Diaphragmatic Breathing

Even though we are all breathing constantly, most people do not practice diaphragmatic breathing, which is how to breathe properly.The benefits from this breathing technique should get you started with this breathing exercise today!


Learn Diaphragmatic breathing with Nicole


What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Even though we are all breathing constantly, most people do not practice diaphragmatic breathing, the proper way of breathing.

This type of breathing involves taking deep, slow breaths from the bottom of the abdomen and filling up your lungs with each inhalation.

Chest breathing is the opposite of diaphragmatic or diaphragm breathing. With chest breathing, breaths are shallow, and only the top portion of the lungs fills with air upon each inhale. This type of breathing can lead to fatigue, lightheadedness, and a buildup of excess stress over time.


What are the Benefits?

Numerous benefits are associated with better breathing from the diaphragm. Here are just a few you can expect:


Reduced Stress

If you've ever been stressed before and have had someone tell you to "take a deep breath," there's a reason! Common breathing quotes like these aren't just clichés.

The truth is that proper breathing can change how you feel emotionally. By breathing deeply, a message is sent to your brain1 that instigates relaxation.

This message then extends to the rest of your body. Soon, you’ll feel a physical calmness come over you that only broadens as you continue your deep breathing exercises.


Lowered Blood Pressure

The calm that comes over you as you breathe deeply with your diaphragm can positively impact your cardiovascular health1. It’s an extension of the “relaxation response,” which induces slowed breathing, a slowed heart rate, and ultimately, better blood pressure control.


Healthier Lungs

In addition to helping your heart, better breathing can also help your lungs. That’s because, when you take in full breaths of air, you can give your diaphragm a full range of motion. This allows full oxygen exchange2 to take place.

Many breathing-related conditions can be improved with belly breathing. This includes COPD, asthma, and even dyspnea (when you have shortness of breath and/or can’t take a deep breath without yawning).


Additional Benefits

  • Improved immune system
  • Lowering your breathing rate
  • Improving respiratory function
  • Improve core muscle stability
  • Improved lung function
  • Reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Help with post traumatic stress disorder


How to Breathe Properly

To breathe properly, it is important to use the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a large muscle located directly beneath the rib cage. Your goal should be to engage this muscle by ensuring that your abdomen expands upon each inhale.

Unfortunately, this is not what most people tend to do when they are breathing, and that’s largely because most of us want to feel like we have a flat stomach. Pushing our tummies outward, then, feels uncomfortable.

If you can get past the initial discomfort, however, you’ll reap wonderful benefits from this type of breathing.


Learn a Diaphragm Exercise

Here’s a quick diaphragm exercise you can do any time you're feeling excessively stressed or anxious. This is also a good exercise to do before you go to sleep at night.

  1. Find a comfortable place to lie down. Your bed, the floor, or a yoga mat will work fine.

  2. Lay on your back and look up at the ceiling. You may choose to close your eyes or not.

  3. Put your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your abdomen. Breathe normally for a moment.

  4. Now, let all of the air out of your lungs as you exhale.

  5. On your next inhale, try to make your right hand on your belly rise as you inhale slowly to the count of four. Fill your lungs entirely and then hold the air in your lungs for another count of four.

  6. Next, as you exhale, count to four again and feel your belly deflate and move back in toward the floor.

  7. Hold for another count of four before repeating the exercise at least two more times.

This exercise is called box breathing, or square breathing.


What is Belly Breathing?

Belly breathing is essentially the same as breathing from the diaphragm. In an exercise class, you might hear it called yoga breathing or even abdominal breathing. These are all the same types of breathing.

Essentially, it means breathing with the abdomen and engaging the diaphragm. When you belly breathe, each breath is deep and low. The goal is to entirely fill the lungs with air. Doing this will make your abdomen (belly) expand outward, and this is why it's called breathing from the belly.


Diaphragmatic or Diaphragm Breathing: Frequently Asked Questions


What is diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic or diaphragm breathing is a type of deep breathing that engages the diaphragm, a large muscle located beneath the lungs. During inhalation, this muscle contracts and becomes flat.

When the diaphragm contracts, the belly expands outward. Upon exhalation, the diaphragm returns to a dome shape and retracts inward.


What is diaphragmatic breathing good for?

When you know how to breathe correctly with diaphragmatic momentum, you reap multiple benefits. Most importantly, deeper diaphragm breathing can slow down your heart rate. This should help you feel calmer and less stressed.

Long-term, learning how to breathe consistently with your diaphragm can lower your blood pressure, help you sleep better, and reduce chronic anxiety.


How to do Diaphragmatic Breathing

Here’s how to take a deep diaphragmatic breath:

  1. Start by exhaling all of the air out of your lungs.

  2. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.

  3. Begin to inhale through your nose, and as you do, feel the hand on your belly move outward. Your belly (lungs) should be expanding.

  4. Now, exhale out of your mouth. As you do, feel your belly retract back toward your spine and relax. The hand on your chest should not move.


How often should one do diaphragmatic breathing?

Ideally, one would use this type of breathing all the time, as opposed to breathing from the chest, in a shallow manner. The latter does not encourage the complete exchange of oxygen and may lead to fatigue, headaches, and unnecessary stress.

If you are interested in formal diaphragm exercises for better breathing, it is recommended that you practice deep breathing for 5 to 10 minutes a day at least once or twice a day to start with to calm down and achieve mindfulness


What is the difference between diaphragmatic and belly breathing?

They are essentially the same thing. Both types of breathing involve taking slow deep breaths and engaging the diaphragm. By doing this, the abdomen will expand outward as you inhale and retract back toward the spine as you exhale.


Is belly breathing bad or good?

Want to know if belly breathing bad? It’s good! Taking deep breaths from the lower abdomen and fully inflating the lungs encourages the complete exchange of oxygen. It can also reduce stress and lower anxiety.


Is it better to breathe through the upper chest or using the abdominal muscles?

It is called belly breathing as you are using the diaphragm, a breathing exercise where your abdominal muscles are used rather than your rib cage. Learning diaphragmatic breathing is not hard, anyone could do it. By using your diaphragm you are getting as much oxygen as possible into your system. You simply need to find the breathing techniques that work for you and belly breathing would be one of these.

Slower, longer exhales, of course, mean higher carbon dioxide levels. With that bonus carbon dioxide, we gain a higher aerobic endurance.

― James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost 


Additional References

  1. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
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