Breathing is an action as thoughtlessly automatic as the waves lapping at a beach’s shoreline. It is what it is, or is it? Believe it or not, there is a correct way to breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes known as abdominal or belly breathing, involves inhaling and exhaling from your diaphragm, as opposed to chest (thoracic) breathing. This breath technique offers a host of benefits, and it’s easy to master with a little practice.
Eupnea, the scientific term for diaphragmatic breathing, is actually a natural and relaxed form of breathing practiced by all mammals (yes, we are born breathing correctly!) As the stressors of adulthood increase, we begin carrying our tension in the neck and shoulders. This usually results in tight upper body muscles and a collapsed chest, leaving your lungs restricted while keeping all that good oxygen locked up in your chest. Taking shallow chest breaths perpetuates the cycle of anxiety and stress by increasing our blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.
I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but what exactly is a diaphragm, and what does it do? The diaphragm is a muscle located between the base of the ribcage and the navel. I used to think the diaphragm was what caused my belly to expand when I took a deep breath, but it actually sinks down on the inhale and rises up at carbon dioxide is expelled. I like to think of the diaphragm as a soft pillow- as the lungs inflate with oxygen, they gently squish the diaphragm down to make room for all the fresh air.
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing can offer a variety of benefits to calm the mind and body. This breathing technique can increase lung capacity and has been shown to help populations with COPD. Diaphragmatic breathing increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the blood and decreases the amount of effort involved in breathing by lowering the heart rate (meaning your fave HIIT class might not feel like death!) Engaging in diaphragmatic breathing will strengthen your diaphragm, but it will also help strengthen your core muscles (talk about a win-win.) Diaphragmatic breathing has been proven helpful for treating symptoms of IBS, as it facilitates the removal of waste products. Practicing this breath technique promotes stress resilience, which in turn strengthens the immune system.
Let’s Get Breathing (the right way!)
1. Come into a comfortable seated or lying position with one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
2. Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, exhale out the mouth for a count of 6.
3. Start by practicing 5-10mins/day, gradually increasing to a few times a day. It will feel taxing at first, but stay diligent and it will become easier and more automatic with practice.
- Make the exhale heavy like a sigh to expel deeply.
- On the inhale, focus on the pressure of the belly rising into your palm, and hug your navel toward your spine on the exhale.
- Try to keep the shoulders relaxed, and tune into the smooth rhythm and sound of your breath.
- I like to imagine my belly button is a straw and I’m sipping the air into my diaphragm.
If meditation sparks your interest and you’d like to learn additional breathing techniques to increase your calm and focus, check our post on ‘Yoga Breathing to Prepare for Any Occasion‘.
Written by Erin Hackbarth