The Secrets of Diaphragmatic Breathing

The simplest of all relaxation techniques is diaphragmatic breathing, also called deep breathing, or abdominal breathing. How is this technique practiced? Let's have a look.

You know how babies breathe, right? Their bellies are rising up and falling down gently and rhythmically. That's how we are meant to breathe. Like newborns. Taking slow and deep breaths from the belly.

Stress takes a long term toll on your breathing. Your breath becomes shallow and short. Chances are that it is your chest that rises and falls with each breath, not your belly.

This chest breathing is not the most efficient way to breathe. Over time, your diaphragm gets tense and abdominal muscles constricted and you loose the ability to breathe deeply and naturally.

What is a diaphragm?

Diaphragm is a strong dome shaped muscle between abdomen and chest. When you breathe into your diaphragm, it pushes downwards - away from chest, causing your abdominal muscles to relax and rise. Lungs expand and allow air to be drawn in.

Here is where diaphragmatic breathing comes in. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which works in the opposite way to the sympathetic nervous system. Parasympathetic nervous system slows your cardiovascular system and relaxes your muscles.

Diaphragmatic breathing relaxes the muscles, massages the internal organs, and allows more oxygen to flow through your body.

At first, this way of breathing may feel awkward, but once you become familiar with the technique, you will be able to reduce stress on the spot by taking a few deep breaths.

How is Diaphragmatic Breathing Practiced?

The procedure is very simple and effective:

  1. Find a quiet place where you know you will not be disturbed.

  2. Lie down on a flat firm surface on your back and put your right hand on your diaphragm (just bellow the belly button).

  3. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose.

  4. Put your left hand on your upper chest. You should feel no movement here. The breathing should come from your diaphragm and your right hand will gently rise and fall.

  5. Notice the feeling and how it differs from chest breathing.

  6. Consciously breathe through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. Feel the rising and falling of your diaphragm.

  7. When you become used to breathing into your diaphragm, bring your attention to the flow of your breath. Just notice the flow. Is it smooth or jerky? Smooth it out, make it flow gently and smoothly.

  8. Do not rush your breath. Be gentle. Let if flow and you will discover a rhythm to the breath.

Be patient - while "breathing" sounds like an easy thing to do - diaphragmatic breathing takes practice. Practice this breathing technique at least once a day for about 20 minutes. If you have trouble falling asleep, practice this relaxation technique before going to sleep - you may be surprised how easily you will fall asleep.

In working with your breath, you will discover that changing your breath sequence changes the feelings and energy throughout your body.

You will also discover that emotional stress and constricted breathing are interconnected. As you gain control over your breath, you will gain control over your emotions.

The profound relaxation induced by diaphragmatic breathing reestablishes emotional equilibrium and frees energy for the tasks of your daily living and for healing.

Posture Impacts Your Ability to Breathe

Your physical posture plays an important role in breathing. The way you hold yourself, sitting or standing is one of the major factors restricting breath.

We have been conditioned to stand as little soldiers "chest out and stomach in". As you tighten the abdominal muscles, to tighten the stomach, you restrict free flowing breathing.

Fashion, unrealistic expectations on how we should look, sitting behind a desk, sitting in a car, all of this contributes to our unhealthy breathing patterns.

Diaphragmatic Breathing is one of many techniques to help you reduce anxiety, achieve deep relaxation, and relieve stress. Other great relaxation techniques are:

Visualization Relaxation
Muscle Relaxation Technique
10 Ways to Relieve Stress
Autogenic Relaxation
Progressive Relaxation


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