Breath-work has been used throughout ancient traditions as a tool for wellbeing. Modern science now proves its powerful effects on our minds and bodies. This series highlights special breathing techniques that create a deeper sense of calm.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing exercise, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing.
Many of us breathe in a shallow way and don’t use our whole lung capacity. By engaging the diaphragm, this technique helps us to breathe more efficiently.
The diaphragm is a large muscle that sits below our lungs. When we inhale, it contracts and moves downwards, allowing the lungs to expand. When we exhale, it relaxes and moves upwards, helping air to move out of the lungs. Actively using the diaphragm enables us to inhale and exhale more fully.
Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits. Taking deeper breaths encourages the full exchange of incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide. It also slows the heart rate and can lower or stabilise blood pressure. And it helps to strengthen the diaphragm and improve our core stability.
This technique is also a wonderful way to reduce stress and anxiety. Focusing on our breath helps to divert attention away from distracting or upsetting thoughts. Deep breathing also balances our autonomic nervous system, calming our sympathetic ‘fight-or-flight’ state and initiating our body’s relaxation response.
Diaphragmatic breathing is easy to learn and can be practiced at any time to help restore a feeling of peace.
How to practice
- Lie on your back on a flat surface, with your knees bent and head supported. You can also place a pillow under your knees.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. As you inhale, you should feel your stomach rise against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain relatively still.
- Let your belly relax and feel the hand over it fall back towards your spine. Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. The hand on your chest should continue to be still.
- Keep your inhale and exhale the same length. You can also slightly increase the exhales for deeper relaxation.
- Beginners should repeat the sequence three times. This can be built up to 5-10 minutes a few times per day.