Breathing exercises are the most basic, and most frequently used of
all the techniques on this site – they’re easy to learn, easy to do, and
you can do them anywhere, anytime. They are also the best preparation
for learning any of the other techniques as well. And if there’s
something in your life you’d like to change – whatever it may be –
you’ll find that having a few breathing techniques at your fingertips
will be a tremendous help.
Of all the breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing is the most essential. And it’s not really a technique – it’s simply the natural and healthy way to breathe. It’s the way babies breathe. And it’s the way we all breathed before we started holding in our tummies in order to look good, before we started using chairs that encourage us to slouch, and before we got so stressed out that our tense muscles started interfering with our natural way of breathing.
Here are just a few of the benefits you’ll get when you re-learn how to breathe properly:
In order to understand what’s happening in your body when you practice abdominal breathing, it helps to understand a little bit about how your body is designed to breathe.
The muscle most responsible for your breathing is the “diaphragm.” The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that separates your chest cavity (which houses your heart, ribs, and lungs) from your abdominal cavity (which houses your stomach, gallbladder, liver, kidneys, and intestines). When your diaphragm is relaxed, the arch of its dome curves upward into the chest cavity.
Each time you inhale, your diaphragm contracts, flattening its dome
downward toward the abdomen. As it flattens, it leaves more space in
the chest cavity, allowing the lungs to inflate with air.
At the same time, as the dome flattens toward the abdomen, it presses down on the abdominal organs. This pushes the organs out against the wall of your belly, and you can feel your belly bulging slightly outward.
When you exhale, the reverse happens. Your diaphragm relaxes, arching back up into the chest cavity. This compresses your lungs, causing them to deflate like balloons. At the same time, there’s now more space for your abdominal organs and your belly flattens.
Each time you inhale properly, you activate your sympathetic nervous
system (SNS) – the part of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) that
increases your energy and your heart rate. Each time you exhale
properly, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – the
part of your ANS that relaxes you, slows your heart rate, and reduces
your blood pressure.
So when you breathe correctly, your SNS and PNS are equally activated, one after the other. That’s why diaphragmatic breathing is such an effective means of balancing your ANS.
If you'd like to listen to an audio that guides you through the process of learning abdominal breathing, click below:
For learning purposes, it’s best to be flat on your back with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet touching the floor. Also for learning purposes, it’s helpful to pause momentarily after each inhalation and at the end of each exhalation.
Now, keeping your hands on your belly, do the same thing without holding your breath after each inhalation and exhalation.
It can be very helpful to pause now and then, in the midst of your activities, to take 3 or 4 slow, deep abdominal breaths. Doing this repeatedly throughout the day will help to retrain your body and gradually undo the habit of breathing with your chest. It will also help you to stay more relaxed and alert throughout the day.
In addition to reaping its many physical benefits, you can
use the practice of diaphragmatic breathing to directly strengthen your
One of the many functions of the MPFC is to help you be aware of your body. So any time you direct your attention to your breath to check whether you’ve been holding in your belly, you’re activating your MPFC. And the more you activate it, the stronger it gets.
Another function of the MPFC is
self-regulation. So anytime you notice that you’ve been chest breathing
and choose to shift to abdominal breathing, you’re practicing
self-regulation. You’ve not only balanced your ANS, you’ve also
activated your MPFC.
Just calmly focusing your attention on the process of diaphragmatic breathing can bring about a deep sense of inner peace and balance. And at the same time, you’ll be doing wonderful things for your heart, lungs, abdominal organs, and your whole body!