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  • Writer's pictureDr. Hanna Shays

The Importance of Diaphragmatic Breathing: Are You Breathing From Your Belly?

Have you ever considered the profound impact of something as simple as breathing on your overall well-being? The good news is that you don't have to be a master of yoga to breathe from your belly! This blog post goes in-depth regarding the importance of diaphragmatic breathing.

seated yoga pose
Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is practiced during yoga

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is a technique that involves engaging the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle located beneath the lungs, to draw in air deeply and efficiently. Unlike shallow chest breathing, diaphragmatic breathing expands the abdomen with each inhalation, promoting optimal oxygen exchange and relaxation.

Why is it Important?

  • Stress Reduction: Diaphragmatic breathing triggers the body's relaxation response, reducing levels of stress hormones like cortisol and promoting a sense of calmness and well-being. It's a powerful tool to activate the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest & digest").

  • Improved Respiratory Function: By utilizing the diaphragm fully, you enhance lung capacity and oxygen intake. This can benefit those with respiratory conditions or even athletes looking to optimize their performance.

  • Better Posture & Less Back Pain: The diaphragm is directly attached to the spine. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing encourages proper alignment of the spine and plays a role in reducing back pain.

  • Mind-Body Connection: Focusing on the breath cultivates mindfulness and presence, fostering a deeper connection between mind and body. It's a gateway to meditation and other mindfulness practices, facilitating emotional regulation and self-awareness.

  • Reducing Pelvic Pain: Tension in the pelvic floor can cause pain and a variety of other symptoms. Proper diaphragm activation is crucial in allowing for the pelvic floor to relax.

When Should I be Doing Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Ideally, we should be breathing from our bellies most of the time! This is because we want to be existing in the relaxed state of our nervous system more often than the fight or flight state. When shallow breathing from our chest, we are functioning more from the part of our nervous system that is on high alert. You don't have to be laying down to practice diaphragmatic breathing--you can do it sitting, standing, exercising, etc.

Pro tip: it can be a really nice way to fall asleep faster if you practice belly breathing in bed.

Visualization for Diaphragmatic Breathing

Inhale through your nose and send the air into your belly. Imagine the diaphragm as a deflated balloon, beginning to inflate and fill with the air that you are breathing in. Fill the balloon completely so that all parts of your belly expand with the air (left, right, up and down. Imagine a sphere). Your belly should be pushing out as it expands with the air. When you exhale, your belly will fall.

When performing this, it can be helpful to place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest. The belly should rise first OR with the chest, but do not let the chest act alone or rise before the belly!

We Care a lot About the Diaphragm!

If you have been evaluated by Dr. Shays, then you have likely had to perform a belly breath.

When assessing this, we typically look at:

  1. Ability to perform proper activation of the diaphragm

  2. Expansion of the belly during the breath

The diaphragm is a muscle, so it is very important that we all know how to properly activate and use it. If a patient is struggling to properly recruit the muscle, then we spend our time targeting proper recruitment and patterning until the rhythmic cycle can be sustained by the patient. For some people, it is natural and easy to begin, but for others it is a very unfamiliar pathway to tap into and sustain!

Lastly, if you have ever had an abdominal procedure (appendix removal, laparoscopy, hysterectomy, c-section, tummy tuck, etc), then scar tissue can cause the fascia to become restricted and limit the expansion of the tissue during the diaphragmatic breath. This will ultimately limit and reduce your ability to fully recruit your diaphragm. We always perform abdominal scar release if a patient has undergone abdominal surgery.

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