Do you ever feel like life is moving too fast and you’re struggling to keep up? With so many distractions and constant busyness, it can be easy to forget to take a moment to slow down and just breathe. But did you know that the simple act of breathing can have a profound impact on your physical and mental well-being?
Diaphragmatic breathing is a great tool to bring us back into the moment, connect to the body and regulate the nervous system. It is always accessible and we can practice at any moment. So if you’re looking for a way to improve your well-being and find a sense of calm amidst the chaos, diaphragmatic breathing might just be the answer.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
The diaphragm is a thin sheet-like muscle that is situated at the bottom of the ribs and is the most important muscle involved in the breathing process. It moves downward about one or two centimetres with every breath taken into the lungs during rest. A person who regularly slumps over their desk is unable to breathe effectively because the diaphragm cannot move freely.
Diaphragmatic breathing also called belly or abdominal breathing is a breathing technique that focuses on utilising the diaphragm. When breathing normally, the lungs’ full capacity is not used. When you practice diaphragmatic breathing it allows using full 100% lung capacity.
Diaphragmatic breathing makes breathing more efficient as it slows down the breathing rate. Diaphragmatic breathing is characterised by slow, light nose inhalation and exhalation and is the only right way to breathe. It helps to expand your lungs and increases efficiency in oxygen absorption and supply. Light breathing massages all your organs, your chest muscles are strengthened, your digestion is improved, and you sleep better.
Seven benefits of diaphragmatic breathing
Nose breathing is an amazing way that can bring about optimal benefits for your mental and physical health. Diaphragmatic breathing is like an upgraded version of nose breathing, it can provide you with all the positive effects but to a fuller extent.
1Drops stress levels
It has been shown that diaphragmatic breathing reduces cortisol levels which, in turn, reduces stress-related physiological responses.
One study examined people who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The individuals underwent treatment sessions that included practising diaphragmatic breathing and talking about the traumatic event and finding ways to think about it differently. These sessions had a significantly positive effect on managing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
2Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
Diaphragmatic deep breathing could significantly improve prehypertension and hypertension symptoms by lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
A meta-analysis was conducted on the effects of diaphragmatic deep breathing on blood pressure and heart rate in cardiovascular patients. The results showed that after practising diaphragmatic deep breathing, systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) and resting heart rate of participants dropped significantly by 6.36 mmHg, 6.39 mmHg, and 1.7 beats per min, respectively.
3Makes you exercise more effectively
Proper nose breathing is key to successful physical performance. Your breathing defines how long you are able to endure physical activity as it influences VO₂ max and heart rate. The fact that breathing directly affects athletic performance factors that are connected with lung and heart functions is not that surprising. However, the way you breathe also affects your core muscle stability, helping increase core strength so you can exercise more effectively.
Note from Healthypedia
VO₂ max measures the amount of oxygen and the speed at which it can be taken in through the lungs, transported through the bloodstream, and utilised by the muscles for energy production. It is considered a key indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.
In a study, 32 healthy men who exercised regularly were divided into two groups. The first group did diaphragmatic breathing exercises combined with stretching, while the second group did abdominal exercises (such as crunches, planks, and sit-ups). Both groups did this for 15 minutes twice a week for 6 weeks. The results showed that the group that did the breathing exercises and stretching got better results in terms of their respiratory function, abdominal muscle endurance, and movement efficiency than the group that did abdominal exercises.
4Promotes heart function
Most adults only use a small portion of their diaphragm when they breathe, which puts a lot of strain on the heart and can cause blood pressure issues. When practising diaphragmatic breathing, we can use up to 70% of the diaphragm’s capacity. This will ease cardiovascular stress and allow the body to work better. Because of this, the diaphragm is sometimes called the ‘second heart’ as it can influence the rate and strength of the heartbeat.
The diaphragm is connected to the vagus nerve which releases a neurotransmitter that calms and slows down the heart rate. Through diaphragmatic breathing, your body is triggered to relax and balance its nervous system as well as optimise your blood pressure and heart rate variability.
Breathing and good posture are interdependent. Breathing properly with your diaphragm helps keep your spine stable and your posture good. When you don’t breathe well, it can cause pain in your lower back and neck and can also cause abnormal movement. Poor posture can also affect your breathing, leading to improper breathing patterns. When your posture and breathing are both off, it can have negative effects on your body.
7Helps treat chronic diseases
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma can cause loss of elasticity in the lungs, making breathing difficult. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help train the diaphragm and improve lung function for people with these conditions. Diaphragmatic breathing is used as an addition to medical treatment in medicine.
Three breathing exercises for training your diaphragmatic breathing
Practising diaphragmatic breathing may take some effort and may make you tired at first. However, with regular practice, it will eventually become natural and automatic.
‘Breath Deep’ is a breath work from the breathing program ‘The Oxygen Advantage’ developed by Patrick McKeown. This program consists of simple exercises designed to retrain your breathing and targets the biochemistry and biomechanics of the body and taps into the autonomic nervous system. ‘Breath Deep’ is an exercise that promotes diaphragmatic breathing, which increases oxygenation within the body and enhances posture and breathing mechanics generally.
1. Sit up straight.
2. Put your hands on both sides of your lower ribs.
3. Silently inhale, allowing the air to penetrate deep into your lungs. When you inhale, you will feel your ribs expand and outward, and feel your ribs move inwardly as you exhale.
4. Take fuller breaths but less frequently. When you inhale, you will feel your ribs expand and outward, and feel your ribs move inwardly as you exhale.
5. You don’t need to hear yourself breathe during this exercise.
6. Practice the exercise for approximately four minutes.
Rib-stretches is another breathing exercise that targets diaphragmatic breathing and helps you expand your breath into your rib cage.
1. Sit or stand upright.
2. Put your palms on either side of your rib cage while crossing your arms over your chest.
3. Inhale through your nose until you cannot take in any more air.
4. You should feel your ribs expanding into your hands.
5. For 5 to 10 seconds, hold your breath.
6. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
4-7-8 is a breathwork that was developed based on a yogic technique called pranayama. This numbered breath technique is beneficial for both training carbon dioxide tolerance and diaphragmatic breathing. It also helps with stress and sleep regulation.
1. While counting to four inhale.
2. Then count again from one to seven holding your breath.
3. Exhale through your mouth for eight counts.
4. Repeat as many times as it is comfortable, till you feel tranquillity and stress relief.
When done correctly, diaphragmatic breathing allows us fully utilise our lung capacity, which leads to more efficient breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing has a host of benefits for both physical and mental health. From reducing stress levels to promoting heart function and improving posture, diaphragmatic breathing is a simple yet powerful practice that can help you achieve optimal health. The health improvements discussed in this article can be yours, just try to breathe diaphragmatically and be persistent with breathing exercises practice. Consequently, the inhaling and exhaling process will have a much greater benefit for your health.
Not Enough? Here is more
Lucas Rockwood is a certified yoga trainer. On his YouTube channel, he presents yogic breathing practices for your ultimate health. In this video, Lucas explains and demonstrated an easy but effective diaphragmatic breathing exercise for beginners.
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