerciser typically has a larger blood volume, is better able to extract oxygen from the air in the lungs and is better able to extract oxygen from the blood at the working muscles than a sedentary individual is. Gas exchange involves not only oxygen delivery but also the removal of carbon dioxide, which is a byproduct of energy metabolism, and this process is also more efficient in an exerciser.

Therefore exercise causes your heart and breathing rates to increase, so your body has enough oxygen and strengthens your heart and lungs. The average person’s lung capacity can be improved around 5 percent to 15 percent even with frequent workouts. Many experts recommend some form of physical exercise at least three times a week or a minimum amount per day.

Alongside exercise, we need to have a diet to match. Make sure you eat antioxidant-rich foods, you stay on top of your vitamin D levels, and remain balanced. Making sure you are getting enough water is as important for the lungs as it is for the rest of the body. Staying well hydrated by taking in fluids throughout the day helps keep the mucosal linings in the lungs thin. This thinner lining helps the lungs function better.

Better control of your inner and outer environments

Your inner environment is your self-confidence. Keeping a positive attitude and having self-confidence can help you improve your mood and outlook, which can help you stay motivated on your path to increasing your lung capacity. This requires persistence and desire.

Self-composure leads to relaxation. When you’re relaxed, your body is naturally able to breathe more easily.

Your outer environment is a clean home and environment. Make sure, to the best of your ability, that you take care of the air you breathe in. Dust, airborne indoor pollutants, chemical fumes and more can cause symptom flare-ups, so keeping a clean home is important. Consider getting rid of dust collecting items such as window treatments, carpet and curtains. Place your mattresses and pillow cases in dust mite proof zippered cases, and wash your sheets and bedding at high temperatures. Be mindful of temperature and air quality reports. When the outdoor air quality is poor, keep your windows closed. If you decide to use indoor air purifiers, HEPA filters as well as natural air purifiers are good choices. Even better, purify the air in your homes with plants that purify the air.

Seeking spiritual blessings

Also ask Allāh to enable you. Ask that He grants you understanding of starting and stopping. Ask that He grants you the ability to recite in the best way and with the best of breath capacity. Included in this area of blessings is to sing Qasā’id, Inshād and Salawāt in praise of Allāh and His Messenger (s). Singing can help you gain better breath control and increase capacity.

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are an excellent way to increase lung capacity. Let’s start with some basics.

Learn to breathe right first – diaphragmatic breathing!

Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” engages the diaphragm, which is supposed to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to breathing. Breathe through your diaphragm upwards, not through the chest. Secondly, through the nose and thirdly, in a systematic pattern with stomach up followed by chest and posture straightening.

You should do the following to practice diaphragmatic breathing:

  • Relax your shoulders and sit back (straight).
  • Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Inhale through your nose for two seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out. Your stomach should move more than your chest does. The chest should be a secondary movement. This is breathing with the body.
  • Breathe out for two seconds through pursed lips while pressing on your abdomen.
  • Repeat.

Another one is called, pursed-lips breathing.

Pursed-lips breathing can slow down your breathing, reducing the work of breathing by keeping your airways open longer. This makes it easier for the lungs to function and improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
This breathing exercise is often easier for beginners than diaphragmatic breathing, and you can do it at home even if no one has shown you how. It can be practiced at any time. To practice the pursed-lips breathing technique:

  • Inhale slowly through your nostrils.
  • Purse your lips, as if pouting or about to blow on something. Breathe out as slowly as possible through pursed lips. This should take at least twice as long as it did to breathe in.
  • Repeat.

Other basic exercises include:

Pushing Out: With your feet flat on the ground and with an upright posture, keep your knees relaxed and bend over from the waist. Push the air out of your lungs, and then slowly return to an upright position. Inhale slowly and allow your lungs to comfortably fill with as much air as possible. Hold your breath for 20 seconds. However, if 20 seconds is too long, pick a timing that you can manage. While counting, lift your arms over your head. Relax and then lower your arms as you exhale slowly. Complete this cycle four times.

Rib Stretch: Stand upright and exhale all the air from your lungs. Slowly breathe in, and expand your lungs to the maximum capacity. Hold the air for about 20 seconds or what is comfortable for you. While counting, place both hands on your hips with your thumbs facing front with pinkies touching the small of your back. Exhale the air slowly, relax and repeat three more times.

Abdominal Breathing: Lay in a comfortable position on your back, and rest one hand on top of your abdomen. Rest the other hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your midsection. The hand on your stomach will rise higher than the one on your chest. Exhale slowly from the mouth and inhale slowly from the nose, holding your breath for seven seconds if possible. Then, when you exhale, breathe out for eight seconds. Make sure to squeeze your abdominal muscles near the end, so you exhale all the air. Breathe this way for five cycles.

Qur’ān recitation breathing exercises

When it comes to the recitation of the Qur’an and your breath control there are two elements to consider. One being knowing of where to start and where to stop. That is the most important area of the science of Tajwīd. Secondly, recognising that there are different modes and speeds of recitation. You have slow, medium, and fast-paced recitation. Within the slow recitation, you have different modes. You have a recitation that is toneless and used to teach (murattal li-ta’līm) and you have a recitation that is full of melody and is used to convey the Word of Allāh with honour, in the best way possible, and to convey meanings to hearts (mujawwad). Unfortunately, the latter mode of recitation has been misused by many reciters – young and old. It’s the type of recitation done live at gatherings in front of crowds. It’s become a means of entertainment and a means of making money. Far from what the purpose of its recitation should serve. May Allāh protect us. It is within this mode of recitation that most of us are interested in increasing breath capacity. This is because it involves recitation with high, medium, and low pitches. It involves recitation of many verses recited together. Although this is not a necessity, it has become something of a ‘must’ within the culture that has been built around it. So much so that Tajwīd has become neglected at the expense of melody and who can hold their breath for the longest period.

With all of this in mind, most of us don’t want any of that, we just want to be able to recite nice and slow, with Tajwīd (which is a must), with reflection and with less of a struggle in terms of breathing. For this and beyond, you should take a staggered approach to increasing your breath capacity.

First stage.

Start with a focus on breathing through your diaphragm. In case, you’re still not clear, the diaphragm is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. I call it breathing through the lower half of the body.

Take a breath in through the nose for 3-4 seconds (you can include after that 1-2 seconds from the mouth too). Hold it for 2 seconds. Now exhale through the mouth for 3-4 seconds.

This is to be done 10 times a day, for 2 weeks and the goal would be to increase the duration each day.

Second stage.

Do the above mentioned exercise and hold for 5 seconds and when you exhale, do that from the stomach, using the mouth and the teeth to release a hissing sound at the same time (like the arabic letter seen, a hissing, whispering sound).

Again, do this 10 times a day for two weeks. Increase the holds and intakes. You can progress up to 40 seconds (with practice).

Third stage.

This is the period now to begin lengthening the breath capacity by the process of exhalation using sound and would be in accordance with various notes.

We can do the same process as stage two and after you do this process you make a sound on the final stretch of your breath. When you are completely empty. The sounds to make can either be to an AA, EE, OO sound at variant pitches or use the eight tonal notes of doo, ree, mee, faa, sool, laa, see, doo.

Increase your number every day. For example, if Saturday was 30, Sunday should be 31 etc. Go to where you’re able to go. Do it 10 times a day for two weeks.

Fourth stage.

This is to prepare you for when you are reciting in front of someone else. Do as exercise two until you have nothing left in you. Then begin saying a sound until you can no longer do it. Note down your timing of it all from release to the end of the sound. You want to build on this number every day. You can go 70 seconds as many have done.

Fifth stage.

Now you will use recitation (can even use nasheeds). Take a relaxed full breath in and hold slightly, and start reciting out loud. Keep reciting until you run out of breath. Recite the portion again, and again until you increase with increased pitch, different melodies, and styles. Know when to start and end the portion in recitation and in seconds. Recite one ayah, next round, add the second, then next round adds the next, and so on.

Alternatives.

There is an exercise called the ‘Breath-hold’. Breath from the stomach, as usual, standing up. You want to increase the amount of air that comes out in this one.

Intake: 8-second count.
Hold: 8 seconds and release 8 seconds.
Repeat with an increase to 12. Increase by similar increments.

Alternatively, hold a tissue, light cloth, or handkerchief before your mouth and blow over it with the aim of not having it back to the original position. Hold it in front of your face and blow until you run out. Do this around 5 times a day at different times.

Another one is to sit on the floor, as in a Tashahhud position with the back straight, legs crossed (like the yoga pose) and this exercise can also be done in the position of Qiyām (standing), or Ruku’ (bowing), even lying down on the floor. You breathe in with a 5-second count, hold for 5 seconds, and release. Relax the body when releasing. Good to do in the morning. You can also breathe in but release quickly.

There are also Qigong exercises that can be done that help open up the muscles around the lungs as well as the breathwork.

Hope these tips can be helpful. For many of these you may need to see them demonstrated, so here are some videos for you to see. They aren’t in English for the most part, but you should hopefully be able to follow based on what I have shared.

If you need me to demo anything, In sha’ Allah I can update with some demos.

Qigong breathing exercises
Blowing onto a cloth
All stages of exercises

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