The worldwide outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has highlighted the need for a screening and monitoring system for infectious respiratory diseases in the acute and chronic phase. The purpose of this study was to examine the feasibility of using a wearable near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) sensor to collect respiratory signals and distinguish between normal and simulated pathological breathing. Twenty-one healthy adults participated in an experiment that examined five separate breathing conditions. Respiratory signals were collected with a continuous-wave NIRS sensor (PortaLite, Artinis Medical Systems) affixed over the sternal manubrium. Following a three-minute baseline, participants began five minutes of imposed difficult breathing using a respiratory trainer. After a five minute recovery period, participants began five minutes of imposed rapid and shallow breathing. The study concluded with five additional minutes of regular breathing. NIRS signals were analyzed using a machine learning model to distinguish between normal and simulated pathological breathing. Three features: breathing interval, breathing depth, and O2Hb signal amplitude were extracted from the NIRS data and, when used together, resulted in a weighted average accuracy of 0.87. This study demonstrated that a wearable NIRS sensor can monitor respiratory patterns continuously and non-invasively and we identified three respiratory features that can distinguish between normal and simulated pathological breathing.