What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Breathing with your belly…..or 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 techniques 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 and how to get started with our resident Yogi, Nate Jackson.

Diaphragmatic breathing benefits

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.

What happens 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.

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.
  • Start with 2 minutes of 5 second inhales with 10 second exhales.