Breathe the RIGHT Way with Diaphragmatic
Breathing is something that occurs naturally, yet many of us unknowingly fall into poor breathing habits. Have you ever considered the fact that you may be breathing incorrectly? The way we breathe can have a profound impact on our overall well-being. By understanding and adopting the correct & most optimal breathing technique, (diaphragmatic breathing), you can experience a wide range of benefits including reduced stress levels, decreased muscle tension, and even lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Continue reading to learn more.
The Diaphragm Muscle
When it comes to breathing optimally, our body is designed to primarily use a muscle known as the diaphragm.
The diaphragm muscle attaches to the lower part of your sternum, underneath your lower ribs, and to the upper lumbar vertebrae.
You can see a visual of where this muscle is located in the photo below. The location of the diaphragm is represented by the blue line….don’t judge my lack of artistic skill….
When you breathe by primarily using the diaphragm muscle, it’s referred to as diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing is sometimes called belly breathing because as you inhale, the diaphragm moves down and the belly naturally expands. As you exhale, the diaphragm moves up and the belly comes back in. This means your stomach is what’s moving when you breathe, hence the name belly breathing.
Breathing in this way is the most efficient method for your respiratory system to inhale & exhale air. It’s how our anatomy is designed for us to breathe.
Additionally, it can be beneficial for managing pain, particularly chronic pain. By engaging in diaphragmatic breathing, the nervous system and muscles can relax more effectively.
With all of this information, it’s important to remember that diaphragmatic breathing is not just a practice for specific benefits; it’s the natural and intended way for us to breathe.
While the diaphragm is the primary muscle involved in breathing, there are also accessory breathing muscles that can assist with respiration. However, these accessory muscles should not dominate the breathing process.
When the accessory muscles, such as those in the chest or neck region, become more active than the diaphragm, it can lead to abnormal breathing patterns such as chest breathing (inhalation with the chest expanding rather than the stomach). When these patterns are dominant for a long time, it can result in tight muscles in the neck, tight pectoral muscles, and/or poor posture.
Accessory breathing muscles are designed to assist during specific circumstances such as exercise, forcefully taking a deep breath, or when we are in fight/flight mode. These muscles are designed to provide additional respiratory support when needed. Relying on these accessory muscles during normal breathing is not ideal.
When we engage the diaphragm for breathing, it sends a signal to our body that it’s safe to be in a state of rest and relaxation. Diaphragmatic breathing promotes a calm and peaceful state, allowing the body to operate optimally. On the other hand, breathing predominantly with accessory muscles signals to the body that it may be necessary to prepare for a fight or flight response. This can trigger an unnecessary increase in stress levels. For example, there’s no need to fight or flight while we are sitting and working at our computers.
Assuming there’s no immediate physical threat, it’s beneficial to cultivate a breathing pattern that primarily involves the diaphragm. By doing so, we can encourage our body to remain in a relaxed state, promoting a sense of overall well-being and reducing unnecessary stress and tension.
It’s important to note that the information provided assumes a normal respiratory function without underlying respiratory issues. If you have a cardiopulmonary condition or any respiratory issue, it may require you to use the accessory muscles more than usual to support your breathing.
Why do so many people breathe incorrectly?
Unfortunately, some, (maybe many), individuals do not utilize their diaphragm as the primary muscle for breathing.
One reason could be that many of us live a modern, fast-paced lifestyle which can encourage shallow and rapid breathing patterns. Stress, anxiety, and the constant demands of our daily lives often lead us to take quick, shallow breaths from our chest instead of utilizing our diaphragm. This shallow breathing restricts the full expansion of our lungs and limits the amount of oxygen we take in.
Additionally, poor posture plays a significant role in incorrect breathing patterns. Slouching for extended periods can cause the chest to become more caved in which can inhibit the movement of the diaphragm muscle. As a result, you would rely more on the muscles in your neck and upper chest to breathe, which can lead to tension in these areas over time.
Moreover, societal factors may contribute to incorrect breathing habits. For instance, societal expectations, self-consciousness, or a desire to have a ‘flat looking stomach’ often leads individuals to engage in “sucking in” their stomachs, inadvertently restricting the natural movement of the diaphragm. This shallow breathing pattern becomes ingrained over time, becoming the default way of breathing for many. Of course society would make a natural process of breathing something we change for looks….please don’t let it any longer!
Fortunately, by recognizing the importance of correct breathing and retraining ourselves to engage the diaphragm, we can break free from these patterns, start to breath with the diaphragm again, and reap the numerous benefits it offers.
How To Breathe With Diaphragmatic Breathing
I suggest trying to practice this while sitting. Correct posture is crucial as it allows for optimal use of the diaphragm and effective breathing. Sit with your spine tall, chin slightly tucked, and shoulders relaxed away from your ears. Let go of any jaw tension, you can do this by resting the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth and allowing the jaw to relax.
To monitor your breath, place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. As you breathe, aim to minimize movement in the hand on your chest and focus on feeling the movement in your abdomen. When you inhale, your abdomen should expand into your hand, as you exhale, the abdomen should gently come back in.
Make sure the stomach expands on the inhale and comes back in on the exhale NOT the other way around!
If you find that the hand on your chest moves more than the hand on your abdomen, it indicates that you may not be activating your diaphragm adequately. Practice by consciously directing the breath into your abdomen.
You can also practice diaphragmatic breathing while lying down. Although it can be slightly more challenging in this position due to gravity, some individuals find it easier to feel the diaphragmatic movement while lying on their back. Place a pillow under your knees or keep your knees bent to keep your lower back in a comfortable position, and then follow the same steps as before.
If diaphragmatic breathing feels easy for you, that’s fantastic! You may not need to practice it extensively. However, if you find it challenging, dedicate a few times each day to practice 5-10 breaths using this technique. Like any muscle, the diaphragm can become weak if not utilized properly for a long time. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing helps strengthen it.
Also, diaphragmatic breathing can be used as an exercise to promote relaxation and grounding when you feel stressed or anxious. It can provide a sense of calm and help you reconnect with your body and breath.
Check in with your breath throughout the day, especially if you tend to be a chest breather. Notice if you’re breathing primarily through your chest, and consciously switch to breathing with your belly as described above. This awareness and adjustment can help you maintain healthy breathing patterns throughout your day.
Some final notes on diaphragmatic breathing
Understanding how to breathe correctly and recognizing when you may not be doing so is a great step towards improving your overall well-being.
If you’ve discovered that you were breathing incorrectly, there’s no need to be hard on yourself. It’s more common than you might think, and many people go through life without realizing the potential benefits of diaphragmatic breathing.
Now that you have this knowledge, you can make a conscious effort to improve your breathing habits and incorporate diaphragmatic breathing into your daily life. Remember, it’s a journey of learning and growth, and every small step counts. By continuing to educate yourself about your body and exploring different practices and techniques, you can continue to enhance your understanding and connection with yourself.
Embrace this newfound understanding of your breath and the remarkable capabilities of your body. Keep learning, keep exploring, and keep nurturing a deeper relationship with your body and it’s incredible potential.