Have you ever heard of diaphragmatic breathing? If not, you should begin practicing it as soon as possible. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises are simple and easy to execute at one’s own leisure and comfort and can be one of the cheapest ways to reduce the stress and anxiety that plague most of us daily.
But what exactly is diaphragmatic breathing?
Alternatively called “deep breathing” or “breathing through your stomach”, diaphragmatic breathing is actually one of the most natural functions of our body.
We simply don’t perceive it because it happens either when we’re sleeping or so relaxed that we’re not even aware of the fact that we’re doing it. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle located horizontally between the thoracic and abdominal cavities.
Most of us have practiced diaphragmatic breathing in one way or another before, even when not sleeping; remember stretching after P.E. class in school? Or trying to calm down after a rush of anger? “In through the nose, and count slowly as you exhale” are phrases everyone has heard at least once in their lives.
Most people breathe using only their lungs, but that only lets in so much oxygen and actually leaves other muscles underutilizing their full capacity.
As you breathe through your diaphragm, your abdominal muscles help move it and give you more power to empty your lungs. The diaphragm is a muscle that doesn’t tire your body as much as when breathing through your lungs.
What are the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing?
Well, for one, it helps you breathe better. Your system allows more oxygen inside, which means better nutrition and function for your cells as well as ameliorated performance for your brain, your respiratory and circulatory system, and your entire body.
Not only that but breathing through your diaphragm, when done correctly, requires very good posture. That can help people facing chronic back pains due to their hunched or otherwise incorrect posture, a bad habit that many of us have struggled with.
Studies have also shown that diaphragmatic breathing can immensely help people afflicted by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). That is a term applied to a family of diseases that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema due to alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
The more one practices diaphragmatic breathing, the more the corresponding muscles are exercised and therefore strengthened. This results in a decrease in oxygen demand and the respiratory difficulties related to the aforementioned conditions.
Deep breathing has psychological benefits, as well.
Another aspect of the benefits associated with deep breathing is, of course, the significant reduction of stress and anxiety from one’s everyday routine. Diaphragmatic breathing can be vital in triggering the relaxation response, or the parasympathetic nervous system.
Through the breathing pattern, your body reverts to a more relaxed mode, like the one it has been associating with deep breathing. As such, your system removes toxins, your body does not release as many stress-related hormones. That can help improve your mental clarity, your focus and attention span, and your mood as well.
This, in turn, can lead to better sleeping and eating patterns, emotional disturbances, lower blood pressure, and a decrease in risks of anxiety and depressive disorders as well as numerous afflictions that target the heart or nervous system.
Now, let’s look at some ways to practice diaphragmatic breathing.
1. The basic technique
This is diaphragmatic breathing 101, and it consists of these easy steps:
- Stand (or sit up) straight and drop your shoulders back and down.
- Inhale slowly through your nose trying to get the air down as far as possible into your belly (your belly will push out, that is normal).
- Pause for a second or less.
- Exhale slowly through the nose (this should last twice as long as inhalation).
- Repeat 5-10 times.
2. Numbered breathing
- Stand up, and close your eyes.
- Inhale deeply until you can’t take in any more air.
- Exhale until your lungs have fully emptied.
- Now, inhale again while picturing the number 1.
- Keep the air in your lungs for a few seconds, then let it all out.
- Inhale again while picturing the number 2.
- Hold your breath while counting silently to 3, then let it all out again.
- Repeat these steps until you’ve reached 8. Feel free to count higher if you feel comfortable.
At first, diaphragmatic breathing may seem a little strange or awkward. That’s mostly because you’re not used to breathing with that particular muscle consciously.
A good way to check if you’re handling your air intake correctly is to use your hands; place one hand on your chest and another on your abdomen. The hand on your chest shouldn’t be too raised during breath intakes, whereas the hand on your abdomen should be doing the exact opposite.
Sometimes, if you take in too much oxygen too fast, you might feel lightheaded. If that happens, you should stop and continue after the feeling has passed.
By practicing diaphragmatic breathing even once a day, after a while you will begin to notice some changes in you. Your body will feel better, and so will you, in ways you might never have imagined.
That happens because everything in our body and its functions is connected. We are a beautiful piece of nature’s machinery, and one part can affect the whole.
It’s normal to struggle with maintaining your physical and mental health sometimes depending on your lifestyle. However, maintaining your balance is not impossible.
You just have to breathe. Deeply and slowly, just breathe.