Diaphragmatic breathing aka belly breathing, is the term for strengthening the muscle across the bottom of the ribcage to make breathing more efficient. It’s also a nice relaxation technique and can help us improve our posture (that’s a big yes from me). Read on to find out how.
First things first
Let’s see what the diaphragm is and what it does.
You might think of your lungs as active tissue, expanding and contracting on their own to pull in and push out air. In fact, the lungs are passive, and the act of breathing is made by the muscles around your ribcage. The diaphragm is one of these muscles.
Shaped like a dome, it draws your ribcage in to push your lungs upwards and expel air (as well as secretions like phlegm). When it flattens, it widens your ribcage and allows space for your lungs to expand as you breathe in. It is the primary muscle of inspiration (that’s breathing in, not brilliant ideas; although one definitely does assist the other).
We also have other accessory muscles around the ribcage, to help lift the framework of bone and allow room for the breath. Some of these can be seen around your collarbones and sides of your neck, and are especially apparent in people who struggle to breathe (asthmatics, heavy smokers etc). Here is a good example:
So, how can you improve the breath?
So when we’re breathing most efficiently, we are using our diaphragm. Now, I hear you say, “But I’m not a smoker, and don’t have asthma, so why do I need to know how to belly breathe?”
We don’t always use our muscles most efficiently, so here’s how you can improve the function of your diaphragm, and learn some useful relaxation tips too.
The practical bit…
* Word to the wise: if you have respiratory issues at present, check with your health professional before starting anything new.
- Lying on your back with your knees bent, place one hand over your chest, and the other on your stomach just below your ribcage (you can do this sitting too).
- Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your stomach to rise but keeping your chest still.
- Gently tighten your abdominals (stomach muscles), allowing your stomach to fall as you exhale through pursed lips.
- Now you’re back to the start.
Here’s the key: there is no forced expiration (that might make you cough), there is only light control from the abdominals. Do this 3-4 times, then breathe normally for a spell so that you don’t hyperventilate. Practice for 5 minutes or so, once or twice a day to feel the benefit.
The process helps to improve your lung capacity, slow your breathing and heart rate and therefore relax you. It also works to strengthen your postural muscles around your back and middle, meaning you can sit upright and fill your lungs in a healthier position for longer. And as we all know, breathing is good for you.
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