What is Diaphragmatic breathing?
What is the Diaphragm?
The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle of breathing. It is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs. Your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs. But chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may prevent the diaphragm from working effectively.
When you have COPD, air often becomes trapped in the lungs, pushing down on the diaphragm. The neck and chest muscles must then assume an increased share of the work of breathing. This can leave the diaphragm weakened and flattened, causing it to work less efficiently.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
All of us are born with the knowledge of how to fully engage the diaphragm to take deep, refreshing breaths. As we get older, however, we get out of the habit. Everything from the stresses of everyday life to the practice of “sucking in” the stomach for a trimmer waistline encourages us to gradually shift to shallower, less satisfying “chest breathing.”
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.
Diaphragmatic breathing instructions
Here’s how to do it:
Diaphragm breathing basics
- Lie on your back on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that’s more comfortable.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.
You can also practice this sitting in a chair, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. Practice for five to 10 minutes, several times a day if possible.
The rib stretch is another helpful deep breathing exercise. Here’s how to do it:
- 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.
Numbered breathing is a good exercise for gaining control over your breathing patterns. Here’s how you can do it:
- Stand up, staying still, and close your eyes.
- Inhale deeply until you can’t take in anymore air.
- Exhale until all air has been emptied from your lungs.
- Keep your eyes closed! Now, inhale again while picturing the number 1.
- Keep the air in your lungs for a few seconds, then let it all out.
- Inhale again while picturing the number 2.
- Hold your breath while counting silently to 3, then let it all out again.
- Repeat these steps until you’ve reached 8. Feel free to count higher if you feel comfortable.
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 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.
- Lowers your heart rate.
- It helps lower your blood pressure.
- Helps you cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- It improves your core muscle stability.
- 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.
Your Breathing Can Contribute to Your Anxiety and Panic
Most people aren’t really conscious of the way they’re breathing, but generally, there are two types of breathing patterns:
- Thoracic (chest) breathing
- Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing
When people are anxious they tend to take rapid, shallow breaths that come directly from the chest. This type of breathing is called thoracic or chest breathing. When you’re feeling anxious, you may not even be aware you’re breathing this way.
Chest breathing causes an upset in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body resulting in increased heart rate, dizziness, muscle tension, and other physical sensations. Your blood is not being properly oxygenated and this may signal a stress response that contributes to anxiety and panic attacks.
In contrast, during abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, you take even, deep breaths. This is the way new-born babies naturally breathe. You’re also probably using this pattern of breathing when you’re in a relaxed stage of sleep.
Tips to get started and to keep going
Creating a routine can be a good way to get in the habit of diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Try the following to get into a good groove:
- Do your exercises in the same place every day. Somewhere that’s peaceful and quiet.
- Don’t worry if you’re not doing it right or enough. This may just cause additional stress.
- Clear your mind of the things that are stressing you out. Focus instead on the sounds and rhythm of your breathing or the environment around you.
- Do breathing exercises at least once or twice daily. Try to do them at the same time each day to reinforce the habit.
- Do these exercises for about 10–20 minutes at a time.
Diaphragmatic breathing is most effective when you’re feeling rested. Try one or more techniques to see which one works best for you by giving you the most relief or feelings of relaxation.
Also read – Breathing exercises for better sleep