Abdominal breathing (also called diaphragmatic or belly breathing) is a way of a breathing that has many benefits that effect our entire body. The diaphragm is a thin muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest.
Belly breathing benefits
Belly breathing is at the center of the practice of meditation and yoga. These practices can greatly lessen depression, anxiety and sleeplessness as well as a range of other mental and physical illnesses.
But there are more benefits to belly breathing, even if we do not practice yoga or meditation. Here are just a few:
- It helps us to relax, by lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol.
- It lowers our heart rate.
- It helps to lower our blood pressure.
- It lessens the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- It improves our core muscle stability.
But, by far, the biggest benefits of belly breathing is that it reduces stress.
Stress is at the root of many health conditions because it causes our immune system to not function at it’s best. Because of this, we are more susceptible to numerous conditions. Over time, chronic stress will cause anxiety and/or depression. Learning and practicing belly breathing can make a difference!
The reality of breathing is that over ninety percent of us are using less than fifty percent of our breathing capacity. We are inhaling very shallowly, taking in a minimal amount of oxygen. Our exhalations are also
marginal, which perpetuates the shallow inhalation. We are not fueling our blood and bodies with sufficient energy and we are not expelling enough carbon dioxide. Shallow breathing does not provide sufficient oxygen to our brain or other cells and has been linked with degenerative disease, poor quality of life and an early onset of death.
As babies, our breath was a full, connected rhythm through the
diaphragm that allowed complete circulation in our small bodies. As we grew older, that rhythm changed. For most, that change in breathing happened as toddlers. By age eleven, most of us breathe shallowly, engaging only the chest and not the solar plexus.
The following diaphragmatic breathing technique is reprinted from the Cleveland Clinic
Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions lying down, as shown above. As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair.
Note: You may notice an increased effort will be needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you’ll probably get tired while doing this exercise. But keep at it, because with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.
Try practicing this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise, and perhaps even increase the effort of the exercise by placing a book on your abdomen.