How to Do Belly Breathing

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What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

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Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called belly breathing, is a deep breathing technique that engages your diaphragm, a dome-shaped sheet of muscle at the bottom of your ribcage that is primarily responsible for respiratory function.

When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward. This movement sets off a cascade of events. The lungs expand, creating negative pressure that drives air in through the nose and mouth, filling the lungs with air. 

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

Why Do People Try Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Many people get into the habit of breathing only with their chests. Restrictive clothing, poor posture, stress, and conditions that weaken the muscles involved in breathing all contribute to chest breathing. 

According to proponents, retraining ourselves to breathe with our bellies can help shallow breathers rely less on their chests and more on their diaphragms as they move their bellies out to inhale and in to exhale.  

Some research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing may also help people with conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), however, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012 found that while breathing exercises improved functional exercise capacity in people with COPD compared to no intervention, no consistent effects could be found on difficulty breathing (dyspnea) or quality of life. 

How to Do It:

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Step 1: Sit or Lie Comfortably

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Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. You can try it sitting in a chair, sitting crosslegged, 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 small pillow under your head and one under your knees for comfort. You can also just keep your knees bent.

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Step 2: Place One Hand on Your Upper Chest

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If you're engaging your diaphragm, this hand should remain relatively still (compared to the hand you'll place on your belly) as you breathe in and out.

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Step 3: Place the Other Hand below Your Ribcage

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The other hand should be placed in the epigastric area, which is right above the navel. Having a hand here will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.

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Step 4: Breathe in Through Your Nose

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

The movement (and the airflow) should be smooth, and it should ideally mainly involve your epigastric area. You shouldn't feel like you're forcing your lower belly out by clenching your muscles. 

The hand on your chest should remain relatively still. 

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Step 5: Breathe Out Through Your Mouth

Let your belly 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 relatively still.

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Some Final Thoughts

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If you find belly breathing awkward at first, it may be because you usually breathe with your chest.

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 considered a natural way to breathe, if you have a lung condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, speak with your healthcare provider before trying any type of breathing exercise.

Related:​ The Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Sources:

Holland AE, Hill CJ, Jones AY, McDonald CF. Breathing exercises for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Oct 17;10:CD008250. 

Yamaguti WP, Claudino RC, Neto AP, et al. Diaphragmatic breathing training program improves abdominal motion during natural breathing in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2012 Apr;93(4):571-7. 

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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