When it comes to breathing, there are dozens of distinct techniques you can use. While breathing is something you do automatically, using specific breathing methods that help you control each exhale and inhale can help reduce anxiety and stress in several situations.
This article will take an in-depth look at one of the most reliable and stress-relieving breathing techniques out there: diaphragmatic breathing. In this post, you can expect information on what it is, how it will help and how you can implement it in your life.
WHAT IS DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING?
Diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing) uses a muscle called the diaphragm to pull air in and push air out from your lungs. The diaphragm is the most important muscle when it comes to breathing. This dome-shaped muscle sits in the lower rib cage, between the abdominal cavity (where your digestive tract sits) and the thoracic cavity (where your lungs and heart sit). Using your diaphragm to breathe is one of the most efficient breathing methods possible because it requires less work from your body than breathing from your upper chest.
Your diaphragm is also an important part of core stabilization. It connects to the obliques and abdominal muscles. These muscles aren’t just useful for people who work out, they also assist in everyday tasks like bending, reaching and twisting around.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the official term for using that important respiratory muscle to refill your air supply. For those who aren’t already aware of activating their diaphragm while breathing, the technique can feel foreign and difficult. But with some practice, it can feel as easy and natural as breathing autonomically.
People from several different professions use diaphragmatic breathing in their work. Yoga practitioners, singers and many musicians have to breathe from their diaphragm in order to improve their lung capacity and keep up with performance.
When done correctly, breathing from the diaphragm will cause your belly to expand when you breathe in, and deflate when you breathe out. Anyone who is concerned about their figure might worry about how they will look when doing this exercise. However, the benefits that will come from this technique are worth risking potential embarrassment.
Like many breathing techniques, you can implement diaphragmatic breathing at any time. If you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety or stress, breathing from the diaphragm can quickly defuse your stress.
HOW DOES DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING HELP?
The more you use your diaphragm to breathe, the stronger the muscle will become. A stronger diaphragm also puts less strain on your body to breathe, which gives you more energy to put towards other system functions.
One international study shows that breathing from your belly instead of your chest lowers blood pressure and decreases overall stress. This effectively prevents hypertension and many of the complications that come with it, such as damaged arteries, aneurysm, coronary heart disease and heart failure.
Diaphragmatic breathing can also help improve the functions of your vagus nerve. This nerve extends from your brainstem to your abdomen through the esophagus, heart and lungs. It is responsible for regulating involuntary processes like digestion and heart rate. Stimulating this nerve is a good way to reduce anger, anxiety and stress.
This vital nerve also connects to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping you calm down and handle situations when you aren’t in the middle of a dangerous or stressful situation.
When you’re feeling anxious, your breath speeds up. If it gets bad enough, you might hyperventilate with quick, shallow breaths. Hyperventilation causes you to get too much air, while your body thinks it isn’t getting enough. This can lead to lightheadedness and fainting.
Breathing deeply helps your body complete full oxygen exchange — where your lungs trade out carbon dioxide for the oxygen it needs to function.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also an incredibly effective tool for reducing stress. Whether you’re feeling anxious in regard to an event happening in your life or feel like you’re taking on too many responsibilities, breathing from your diaphragm can help you to calm down and cut your stress levels. With all of the dangerous side effects that come from being chronically stressed out, being able to reduce anxieties and worries through simple breathing methods can help improve your health in many areas.
HOW TO USE THIS BREATHING TECHNIQUE
Instituting a regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing can help you manage your stress levels. Mental health professionals suggest practicing this technique for five to 10 minutes a day.
However, you don’t need to practice diaphragmatic breathing every day in order to reap the benefits. Committing to that much practice can feel overwhelming. Many people who use it only turn to it during times of panic and worry. If that works best for you, then that’s okay. But if you find yourself suffering from chronic anxiety, the benefits you’ll receive from regular practice will far outweigh the cost.
Here is an exercise you can try on your own, based on one provided by the Cleveland Clinic.
- Lie down in a comfortable position, a flat surface would be best. Make sure your knees are bent and your head is supported. If it helps, put a pillow under your knees and under your head. Put one hand on your chest and one on your ribcage. This will make it possible for you to feel the movement of your diaphragm.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose. As you do so, your stomach should expand and move your hand upward. The hand on your chest should not move.
- As you exhale through your mouth, tighten your abdominal muscles so that your diaphragm contracts and you feel your stomach flatten. The hand on your chest should not move.
When you first start, breathing this way might feel foreign and wrong. However, with practice, you’ll be able to perform this technique sitting or standing. Over time, you won’t need to place your hands on your chest and stomach, because the movement will be more natural to you.
Try Progressive muscle relaxation
Another type of diaphragmatic breathing that is often used in therapeutic settings is called progressive muscle relaxation. Along with breathing from your diaphragm, progressive muscle relaxation uses alternating tensing and releasing of your muscles to promote a steady state of calm.
Tensing and relaxing your muscles has been shown to reduce anxiety levels which is a great improvement to anyone’s mental health.
Here’s how you might go about trying progressive muscle relaxation. This type of diaphragmatic breathing can be confusing and difficult to implement. If you have a hard time following these directions, consider checking out a guided meditation for progressive muscle relaxation.
- Get in a comfortable position, whether seated or lying down. Don’t try to force yourself to relax or worry about performing the action properly. Close your eyes if it helps. Let your body go where it needs to go.
- Make an effort to get into a rhythm of deep breathing. Let your breathing rate slow down naturally. Take as much time as you need to get the hang of a relaxing pattern of breathing.
- Take a scan of your body. Notice if any particular area feels more tense than others. You will want to focus on these areas longer than others.
- Start with either the top of your head or the bottom of your feet. Choose one muscle group to work on at a time. Take that muscle group and tense it as hard as you can for 10 seconds.
- Once 10 seconds have passed, quickly release your muscles. Notice the heightened sense of relaxation that comes from stopping the tension in your muscles.
- Leave each section relaxed for at least 30 seconds before moving on to the next muscle group.
- Once you have worked your way through your entire body, take a few more deep breaths. Scan your body once again and note the differences. Are some places more relaxed than others? How are the areas that you noticed were tense before feeling?
Looking at these techniques can be somewhat daunting. However, all you need to worry about when it comes to using a diaphragmatic breathing technique is making sure your breath comes from your abdominal region instead of your upper chest. It can take some time to get used to breathing this way, but with practice, you can get the hang of it and enjoy the benefits that come from doing so.