There is a common misconception that the best way to breathe is when your chest is expanding, as that is where the lungs are situated. However, this actually leads to relatively shallow breathing that does not use the full capacity of the lungs.
So what are we doing wrong? Let’s find out.
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
The diaphragm is a large muscle that is situated below the lungs and helps move the air in and out of the lungs. When you fully engage the diaphragm while breathing, it increases the efficiency of your lungs, leading to the most effective deep breathing.
Breathing is a natural process. Every living being is continuously inhaling and exhaling without any effort, even when they’re not thinking about it. However, these breaths are usually shallow and do not involve the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathings requires you to become more conscious about your breathing.
How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing involves the full engagement of the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm while breathing. This means you need to pull down the diaphragm actively with each inward breath.
While practising diaphragmatic breathing, you’ll notice your stomach rise and fall with each breath. There should also be an expanding or stretching sensation in the stomach, rather than just the chest and shoulders. This way of breathing allows the air to fill to lungs more efficiently.
Although there are various forms of diaphragmatic breathing, here is the basic one that will help you learn the technique and encourage you to get used to it.
- Lie down on a flat surface. You can place a pillow under your head if you like, as it will make you feel more comfortable.
- Place one hand on the stomach – above the diaphragm but just below the rib cage.
- Place the other hand on the middle of the upper chest.
- Slowly breathe in through the nose as you try to draw the breath down towards the stomach. The stomach should push upwards against the hands while the chest remains still. If you’re too used to inhaling deeply toward your chest, it may take a little practice to get used to this way of inhaling. But keep doing it, and soon, you’ll feel more comfortable.
- Then tighten the abdominal muscles and let the stomach fall down as you exhale through your mouth. The chest should remain unmoving.
- Practice this for 5 to 10 minutes, around 3 to 4 times a day.
Benefits of Diaphragm Breathing
You probably want to learn about the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing if you’re going to dedicate a large chunk of your day to it. Here are some of the instant benefits you can reap as you start practising diaphragmatic breathing.
· It lowers the levels of the stress hormone – cortisol – in your body and promotes relaxation.
· It helps control your blood pressure levels.
· It lowers your heart rate.
· It improves stability in the core muscles.
· It increases your body’s strength and tolerance for more intense workout sessions.
· Improves breathing during strenuous activities such as climbing the stairs.
· It reduces excess demand for oxygen in the body.
· It slows your rate of breathing so that you expend less energy.
· With consistent practice, it can improve your mood and energy levels.
· It can help you cope with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
· It can minimize pain.
· It lowers your risk of wearing out or injuring your muscles.
· Aids in helping your immune system work to its full capacity by reducing stress.
In addition to these, diaphragmatic breathing can help with the following conditions over time.
Asthma is a chronic lung condition in which certain triggers cause the airways to become inflamed and swollen. This creates difficulty for the air to move in and out of the lungs. A 2013 review of 3 randomized controlled trials investigates the effects of diaphragmatic breathing on people who suffer from asthma.
There was moderate evidence that showed short and long-term improvements in the quality of life of the participants after following diaphragmatic breathing exercises.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
A group of lung conditions that affect a person’s breathing is described as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In this condition, the airways within the lungs become damaged and inflamed. This causes an obstruction of airflow in and out of the lungs. This may also weaken the diaphragm.
In order to compensate for this weakness, the body tries to engage the muscles in the back, neck, and shoulders while breathing. To help alleviate the symptoms of shortness of breath and fatigue, one should retrain one’s body to engage the diaphragm while breathing.
However, people suffering from COPD should learn to perform diaphragmatic breathing under the guidance of a healthcare professional before starting to practice on their own.
Since diaphragmatic breathing is known to reduce cortisol levels – the hormone that causes stress in the body – regularly practising it can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and stress. A 2017 study showed that diaphragmatic breathing could trigger relaxation responses of the body that benefit both physical and mental health.
Are There Any Risks?
Diaphragmatic breathing in itself doesn’t pose any risks at all. However, it is important to note that it should not be used as a substitute for standalone treatment or medicine to treat conditions such as asthma, COPD, or anxiety.
In fact, a person could actually risk worsening their anxiety if they try to treat it with just diaphragmatic breathing and end up feeling that the treatment isn’t working.
People suffering from COPD or asthma may experience increased fatigue and laboured breathing when they begin practising this way of breathing and should be careful about how they continue. People with respiratory diseases may need to gradually build up the practice in order to see any significant benefits.