The respiratory system works extremely hard for our bodies. Humans take an average of 23,000 breaths per day – which is about 8 million in a year!
Breathing comes so naturally to us that we are almost never consciously concerned about whether or not we are doing it properly. However, learning the proper breathing patterns like diaphragmatic breathing can absolutely do wonders for us – not only physically but also emotionally.
On the flip side, failing to do so can cause strain, stress and damages that we may actually be experiencing now. So read on as we explore how to use diaphragmatic breathing to improve our health and reduce stress.
So, How Do You Breathe?
Being conscious about your breathing is the first step in learning how to do it properly. So let me ask you this question: how do you breathe?
Here’s how you can know: Do a simple test. Lie flat on your back, placing one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Take several deep breaths. Observe which part of your body rises more: your chest or your belly. One will be more dominant than the other. Don’t change anything yet but become aware of where you’re moving more.
The Two Types of Breathing (Chest and Diaphragmatic)
There are complexities when it comes to the subject breathing but, to put it simply, let’s focus on the 2 main types: chest or thoracic breathing and diaphragmatic breathing (also referred to as belly or abdominal breathing).
Chest / Thoracic Breathing
Chest breathing is basically the drawing of shallow and minimal breaths through the nose, neck and into the chest.
When you breathe through your chest, the intercostal muscles and diaphragm don’t get to contract like they’re supposed to. This keeps the body from getting the optimal level of oxygen that it needs. This is the reason why you may feel stressed and fatigued even when you do not engage in physically extraneous activities.
According to a 2004 study from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the main reason why most people do chest breathing instead of diaphragmatic is because of poor posture.
Diaphragmatic / Abdominal / Belly Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is different. In diaphragmatic breathing, the air enters through the lungs and the diaphragm is actively contracted. The chest does not rise. Instead, the belly expands.
This is the natural and proper way to inhale and exhale.
You can observe this type of breathing in newborn babies and mammals such as dogs and cats. However, as humans develop bad posture and put on tight clothes – our breathing predominantly started to move through the chest instead of the belly.
How To Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing isn’t difficult. It’s actually something you can start working on today and you’ll likely start to see results immediately.
(You can also watch the video earlier in this article that shows Dr. Allin from our Evolve Chiropractic of Woodstock location demo the exercise)
Here are the steps:
- Lay down on the ground.
- Put your right hand above your belly button, just below your ribs.
- Press your back into the floor. It may help to visualize having a pencil or some other object behind your back and pressing into that instead.
- Take 5 deep breaths. Inhales should be 3-second long and exhales should be 6-second long. Imagine making a candle flame flicker without completely extinguishing it.
- Close your eyes. Feel the movement of your belly through your hands.
- Do this regularly – starting with 20-40 breaths day and working your way up from there.
4 Major Health Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
#1 Pain Relief: It can decrease muscle spasms and tension – especially on your shoulders, neck and back. Chest breathing can cause serious tension in the neck by overusing those muscles against gravity.
#2 Better Posture: It corrects poor posture developed through slumping and slouching. It helps form the habit of sitting and standing up straight – which can prevent misalignment in the spine.
#3 Lighter Moods: Keeps the mind and body calm and relaxed – which is key to helps avoid anxiety and depression.
#4 Improves productivity: Optimizes oxygen level and increases the supply of nutrients to the brain and throughout the body.
3 Tips for Diaphragmatic Breathing
Everyone is different, but these 3 tips may help you in your efforts to learn proper diaphragmatic breathing.
#1 Set an alarm
You are forming a new habit here. In doing so, you will need help in maintaining consistency. Setting an alarm will keep you from unintentionally forgetting about this important health exercise. You may want to choose times when you’re less likely to be disturbed – such as in the early morning and then in the evening.
#2 Maximize your idle time.
No matter how busy you are, you can always squeeze in a few minutes to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Do it while on your way to work or school, during lunch breaks, during a commercial break on TV, before or after working out and before or after bed. There is always time.
Of course, you’re not going to lay on the floor in the middle of the office or on a bus, but you can still make a conscious effort to breath into your belly and relax your neck muscles.
#3 Play soothing music when you practice.
This is not a must but it can help you focus. Being more conscious of your breathing while listening to peaceful music can help you maximize the relief and relaxation that it gives you.
Diaphragmatic Breathing for Anxiety
When in stressful situations, your entire body shifts to a high-alert mode. It puts your heart rate in such a fast pace. You tend to make rash decisions, think negative thoughts and say words that you don’t actually mean.
Nobody wants to be in this situation.
The way you breathe is highly reflective of the state of your mind. Learning to be more aware of your breathing patterns will allow you to address your anxiety with calmness.
By training yourself to use diaphragmatic breathing as your default, your mind and body becomes more relaxed and you get more oxygen in your brain.
Diaphragmatic Breathing for COPD
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a general term used for lung diseases such as bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema. It is mainly characterized by breathlessness.
The diaphragm is the most important muscle in breathing. It is important to strengthen it to help it maximize its function. The only way to do this is by constantly practicing – or even better – making diaphragmatic breathing your default.
Studies show that it helps decrease shortness of breath among COPD patients and at the same time relieves muscle pains.
Diaphragmatic Breathing for Better Digestion
One of the major causes of indigestion is the “fight or flight response”. It is the natural instinct of humans whenever we feel anxious, unsafe or angry. It signals the whole body to be on high alert – making the blood to flow from the gut to the larger muscles.
Unfortunately, this hurts the digestive system. And, when this happens regularly, it can do serious damage.
Diaphragmatic breathing eases the flow of blood as it allows the body to slow down and feel more relaxed. Whenever you feel like your “fight or flight” response is activated, immediately practice diaphragmatic breathing to soothe yourself and prevent increasing tension levels that can result to create digestive health problems.
Now that you’ve learned about proper diaphragmatic breathing, you can start training yourself to make it your default.
Keep in mind the many health benefits that it gives plus the diseases that it saves you from. Guaranteed, you will be motivated to make it a part of your daily routine.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing and start enjoying living life to the fullest!
(NOTE: The content of this article should not be taken as medical advice. Please contact your doctor directly if you have questions)