One of the simplest, cheapest and most effective ways you can improve your overall health and well-being is to learn how to breathe abdominally. This is also known as diaphragmatic breathing.
Most of us breathe using the upper part of our chest which means that only the top half of our lungs are used and oxygen intake is less. Diaphragmatic breathing allows you to make full use of your lungs.
There are many claims about the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, some saying that it is the single most important thing that you can do to keep yourself well! Most commonly people find that it helps them relax and sleep better. It plays an important part in stress reduction, anger management programmes, and is particularly useful in pregnancy. It can also help your sports performance and, of course, is essential for vocalists.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
The diaphragm is a large muscle located between the chest and the abdomen. Contracting the diaphragm allows air to enter the full length of your lungs. You can see it drawn in green in the diaphragmatic breathing diagram below:
When your diaphragm contracts, and air flows in, your belly will expand. One reason why people tend not to do this kind of breathing is that we are often told to hold our bellies in from a early age.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
Like anything, learning diaphragmatic breathing takes a bit of practice. Try repeating this exercise for five minutes every day until you start to breath in this way naturally when you’re at rest.
- Sit on a chair or lie down on your back
- Place one hand on your lower belly and the other on the centre of your chest
- Breathe in down into your belly, until it expands a little bit and your hand raises
- Let go of your breath, pulling your tummy in, and exhale through your mouth
If you like, you can use visualisation to help with this. Here’s an example from Carole Osborne-Sheets:
- Imagine your torso as a glass, with the bottom of the glass at your pelvis and the top of your glass at your lower rib cage. Your breathe is like water.
- Watch in your mind’s eye as you fill your glass with water from the bottom to the top as you inhale
- As you exhale, imagine emptying the glass from the top to the bottom
- Continue to watch the filling and emptying of the glass as you continue to breathe for several minutes