Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefits
Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits and should be the way we all breathe. A client mentioned recently how she has come to understand the benefits of the breathing techniques she has been learning in our yoga classes, particularly how the breath can help her move more deeply and comfortably into postures. I’ve had many clients who have really struggled with breathing, not just how to breathe properly, but when to breathe, especially for Pilates. It’s strange how difficult breathing well can be considering it just happens automatically. Because it happens automatically, we don’t pay much attention to it and use very little of our lung capacity, yet when we breath correctly, some amazing things happen. As Joseph Pilates said:
“Lazy breathing converts the lungs, literally and figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deposition of diseased, dying and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of other harmful germs.”
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Method
This is best practiced lying down so that your posture is ideal and you have space to breathe. If you prefer, you can practice this sitting up on a block or on a dining room chair so that your back is supported – just pay attention to your posture. Deep breathing can also cause dizziness if you are unused to it.
- Practice complete breath a few times to ensure that the inhalations and exhalations are equal. If it helps, count as you inhale and exhale for the same number.
- Imagine that your entire torso is a balloon and as you inhale, fill the balloon with air. As the diaphragm descends and air is drawn into the lungs, be aware of the outward movement of the belly, the waist expanding, the ribcage stretching in 3 dimensions – front, sides and back – and perhaps some movement of the shoulders, certainly the shoulder blades. The 3 dimensional quality is really important for efficient breathing. You may be aware of a bearing down on the pelvic floor.
- As you exhale and the diaphragm draws back up forcing the air out of the lungs, feel the “balloon” deflate and wring out every last drop of air. Feel the pelvic floor lift, the abdomen contract and the ribcage squeeze in again, like bellows.
Fully inhaling and exhaling take concentration and practice, so practice as often as you can and it will soon become your natural breath. This is an excellent relaxation technique and can used if you wake up in the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep.
12 Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Our posture improves. Good breathing helps reinforce the natural curves of the spine, as well as provides compression and decompression
- Our torso muscles, importantly our core muscles, are worked
- We release stress by calming the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight)
- We have more energy as more oxygen is circulated round the body more efficiently
- Our spines are more stable with the intra-abdominal pressure on the inhalation and the natural contraction of the core muscles on the exhalation
- Our internal organs get a massage which will help improve function and lymphatic drainage
- Reduces blood pressure and slows pulse rate
- The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) is activated
- Natural waste such as carbon dioxide is released
- The respiratory system is conditioned and strengthened
- Efficient gas exchange –the bottom third of the lungs is where about two thirds of the gas exchange takes place, so oxygenation is more efficient when you use the diaphragm
- Pain is relieved. When we breathe deeply, endorphins are released, the feel good natural pain killers. This is why we use deep breathing during labour for example.