Diaphragmatic Breathing

Breathing with Your Belly

Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of a breathing exercise that helps strengthen your diaphragm, an important muscle that helps you breathe. This breathing exercise is also sometimes called belly breathing or abdominal breathing.

It has a number of benefits that affect your entire body. It’s the basis for almost all meditation or relaxation techniquesTrusted Source, which can lower your stress levels, reduce your blood pressure, and regulate other important bodily processes.

Let’s learn more about how diaphragmatic breathing benefits you, how to get started, and what the research says about it.

Diaphragmatic breathing benefits

Diaphragmatic breathing has a ton of benefits. It’s at the center of the practice of meditation, which is known to help manage the symptoms of conditions as wide-ranging as irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxietyTrusted Source, and sleeplessness.

Here are more benefits this type of breathing can have:

  • It helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body.
  • It lowers your heart rate.
  • It helps lower your blood pressure.
  • It helps you cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • It improves your core muscle stability.
  • It improves your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise.
  • It lowers your chances of injuring or wearing out your muscles.
  • It slows your rate of breathing so that it expends less energy.
  • One of the biggest benefits of diaphragmatic breathing is reducing stress.

Being stressed keeps your immune system from working at full capacity. This can make you more susceptible to numerous conditions. And over time, long-term (chronic) stress, even from seemingly minor inconveniences like traffic, issues with loved ones, or other daily concerns can cause you to develop anxiety or depression. Some deep breathing exercises can help you reduce these effects of stress.

It’s often recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD causes the diaphragm to be less effective, so doing breathing exercises that benefit the diaphragm specifically can help strengthen the diaphragm and improve your breathing. Here’s how it helps:

  • With healthy lungs, your diaphragm does most of the work when you inhale to bring fresh air in and exhale to get carbon dioxide and other gases out of your lungs.
  • With COPD and similar respiratory conditions, such as asthma, your lungs lose some of their elasticity, or stretchiness, so they don’t go back to their original state when you exhale.
  • Losing lung elasticity can cause air to build up in the lungs, so there’s not as much space for the diaphragm to contract for you to breathe in oxygen.
  • As a result, your body uses neck, back, and chest muscles to help you breathe. This means that you can’t take in as much oxygen. This can affect how much oxygen you have for exercise and other physical activities.
  • Breathing exercises help you force out the air buildup in your lungs. This helps increase how much oxygen’s in your blood and strengthens the diaphragm.

Diaphragmatic breathing instructions

The most basic type of diaphragmatic breathing is done by inhaling through your nose and breathing out through your mouth.

Diaphragm breathing basics

Here’s the basic procedure for diaphragmatic breathing:
  1. Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor, your bed, or another comfortable, flat surface.
  2. Relax your shoulders.
  3. Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach.
  4. Breathe in through your nose for about two seconds. You should experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. During this type of breathing, make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.
  5. Purse your lips (as if you’re about to drink through a straw), press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly for about two seconds.
  6. Repeat these steps several times for best results.

Rib-stretch breathing

The rib stretch is another helpful deep breathing exercise. Here’s how:

Stand up straight and arch your back.

Breathe out until you just can’t anymore.

Inhale slowly and gradually, taking in as much air as possible until you can’t breathe in anymore.

Hold your breath for about 10 seconds.

Breathe out slowly through your mouth. You can do this normally or with pursed lips.

What is happening during diaphragmatic breathing?

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped respiratory muscle found near the bottom of your ribcage, right below your chest. When you inhale and exhale air, the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles around your lungs contract. The diaphragm does most of the work during the inhalation part. During inhalation, your diaphragm contracts so that your lungs can expand into the extra space and let in as much air as is necessary.

Muscles in between your ribs, known as intercostal muscles, raise your rib cage in order to help your diaphragm let enough air into your lungs.

Muscles near your collarbone and neck also help these muscles when something makes it harder for you to breathe properly; they all contribute to how quickly and how much your ribs can move and make space for your lungs.

Some of these muscles include:
  • scalenes
  • pectoralis minor
  • serratus anterior
  • sternocleidomastoid

Autonomic nervous system and your breath

Also, breathing is part of your autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system is in charge of essential bodily processes that you don’t need to put any thought into, such as:

  • digestive processes
  • how quickly you breathe
  • metabolic process that affect your weight
  • overall body temperature
  • blood pressure

The ANS has two main components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. Each division is responsible for different bodily functions.

The sympathetic usually gets these processes going, while the parasympathetic stops them from happening. And while the sympathetic controls your fight-or-flight response, the parasympathetic is in charge of everyday processes.

So even though most ANS functions are involuntary, you can control some of your ANS processes by doing deep breathing exercises.

Taking deep breaths can help you voluntarily regulate your ANS, which can have many benefits — especially by lowering your heart rate, regulating blood pressure, and helping you relax, all of which help decrease how much of the stress hormone cortisol is released into your body.