How to Practice Deep, Diaphragmatic Breathing

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What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Woman outdoors, head and shoulders, head back and eyes closed
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Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called abdominal breathing, is a technique that engages the diaphragm, a dome-shaped sheet of muscle and tendon at the bottom of your ribcage.

When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward. This movement sets off a cascade of events, expanding the lungs, creating negative pressure in the lungs, and moving the breath in through the nose and mouth, which fills the lungs with air.  

When your exhale, the diaphragm muscles relax and move upwards, which drives air out of the lungs through your breath.

What Is the Purpose of This Technique?

Diaphragmatic breathing is said to be the body's most natural way of breathing. The stomach area rises and falls without effort. Many people breathe this way when they are sleeping or relaxed, but through habit, clothing that is restrictive around the waist, poor posture, or conditions that weaken the muscles involved in breathing, people may not breathe deeply.

According to proponents, this technique can bring about a sense of calm and help to combat stress. Some research suggests that it may also help with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Here's how to do it:

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Step 1: Sit or Lie Comfortably

Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. You can try it sitting in a chair or lying on your back.

If you're sitting in a chair, your knees should be bent and your head, neck, and shoulders, relaxed. Although you don't need to sit straight as an arrow, you also don't want to slouch. 

If you're lying down, you can place a pillow under your head and knees (or keep your knees bent) for comfort.

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Step 2: Arrange Your Hands

Place one hand on your upper chest.

The other hand should be below the breast bone (also called the sternum) and above the navel. This stomach area is called the epigastric region. 

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Step 3: Breathe In Through Your Nose

Breathe in slowly through your nose. The air going into your nose should move downward so that you can feel your stomach rise with your second hand. Don't force or push your abdominal muscles outward.

The movement (and the airflow) should be smooth, and it should ideally involve your epigastric area, not your entire abdomen. 

The hand on your chest should remain still. 

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Step 4: Breathe Out Through Your Mouth

Let your stomach area relax. You should feel the hand that's over it fall inward (toward your spine). Don't force your stomach inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles.

Exhale slowly through slightly pursed lips. The hand on your chest should continue to remain still.

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Some Final Thoughts

Although the frequency of this breathing exercise will vary according to your health, the sequence is often done three times when you're beginning. Most people can work up to 5 to 10 minutes one to four times a day. 

If you feel lightheaded at any time, discontinue the breathing exercise. If you're standing, sit down until you're no longer lightheaded. 

Although this technique is a natural way to breathe, if you have a condition like lung disease, it's a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider before trying it.

Related:​ The Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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