What is diaphragmatic breathing?

12/07/2022

Diaphragmatic breathing: What you need to know

The diaphragm is a large muscle that sits below the lungs. It helps move air in and out of the lungs.

Breathing normally is shallow and does not utilize the full capacity of the lungs. The diaphragm is fully engaged during diaphragmatic breathing, which increases lung efficiency.

The purpose of this blog is to explain how diaphragmatic breathing works, how to do it, and the potential health benefits and risks.

How does it work?

The diaphragm is a large muscle that sits at the base of the lungs. As a person inhales, their diaphragm contracts and moves downward, allowing the lungs to expand and fill with air. During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward, helping to expel air.

When you breathe diaphragmatically, you fully engage your stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm. With every inward breath, actively pull the diaphragm down. By breathing diaphragmatically, the lungs are able to fill more efficiently.

The act of breathing is a natural process that usually occurs without conscious effort. Despite this, the average breath tends to be shallow and does not engage the diaphragm much.

Diaphragmatic breathing involves consciously engaging the diaphragm in order to take deeper breaths. A person will notice their stomach rising and falling. They will also feel an expanding or stretching sensation in the stomach, rather than solely in their chest and shoulders.

Here's how to do it

In diaphragmatic breathing, there are various forms. Basic diaphragmatic breathing is the simplest form. Follow these instructions to perform basic diaphragmatic breathing:

  • Put a pillow under your head and a pillow beneath your knees and lie down on a flat surface. A pillow will help keep the body in a comfortable position.
  • Put one hand on the upper chest in the middle.
  • Put the other hand on the stomach, just below the rib cage but above the diaphragm.
  • To inhale, slowly breathe in through the nose, drawing the breath down toward the stomach. Keeping the chest still, the stomach should push upward against the hand.
  • When exhaling, tighten the abdominal muscles and let the stomach fall downward while pursed lips are used. Once again, the chest should remain still.

Three to four times a day, people should practice this breathing exercise for 5–10 minutes at a time.

After becoming comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing, a person may begin practicing it while seated or standing. It is important to keep the shoulders, head, and neck relaxed when practicing diaphragmatic breathing in these positions.

The benefits

During diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm is fully engaged. There may be a number of health benefits associated with this, including:

  • Diaphragm strengthening
  • Enhancing core muscle stability
  • Slowing down the breathing process
  • Heart rate and blood pressure are lowered
  • Oxygen demand is reduced
  • Relaxation
 
 
How can it help with certain conditions?

There are a number of conditions in which diaphragmatic breathing may be beneficial. These will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.

Stress and anxiety

2017 study Trusted Source notes that diaphragmatic breathing reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Because of this, it may help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

The term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung conditions that affect a person’s breathing.

As a result of COPD, the lungs' airways become damaged and inflamed, obstructing airflow. There is also a tendency for the diaphragm to be weakerTrusted Source. The body tries to compensate for this weakness by engaging the muscles in the back, neck, and shoulders while breathing.

Retraining the body to engage the diaphragm while breathing may help alleviate symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue.

People with COPD should first perform diaphragmatic breathing under the guidance of a healthcare professional. With time, a person may find that the technique improves their breathing during activities they find strenuous, such as climbing stairs or hiking.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung condition in which certain triggers cause the airways to become swollen and inflamed. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs.

According to one 2014 review, people who take medications to control their asthma often continue to experience ongoing symptoms and a poor quality of life (QOL). The review concluded that breathing exercises may be a beneficial add-on treatment for people with persistent asthma.

2013 review of three randomized controlled trials investigated the effects of diaphragmatic breathing on QOL among people with asthma. It found moderate evidence of short- and long-term improvements in QOL following diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

Risks

As a standalone treatment, diaphragmatic breathing is not always effective. Anxiety, asthma, and COPD should not be treated with diaphragmatic breathing alone.

If a person feels that diaphragmatic breathing isn't working, it could worsen anxiety symptoms. Those with anxiety can practice diaphragmatic breathing, but they should also ask their doctor about effective anxiety treatments.

When practicing diaphragmatic breathing for the first time, people with respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD should be careful. In the beginning, it may cause labored breathing and fatigue. It will take time for people to see the benefits of the practice.

Here are some tips for getting started

The first time someone tries diaphragmatic breathing, it may feel strange or difficult. Practice, however, should make the exercise easier and more relaxing.

A quiet room may be the best place to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Cell phones, televisions, and other distractions should also be avoided. Instead, people should concentrate on the breathing technique and the bodily sensations they experience during practice.

A person may feel relaxed by counting with each inhalation and exhalation. A person can also track their breaths with it.

Summary

In diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm is fully engaged while breathing deep into the stomach. As a result, the diaphragm is strengthened and the lungs are able to work more efficiently. It may also promote a sense of calm or relaxation.

People with anxiety or respiratory conditions such as COPD or asthma may benefit from diaphragmatic breathing. In spite of this, it is not an effective treatment for these conditions on its own.

The potential risks and benefits of adding diaphragmatic breathing to a person's treatment plan should be discussed with their doctor.

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