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Relaxation Techniques to Relieve Dysphagia Symptoms

A woman practices yoga on the beach

Guest Author: Amy Reinstein, MS, CCC-SLP

Ten years ago, I was officially diagnosed with Behcet’s Disease, a rare autoimmune/vasculitis disease that causes inflammation of the small and large blood vessels which can in turn affect any system of the body. At that time, I was being overmedicated with every immunosuppressant available, which unfortunately led to respiratory failure, a 10-day medically induced coma and a dysphagia diagnosis.

I believe my condition has been present my entire life, but it really broke through during graduate school when I was studying to be a speech-language pathologist (SLP). I had fallen in love with learning about swallowing disorders and was fascinated by the science and physiology of the swallow. A professor of mine had introduced us to the topic by sharing the story of a patient who suffered from a disorder where he was eternally thirsty and was aspirating on liquids. The professor then had the unfortunate task of telling this patient he was unable to drink liquids for a certain amount of time. I couldn’t fathom this and was determined to learn how I could help these patients. Little did I know that much of this learning would later come from personal experience. Years after first learning about swallowing disorders in graduate school, I myself aspirated when I was diagnosed with dysphagia following my coma. As an SLP, I understood the biological process that caused my aspiration, and it was surreal to experience the sensation myself.

Immediately following my discharge from the hospital, I moved from New York to Florida so my mother could care for me. Once I was strong enough, I began looking for ways to get healthy.  Turning to yoga and meditation changed my life. They gave me a sense of community, made me happier, more well-rounded and strong, and improved my breathing (due to the coma, I only have one working lung).

Once I began seeing patients again, I integrated what I learned as a yogi into my SLP practice. Breathing and meditation proved to be beneficial for my patients’ overall mood by decreasing their anxiety, and the practice also increased their lung volume and helped them sleep better.

To relax the body and mind for more comfortable eating and drinking with dysphagia, I like to begin patient sessions with Bhastrika Pranayama, or bellows breath. It is an energizing, deep breathing practice that supports the respiratory and digestive systems while also toning the core.[i] It also comforts patients who get frustrated during tasks we are working on together such as memory, anomia, or language. During these moments, I ask them to return to their breathing until they are ready to try again.

To do Bhastrika Pranayama at home, follow these steps:

  1. Sit up tall in a sturdy chair or on the floor. Close your eyes. Straighten the spine. Relax your shoulders.
  2. Get settled with a few deep, even breaths, allowing your abdomen to expand as you inhale.
  3. To begin the practice, inhale then exhale quickly and audibly, with force, as if you were panting.
  4. Start slowly, taking one breath per second. Perform three rounds of seven to 10 breaths, eventually building up to 30 breaths per round.
  5. Rest for 15 to 30 seconds between each round. Take relaxed, natural breaths, and tune in to how you feel.[ii]

Coherent breathing is another option for slower, more contemplative breathing when you need to relax. Sit comfortably, straighten your spine, and place your hands on your belly. Close your eyes and slowly breathe in counting to two, feeling your belly expand beneath your hands. Pause for a moment, then slowly release your breath while silently counting to two.[iii]

I also encourage my patients who are able to perform asanas, or poses, that can be done from a chair or even in bed, including:

  • Stretch: On first waking, take a deep, slow breath. Stretch your body the length of the bed. Point and flex each foot.
  • Heel Slides: Lying on your back, slowly slide one heel toward the buttock, then back out straight. Do 10 heel slides on each leg while pulling your belly button in toward your spine.
  • Seated Mountain Pose: Using a straight-back chair without arms, sit toward the front of the chair, keeping your spine straight, feet flat on the floor with ankles directly under your knees, and hands on your knees. Feel your lower body pressing into the chair while lifting your chest and head up, lengthening the spine.[iv]

There are many different types of meditation, so if you do not take to a certain one, I highly recommend trying others until you find what works best, as the benefits can be remarkable. For more relaxation techniques that can benefit those with swallowing disorders, download the Thick-It® brand’s free infographic, which will be available next week.

Amy Reinstein, MS, CCC-SLP, is an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)-certified speech, language, and swallowing therapist servicing adults and children through her practice located in Palm Beach County and Broward County, Florida. She specializes in adult neurogenic communication disorders, swallowing disorders, and Parkinson’s Disease.

Amy’s opinions and advice are her own. Amy has been compensated by Kent Precision Foods Group, Inc., producers of the Thick-It® brand family of products, for this blog submission and industry insights.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, treatment, or the use of Thick-It® products. The information contained herein is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment in any manner.


[i] “What is Bhastrika pranayama and Its Benefits.” June 8, 2020.
[ii] “Learn Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath).”
[iii] Julie Podewitz, CSO. “Yoga for seniors: Mindful Chair Yoga Poses and Coherent Breathing.” September 16, 2019.
[iv] Shale, Jayne, LCSW, RYT-500. Glenn, Kathy, MS RD LD, RYT-500. Hennard, Janet, MA, RYT-500. “Rise and Shine—with Yoga!” Today’s Caregiver,

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