Updated: May 4
Relaxing diaphragmatic breathing focuses on breathing by engaging the diaphragm. Your diaphragm is basically a series of big round, long broad muscles that sit under your lungs. They’re positioned about halfway between your neck and your pelvis.
When they go down (breathing in) they fill your lungs up with air that feeds oxygen into your bloodstream. The diaphragm muscles then go up (breathing out) and it forces that air out.
Sometimes people have a tendency to suck in their gut, sit improperly in their chair, or have poor posture, which causes them to breathe more from the chest. Chest breathing should be secondary to stomach breathing.
If you look at the way a baby breathes, they breathe through the stomach. Then they breathe in with the help of the chest and the neck muscles. Those secondary muscles of the chest and the neck should come into play after the diaphragm activity.
There’s a simple exercise to show how much you’re incorporating your diaphragm in your breathing. Start by lying on your back, then put your hands on your stomach and take a nice deep breath. You’ll feel your stomach move up towards the ceiling. Your hands will rise and fall.
The goal is to draw about 75% of your breath from the stomach by expanding the lower lobes of the lungs fully. Then the end of the breath "in" should be through the chest. It’s like filling up a sponge with water and then squeezing it out. We’re filling up the lungs with oxygen and squeezing all of it out into our bloodstream.
When you’re breathing in and out really quickly or breathing more through the chest, you’re not getting as much oxygen into your lungs. You end up utilizing about half your lung capacity, and you’re only getting out about half of the carbon dioxide that needs to be expelled.
There was a great book written in the 1970s by Dr. Benson, called the Relaxation Response. The book is still widely read today. It talks about diaphragmatic breathing, and what he calls Paced Breathing; where we have to breathe through the stomach in order to get the best oxygen exchange. It’s a great book to look at and still relevant today.
Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For additional information, and to learn more, please visit our Author's page.
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