Diaphragmatic Breathing

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The Importance of Diaphragmatic Breathing

From my teenage years and until I turned 30 I was heavily involved in Japanese material art and was practising it almost every single day.

As with most ancient eastern sports the breathing plays a big role and I therefore early on learned to do diaphragmatic breathing without really understanding the benefits at that time.

It wasn't before later in my life I understood how helpful this kind of breathing could be in other situation where I needed to calm down and thereby getting control of myself again.

Today I’m still using diaphragmatic breathing in many situations and not only when I feel nervous but also in the combination with physical activities where I need to get as much oxygen out to my muscles as possible.


What is diaphragmatic breathing?

While diaphragmatic breathing is the official, scientific term, this technique is most often referred to as deep breathing. The idea is to change the way you breathe so that your lungs are working at full capacity, bringing more oxygen in with less effort. It is a staple of relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and is gaining more and more recognition among medical professionals as a legitimate treatment for a wide variety of health concerns.


In diaphragmatic breathing, the muscle behind the lower parts of the lungs is used to inflate them. It's obvious when someone is breathing this way, because their stomach expands and contacts visibly with their breaths. The way most people breath is from the top down, causing their chest to expand but leaving their stomach relatively still. This is a common mistake, and most people in the Western world are chest breathers. Take a moment and check how you're breathing. If you're a chest breather, your breaths will be shallow and more of them are required to carry the same amount of oxygen into the bloodstream.

Breathing incorrectly is a major contributing factor in anxiety symptoms, which many people experience. By depriving themselves of oxygen and breathing rapidly, they get an unwanted response from the sympathetic nervous system. To put it simply, the body do not realize that it’s supposed to be relaxing, because the lungs are telling it that there is an emergency!

Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand,activates the parasympathetic nervous system through stimulation of the Vagus nerve, which runs through the area of the body containing the lungs. This sends the message to your body that everything is fine, and it's time to relax. Because it can have such a direct impact, learning how to control your breathing is an incredibly useful tool.

How do I do it?

Diaphragmatic Breathing

It is easy to learn diaphragmatic breathing, and there are lots of different ways to do it. Breathing exercises usually suggest starting while sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Lying down is the easiest way for absolute beginners to learn, because it is easier to tell in that position where you are breathing from. All you have to do is breathe deeply and watch to make sure that your stomach rises and falls with each breath.

There is no one exercise that is best or most effective when it comes to deep breathing. The important thing is to find one that you can do comfortably. I prefer not to follow any exercises at all, just set aside ten or fifteen minutes to relax and breathe without worrying about timing my breaths. Some people find it helpful to schedule their breathing exercises at the same time every day, and for some it's easier to pick the time day by day depending on their schedule and emotional needs. As long as you make sure that you are practicing daily, either of these strategies is fine.

Starting out, the main priority should be to learn how it feels to breathe from the diaphragm. It can feel very strange at first, I used to get annoyed with how slow my breaths were coming and try to speed up the process. Going too fast can cause hyperventilation, so make sure to keep it slow, and stop for a few minutes if you feel dizzy. Eventually, you should get to a point where it is easier to breathe diaphragmatically when you stop thinking about it and let your muscle memory take over.

Once you reach that point, you practice deep breathing anywhere without diverting too much focus from the task at hand. Bad traffic on the way to work? Pass the time by breathing deeply in the car and making a plan for the day. Big exam coming up? Add a few five minute breaks to your study session to drink water, breathe, and calm down. Just not too often (you still have to study). You don't have to set aside a lot of time to do a full breathing exercise, remembering to take a few deep breaths every now and then throughout the day can help you get into the habit.

time to breath

Who can benefit from it?

Anybody who could use a little extra oxygen in their lives can benefit from diaphragmatic breathing. In today's world, it's easy to get overwhelmed by current events, high expectations at work, or any number of other stimuli. Anxiety affects millions of adults, and learning how to breathe correctly can be the first step in managing it.

High intensity workouts

High intensity workouts

People who have conditions which affect breathing can use diaphragmatic breathing to strengthen their lungs and increase their oxygen intake. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and asthma are two such diseases, but diaphragmatic breathing can be used as a treatment for many others. Practicing breathing techniques is also shown to improve the health of patients with heart conditions, by helping regulate heart rate.

Although diaphragmatic breathing has many applications in the medical world, its usefulness is not limited to there. Musicians who play breath-powered instruments like woodwinds or brass are trained in deep breathing. Athletes and dancers benefit from the extra oxygen provided by diaphragmatic breathing, as does anyone in a profession that requires lots of physical activity. Hopefully you can find a way for it to help you be calmer and more efficient in your own life.

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