Diaphragmatic breathing, better known as “deep breathing,” is crucial for general and mental wellness. While this might not seem like the first thing your mind goes to when looking to feel less stressed, it does work.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises target the parasympathetic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is, however, a topic for another post. Meanwhile, here’s the gist. “Parasympathetic” is the part of the nervous system that controls rest and digest, which works opposite to the sympathetic nervous system. The “Sympathetic” nervous system activates during stressful periods.
Getting to know some diaphragmatic breathing benefits
So, why all the fuss?
Not only is belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing beneficial to lower stress, but it also helps with many conditions. It is also the basis of focus when engaging in exercise or meditation.
Relaxes your body and mind
Stress can be debilitating. When someone suffers from chronic stress, the hormones related can lead to adverse health side-effects. The body wasn’t made to be in “stress mode” all the time.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help lower stress levels and anxiety, which improves mood.
Slows down a fast heart rate
Again, the heart beats faster when certain hormones are activated. Fight-or-flight responses such as stressful conditions or situations can activate stress hormones. These hormones include cortisol, which can increase the heart rate and lead to complications like difficulty breathing.
This is another reason why diaphragmatic breath for anxiety is so effective and highly recommended as a healthy lifestyle habit.
Manage high blood pressure
When patients experience high blood pressure or chronic hypertension, it is often due to stressful lifestyles. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are more than 1 billion people worldwide that have high blood pressure (hypertension) as a chronic condition. There are many effective medications designed to help manage high blood pressure.
If you are someone with hypertension, diaphragmatic breathing exercises will help to lower your blood pressure. Using breathing exercises like deep breathing reduces stressful feelings and symptoms.
It helps the body adapt to exercise
Sometimes it’s hard to focus when exercising. Maybe you feel anxious about reaching specific goals through your progress and fitness journey. Deep breathing helps many people to stay focused and to reach their exercise target goals.
Sometimes you need it to help you balance while practicing stretches and poses, because it aids with focus.
Manage post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t something to take lightly. It often occurs after a life-changing event or a traumatic experience. Managing PTSD is very important, and medical doctors prescribe diaphragmatic breathing exercises to PTSD patients.
It also helps these individuals to manage their emotions and to react rationally in a given situation. People who suffer from depression and PTSD tend to have emotional outbursts in extremes. PTSD is manageable and the sooner the patient receives treatment the sooner they can lead a better quality of life.
Diaphragmatic breathing verses chest breathing
This is an important comparison because both ways of breathing will either increase stress hormones or increase the “feel good” hormones. Feel good hormones are what “fuels” the parasympathetic nervous system as mentioned before in this post. The opposite is said for the sympathetic nervous system.
Chest breathing stimulates stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin, because it has to take place during an emergency event (fight-or-flight) situations. Many of us have adapted to chest breathing which is shallow and doesn’t “expose too much belly or mid-section fat.” This is often to look slim for photos or whatever social event calls for a slimmer, trimmer you.
Remaining in stress-mode can lead to chronic conditions and increases stress and anxiety. But to reverse this, diaphragmatic breathing exercises is important.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises is easily observed in children. For example, looking at a baby breathing, you’ll be able to see the rise and fall of their tummies as they inhale and exhale.
Because diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, it will course the body to feel more relaxed, and calm. This is why it is a very effective technique for instantly calming down.
How to practice diaphragmatic breathing exercise
Practicing the diaphragmatic breathing technique is fairly easy. But to make it the way you breathe everyday and all day is a bit harder to condition. While it may take time, it is completely worth it!
Lie down on a comfortable surface on your back. You can keep your legs bent at the knees or prop a pillow under it.
Put one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach.
Breath in slowly through your nose. Feel the rise of your stomach with one hand. The hand on your chest shouldn’t be moving much.
Upon exhaling, make sure that you exhale through your mouth (pursed lips). You should feel your stomach contract inward or “fall” downward by your hand that is on top of it.
Alternative to laying down
Most people prefer laying down to feel and gain the full benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, but as you progress and improve, you can practice this breathing exercise even while sitting.
- Alternatively, you can sit down on a chair with your knees bent
- Relax your neck and shoulders to reduce the tension that might be present
- Similar to when laying down, you’ll put one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach
- The same as laying down, you’ll breathe in deeply through your nose and feel your stomach expand
- Through pursed lips again, you will exhale and feel your abdomen become shrunken or deflate as you do
*Tip for practicing diaphragmatic breathing exercise
It might not be easy to breathe using your diaphragm for fuller breaths, but it gets better with practice. You can start off slow and do a few breaths every hour or 3 to 4 times a day. You can also implement your session length’s for 10 too 15 minutes at a time, or 5 minutes if you don’t have much time to spare.
Either way, it becomes better with time and you’ll be able to do it with less effort.
Conclusion about why diaphragmatic breathing exercises are extremely good for your wellness
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises are easy to perform and highly effective. It can benefit teens, adults, and seniors. It increases the oxygen in the blood and improves health on many scales. Young children and babies tend to breathe in this manner all the time.
If you haven’t begun this type of breathing exercise then what better time to start than now. We are currently living in stressful and uncertain times. Using deep breathing as part of your lifestyle may help to improve your wellness.
Has diaphragmatic breathing helped you to feel less stressed?