Did you know that in an average lifetime we take over 500 million breaths? Mostly we don’t even think about breathing, and generally in our fast-paced, stress-filled lives our breaths become shallower and faster and our diaphragms become weaker and stiffer.
What exactly is the diaphragm?
The diaphragm is a thin muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. This creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs.
By fully using the diaphragm in our breathing we not only massively enhance our lung function and health, but also access a wide range of other benefits.
Some benefits of a regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing
- It helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body.
- It lowers your heart rate.
- It helps lower your blood pressure
- It improves your core muscle stability.
- It improves your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise.
- It can help you sleep better.
- It can help with anxiety and depression.
- It slows your rate of breathing so that it expends less energy.
- It reduces the harmful effects of stress. Being stressed keeps your immune system from working at full capacity and can make you more susceptible to numerous conditions.
So how do we actually do diaphragmatic breathing?
- Sit in a comfortable position, or lie flat on the floor or your bed.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your abdomen just under your belly button.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. As you do this make sure your abdomen under your hand expands outwards and visualise your breath filling this space. Try to keep your chest relatively still, so the ribcage doesn’t move and just the diaphragm is forced to move.
- Breathe out slowly, feeling your abdomen empty and move inwards. Again try to keep the chest and ribcage as still as possible.
- Repeat these steps several times.
- Be mindful of how you feel after trying this- you should feel calmer, more connected to your body and grounded.
Once you get into the swing of breathing this way, you can do it anywhere and everywhere, the aim being that it eventually becomes a habit!