Diaphragm – the centre of breathing

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1st August 2021
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28th June 2023

I talk a lot about breathing efficiently and how that can help with other factors of health, but what exactly is diaphragmatic breathing and what benefit do we get from it?

Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing using your diaphragm, the band of muscle that goes from your lower ribs on one side and across to the lower ribs on the other side, creating a dome shape. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and draws down towards your abdomen. This allows your lungs to expand and draw in air. The pressure in your abdomen should stay the same, so your pelvic floor muscles mimic what the diaphragm is doing – contracting and relaxing when it does (ideally!). When the diaphragm relaxes, the muscle moves back in to a dome shape helping the air vacate the lungs to be breathed out.

When we are under strain, stressed, overwhelmed, scared or even in suspense, we take shallower breaths that don’t activate the diaphragm as much and this then means that the neck, rib and chest muscles have to compensate to encourage the chest cavity to expand. It overworks them and leads to pain and increased tension in these areas among others.

By staying aware of your breathing process, you can place your body back in a way of diaphragmatic breathing. All you have to do is take a couple of minutes to do a breathing exercise and the more you do it, the more your body makes it a habit.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Be comfortable so sitting or lying down is best.
  • Place one hand on your tummy and one hand on your chest.
  • Now breathe in through your nose and breathe into your tummy hand with the goal of making it rise. Breathe into it as much as you can comfortably do.
  • Breathe out through your nose and feel your tummy hand rest against your tummy as before. Try to breathe all of your air out.
  • Before breathing in again, pause for 2-3 seconds before you breathe in again.
  • The chest hand in all of this must remain still.

Benefits to diaphragmatic breathing:

Lowers stress levels.

Lowers blood pressure.

Lowers heartrate.

Improves your core stability by engaging two if its big muscle groups effectively.

Improves breathing rate as you strengthen your breathing muscles.

By lowering cortisol (stress) levels, you calm the parasympathetic nervous system.

Improves focus.

Make it a habit

Try to check in with your breathing regularly throughout the day. If you are in a high stress/ high pressure job role, try to set reminders every 2 hrs to do a 2min diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Your body will thank you for it!

Written by Kirsty Ritzema