What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing is a form of breathwork that allows for the expansion of the lungs and greater oxygenation of the system. It is also referred to as lower body breathing, and is the natural form of breathing that we all did when we were children. Unfortunately, we often grow out of this natural state of breathing and create a habit of upper body breathing – or chest breathing – which keeps us in a state of hyper-vigilance or fight or flight.
Essentially, diaphragmatic breathing is a discipline that reminds our body how to breathe in a healthy way that supports the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows us to stay calm and relaxed. Ideally, this prevents us from falling back into the common practice of engaging in shallow breathing.
The average person takes between 12 to 20 breaths per minute; shallow breathing or chest breathing occurs when you take more than this number of breaths in a minute. Chest breathing involves drawing air into the chest area using the intercostal muscles, rather than through the lungs by using the diaphragm.
It is fairly common to see individuals with anxiety as shallow breathers. This can lead to symptoms of lightheadedness, rapid heart rate, fatigue, and feeling faint.
Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing has numerous benefits, including lowering blood sugar and blood pressure, stimulates the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, as well as growth hormone. It also supports the removal of free radicals, improves mental focus and clarity, and can improve the quality of sleep. One of the most important benefits is its ability to reduce cortisol and other stress hormones in the body.
For a client having sleeping concerns from stress, suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing every night – just as if it were an exercise regimen.
How to Perform Diaphragmatic Breathing
To perform diaphragmatic breathing, one hand is placed on the belly, while the other hand rests on the chest. This is followed by a slow and deep inhalation through the nose, usually for a count of 10 – or until the abdomen or the belly is full. The next step is a slow exhalation for a similar count.
This is repeated five to ten times one easy way to learn how to do this form of breathing is to buy a small yoga pillow and place it on the diaphragm. With practice, expanding the diaphragm will allow the pillow to rise and fall. This will teach your client how to engage their calming parasympathetic system.
There are various forms of diaphragmatic breathing. Basic diaphragmatic breathing is the simplest form. To perform basic diaphragmatic breathing, follow the instructions below:
- Find a quiet place free of distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair, loosen any tight clothing and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your stomach. Inhale, taking a deep breath from your abdomen as you count to three. As you inhale you should feel your stomach rise up. The hand on your chest should not move.
- After a short pause, slowly exhale while counting to three. Your stomach should fall back down as you exhale. If you wish, you can say a phrase as you exhale such as “calm.”
- Continue this pattern of rhythmic breathing for five to ten minutes until you feel relaxed.
Once a person becomes comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing, they may start to practice the exercise while seated or standing. When practicing diaphragmatic breathing in these positions, it is important to keep the shoulders, head, and neck relaxed.
If after practicing deep breathing, if you still feel severe anxiety, consider consulting a mental health professional or medical doctor for assessment and recommendations for treatment.
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