The Many Benefits of Abdominal Breathing

When we are stressed, taking a deep breath and then letting it out often helps relax us a little. Our breath is a powerful tool that helps ease stress and makes us more relaxed. The great thing is that we have the power to deliberately change our breathing. 
You may already know how breath control is used in practices like yoga, tai chi, and many types of meditation. Such simple breathing techniques can make a big difference in reducing your stress.
One type of breathing exercise that can be particularly helpful for relaxation is diaphragmatic breathing. 

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Diaphragmatic Breathing, man on a yoga mat breathing deeply
When we breathe normally, we don’t use the full capacity of the lungs. The muscles that control the movement of the lungs are those located between the ribs and the diaphragm (a large, dome-shaped muscle located below the lungs that contracts and flattens when you inhale). The lungs rely on the diaphragm to help with the movement of air in and out. Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing from the diaphragm rather than the chest, is a technique that increases lung efficiency.
This exercise fully engages the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when breathing. In essence, the general aim is to actively pull the diaphragm down with each inward breath. This allows the lungs to fill more efficiently.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also called abdominal breathing, can improve relaxation and reduce blood pressure and heart rate. This breathing exercise also helps strengthen your diaphragm – in a way, you will be training your diaphragm muscle to be better at its job. 

How Is Diaphragmatic Breathing Beneficial? 

A 2017 study found that diaphragmatic breathing can help reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Therefore, this exercise can be useful in alleviating symptoms of stress and anxiety.

When we are under stress or become anxious, we tend to take short breaths using our shoulders instead of our diaphragm to move air in and out of our lungs. This disturbs the balance of gases in the body. Also, our heart beats faster, and our breathing rate increases. 

During diaphragmatic breathing, you consciously become aware of your breathing and regulate its depth and rate. By doing so, you lower your likelihood of spiraling into a panic when you’re anxious or stressed.

Moderate evidence also suggests that diaphragmatic breathing can help improve the quality of life for people with asthma. However, asthma sufferers should first perform the exercise under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Related: Reduce Your Anxiety with This Easy Technique

How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is best practiced in a relaxed and safe environment at home. Follow the instructions below to perform this breathing technique. 

1. Lie down on your back on a flat surface or in bed. You can place a pillow under your knees and under the head to keep your body comfortable. 

2. Place one hand on the middle of the upper chest and the other just below your rib cage but above the diaphragm. 

3. Take a deep breath from your abdomen and count to three. As you inhale, you should feel your stomach rise. Make sure the hand on your chest doesn’t move. This will allow the diaphragm to work more effectively with your abdomen instead of your chest.

4. Now exhale through pursed lips while counting to three. As you exhale, your stomach should fall back down. The hand on your chest should stay still. The hand on your stomach should rise and fall as your diaphragm expands and contracts with each breath.

5. Continue this exercise for five to ten minutes. With each breath allow any tension in your body to fade away.

At first, you might get tired during the exercise. But don’t give up, and keep at it. With practice, it will become easier, and you will feel better after each session. To make things more comfortable, consider playing some light music. For best results, practice this breathing exercise for 5–10 minutes at a time at least two to three times a day. You can gradually increase the amount and can even progress to doing this exercise sitting up.

Note: People with lung conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or asthma should consult with their doctor before beginning this exercise.

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