How to do Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing reduces stress, increases the oxygen to your muscles, and has a general calming effect.

I remember as a kid the doctor telling me to take a deep breath as he placed a stethoscope to my chest. If you are like me, you probably expanded your chest and raised your shoulders as you inhaled. Right?

Well it so happens that this type of breathing does not use our lungs efficiently and there are better ways to breathe for optimal health and relaxation.

Here I discuss:

diaphragmatic breathing

    what this breathing technique is

  • what to do before starting diaphragmatic breathing
  • how to breathe from the diaphragm
  • tips to aid you in this deep breathing exercise.

This controlled breathing technique is a simple and effective stress management technique that can be used just about anywhere.

What is diaphragmatic breathing

There are a few things that you lose as you move into adulthood. One of these is proper breathing.

If you have ever watched a baby, they are breathing correctly from the diaphragm.

Yet somewhere on the journey to adulthood, adults become thoracic breathers who tend to breathe from the chest rather than the abdomen.

As a result, you are not getting the stress-reducing benefits of breathing.

By learning to deeply breathe from the diaphragm or lower abdomen, you:

  • increase your lung capacity
  • increase the lungs capacity to oxygenate your blood
  • increase the restorative ability of your body and facilitate removal of waste products.

One way to reduce stress is through diaphragmatic breathing.

The major muscle of breathing is the diaphragm. This thin, dome-shaped muscle separates the chest from the abdominal cavity.

Each time that you inhale, your diaphragm moves downward and your abdomen expands, creating a vacuum in the lungs. This fills the lungs from the bottom.

Before starting your diaphragmatic breathing exercise...

Before starting your diaphragmatic breathing exercise it's useful to see what your breathing rate is.

Grab a watch and count the number of inhalations you take over the next minute.

If you are a chest breather, like most of the population, you probably breathe 10-12 breaths per minute.

This can lead to oxygen/carbon dioxide imbalance that may result in:

  • increased blood pressure
  • a faster heart rate
  • muscle tension and dizziness

So breathing incorrectly can perpetuate the stress and anxiety cycle.

Shallow breathing may also lead to a condition called chronic hyperventilation syndrome.

Just 5 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing is a helpful start to promote health, short-circuit stress, and combat any effects of shallow breathing.

How to do a diaphragmatic breath

  1. Sit or stand in a comfortable position with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose, counting slowly to 4
  3. Slowly exhale through the mouth, counting slowly to 6
  4. That’s it! Repeat several times.

Stress Buster Tip

Once you have learnt the diaphragmatic breath the next step is to practice it.

I found a useful way was to set my alarm every hour.

When it went off I checked if I was doing a diaphragmatic breath.

If I wasn't, I did one then!.

This eventually helped me to change my habit and breathe in a way that promoted my health and well-being.

Tips on diaphragmatic breathing

  1. Place one hand on the abdomen and the other on your upper chest. If you do a diaphragmatic breath, you should feel the lower hand on your abdomen move out with the inhalation and in with the exhalation. The top hand on the chest should remain relatively still. If you find it hard to do sitting down, then try lying on the floor.
  2. When exhaling, try to slightly sigh with exhalation as this can provide extra tension relief.
  3. The inhale stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and when you exhale it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. So put more emphasis on exhaling a little longer than inhaling.

  4. Put more emphasis on breathing rhythmically rather than deeply.
  5. If you want to continue this breathing for several minutes then see the article on mindful meditation

Diaphragm breathing allows you to relax and reap the stress-related benefits of breathing better.

Other deep breathing exercises

Breathing from the diaphragm is the basis of deep breathing exercises. There are number of other breathing exercises that employ diaphragmatic breathing and reduce stress.

Breath counting exercise

Breath counting involves counting the breaths when you exhale.

I find that this deep breathing exercise promotes relaxation and increases my powers of concentration.

This breath counting exercise is a good way to monitor your thoughts when stressed, as each time you notice your thoughts wandering you can bring them back to the counting of the breath.

Yoga breathing exercises

Yoga breathing exercises are the connection between the mind and the body.

Also called pranayama (prana meaning life force and yama meaning control), yogis believed that by regulating the breath you gain greater influence of your mind.

There are many yoga breathing exercises that include alternate nostril breathing, rib cage breathing, complete breathing, and the Ujjayi breath.

Yoga breathing exercises increase your powers to focus, regulate emotions, and take control of stress.

Controlled tempo breathing

If you are looking for a deep breathing technique that focuses your mind and promotes relaxation then this could be beneficial for you.

This deep breathing technique is a variation of the breath counting exercise in which you align your breathing rate with your pulse.

Search here for other breathing exercises

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More stress management articles

Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness Meditation with Breathing

Signs of Stress: Warning Signs and Symptoms of Stress

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