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  • Susannah Money-Schenk

Diaphragmatic Breathing - The 101

I recently stumbled across an awesome podcast by Deliciously Ella which featured James Nestor who has written an amazing book called Breath. The podcast got me thinking about this activity that we all take for granted despite the fact that we do it over 20,000 times a day!

One thing that I try to get all my clients to practice is diaphragmatic breathing. In general most adults only breathe with 10% of their lung capacity, taking small shallow breaths, over using their upper traps and other neck and shoulder muscles when they could be using their diaphragm to draw air deep into the lungs.

This blog is educate you a bit more on breathing with your diaphragm, how it happens, why its good for you and how to do it!

What is the Diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that sits underneath our rib cage. It forms a lid on our abdominal contents and a base for our chest.

As we breathe in our diaphragm contracts and flattens. This flattening down causes a vacuum affect drawing air into the lungs. It also flattens down onto our abdominal contents pushing our tummies out. Think of a baby or a puppy breathing and their little bellies rising and falling!

As we breathe out the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up into the chest pushing the air out our lungs and mouth/nose.

What are the Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing?

There is a reason that diaphragmatic breathing is at the centre of most meditation practices. It can help manage a wide range of symptoms from anxiety to IBS.

  • It helps you to relax, reducing cortisol levels in the body

  • It can help you sleep more easily

  • It lowers your heart rate

  • It helps to lower blood pressure

  • It can help to manage symptoms of anxiety and PTSD

  • It improves core stability

  • It can improve stamina

  • It can lower the chance of injury

  • It reduces stress

This is particularly poignant at this rather stressful time with us all living with COVID in our community. Stress can lower our immunity making us more susceptible to numerous conditions. Stress can also build up and lead to further mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing can be particularly useful for suffers of chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD. These disorders cause our lungs to lose some of their elasticity. Due to this 'lung stiffening' air collects in the lungs. This means that the diaphragm has less room to descend as it is constantly already half way down due to the pressure of the air collected above it. As a result, to take a deep breath we have to recruit our neck and back muscles to help us to get in enough air with each breath. This can lead to back and neck pain as well as us not being able to take in enough oxygen for exercise and other physical activities.

Breathing exercises can help us to utilise the diaphragm fully so we can push this collection of air out of the body and restore lung function to a more optimal level.

How to Breathe with your Diaphragm

  1. Take a seat in a comfortable position or lie on your back.

  2. First of all - RELAX! Let your shoulders drop, gaze soften or close your eyes, and unclenched your jaw and toes.

  3. Place your hands on your tummy so your finger tips are meeting on your midline.

  4. Take a slow breath in and feel the air moving through your nostrils and chest to your tummy. Your stomach should expand under your hands pushing your finger tips away from each other.

  1. Try and keep your chest still - you can place one hand here if you want to make sure its not moving.

  2. Purse your lips as if you are drinking through a straw and slow exhale pushing the air out through them for about 4 seconds.

  3. Your tummy should deflate, finger tips moving back together.

  4. You can reinforce this deflation by pulling your abs back towards your spine.

Repeat this 5 times then breath normally for a minute. Repeat the whole thing another twice more.

Breathing is something that we need to practice (believe it or not!) so taking some time to practice twice a day would be a good start.

Look out for future blogs on lowing your breathing, 478 breathing and more!


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