What Is Deep Belly Breathing?
Belly breathing, also known for it’s scientific name “diaphragmatic breathing”, is a breathing exercise that helps to strengthen your diaphragm and is a key component in meditation and yoga techniques. Practicing this type of breathing has many benefits and not only helps to strengthen your diaphragm but also uses less energy and effort to breathe.
The Right Way Vs The Wrong Way
Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to breathe, and deep diaphragmatic breathing is the correct way. The incorrect way of breathing is known as chest breathing. However, many people think this correct because their body gets into the habit of only breathing using their chest. As a result, too much chest breathing can cause someone to feel out of breath and anxious. It limits our oxygen intake and lung capacity, which can result in shallow breathing. It can also lead to excessive tension in certain muscles of the upper back and neck. Deep diaphragmatic breathing opens up the bottom of our lungs by expanding and contracting the diaphragm as we breathe. This allows us to intake more oxygen with each breath.
Benefits To Belly Breathing
There are many benefits of diaphragmatic breathing. Here are a few:
- Helps you relax
- Improves digestion
- Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
- Improves body’s delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS – see DOMS blog)
- Helps ease muscle tension
Helps You Relax – Belly breathing helps you relax almost instantly because of both of our nervous systems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Our sympathetic system is the “fight or flight” part of system. It responds to anything that we see as a threat and gives us the strength needed to either escape or fight. The parasympathetic system is the system that helps us digest and keep calm, essentially the opposite of the sympathetic system. This system lowers blood pressure, improving digestion and helping you to feel a calming sensation.
Improves Digestion – Diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for helping us relax and stimulating digestion. When the system is initiated, your stomach movements help to break down your food faster. It is important to be relaxed while eating. Stress activates the opposite nervous system to the parasympathetic, the sympathetic nervous system. This system stops digestion, causing food to sit in our stomachs and not break down properly. This is what gives people the “sick-full” feeling.
Lowers Heart Rate & Blood Pressure – Our parasympathetic nervous system activates the calm sensations in your body while deep breathing, and helps your heart rate go down, your blood pressure to improve, and also balance your blood sugar.
Improves DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) – Studies have been done that show belly breathing lowers exercise induced oxidative stress levels and pain. Your levels of cortisol decrease (the stress hormone) and your levels of melatonin increase (the relaxation hormone).
Helps Ease Muscle Tension :Using the diaphragm muscle to breathe allows other muscles to relax such as the upper trapezius muscles, scalenes and pecs. These muscles are often associated with upper back and neck pain as well as headaches. It is recommended to see a chiropractor or massage therapist to ensure there is enough mobility and muscle activation to allow for proper belly breathing.
How To Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
There are different variations of diaphragmatic breathing, the most common being the basic form. Here are a couple steps to basic diaphragmatic breathing:
- Lie flat on your bed, the floor, or any other flat surface.
- Take a deep breath in and out, relaxing your shoulders when you exhale.
- Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose and hold it for about 2 seconds. During this time you should feel the air moving from your nose to your abdomen, expanding your stomach. As your stomach moves outward, be sure your chest remains as still as possible.
- Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor, your bed, or another comfortable, flat surface.
- Shape your lips as if you are about to drink using a straw and press gently on your stomach while exhaling slowly, again for about 2 seconds.
- Repeat these steps several times.
Photo of: Dr. Irma
How often should I practice this exercise?
At the beginning, start off slow by practising for about 5-10 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day. Gradually increase how long you spend doing the exercise. Many people have said it is optimal to practice as soon as they wake up, and right before they go to bed.