Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that engages your diaphragm, an important muscle that enables you to breathe.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that helps you focus on your diaphragm, a muscle in your belly. It’s sometimes called belly breathing or abdominal breathing. By “training” your diaphragm to open up your lungs, you can help your body breathe more efficiently.
Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits that can affect your entire body. It’s the basis for many meditation and relaxation techniques, which can lower your stress levels, lower your blood pressure, and regulate other critical bodily processes.
Let’s learn more about how diaphragmatic breathing benefits you, how to get started, and what the research says about it.
If you have a lung condition, talk with a doctor before trying breathing exercises.
The most basic type of diaphragmatic breathing is done by inhaling through your nose and breathing out through your mouth.
Diaphragm breathing basics
Here’s the basic procedure for diaphragmatic breathing. It may be easiest to practice while lying flat on your bed or the floor when you first start.
- Sit or lie down on a comfortable, flat surface.
- Relax your shoulders, shifting them downward away from the ears.
- Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach.
- Without straining or pushing, breathe in through your nose until you can’t take in any more air.
- Feel the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, expanding your stomach and sides of the waist. Your chest remains relatively still.
- Purse your lips as if sipping through a straw. Exhale slowly through your lips for 4 seconds and feel your stomach gently contracting.
- Repeat these steps several times for best results.
The rib stretch is another helpful deep breathing exercise to help you expand your breath into your rib cage. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand or sit upright.
- Cross your arms over your chest and place your palms on either side of your rib cage.
- Without straining or pushing, breathe in through your nose until you can’t take in anymore air.
- Feel your ribs expand into your hands as you do so.
- Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Breathe out slowly through your mouth. You can do this normally or with pursed lips.
Numbered breathing is a good exercise for gaining control over your breathing patterns. Here’s how you can do it:
- Sit or stand upright and close or relax your eyes.
- Without straining or pushing, breathe in through your nose until you can’t take in anymore air.
- Exhale until all the air has been emptied from your lungs.
- Keeping your eyes closed, fully inhale again.
- Keep the air in your lungs for a few seconds, then let it all out.
- Count that as breath one.
- Inhale fully again.
- Hold for a few seconds, then let it all out.
- Count that as breath two.
- Repeat a full inhale, hold, and then exhale.
- Count that as breath three.
- Repeat these steps until you’ve reached 10 breaths.
Feel free to count higher if you feel comfortable. For an additional mindfulness component, you can start over again from 1, noticing if you accidentally count beyond 10.
Lower-back breathing or kidney breathing can help you train yourself to breathe spherically rather than simply out and in.
- Place your palms on your lower back with your thumbs touching the top of your hip bones. Your hands will be roughly parallel with your kidneys.
- Inhale slowly through the nose, focusing on “sending” the breath into your hands at your lower back.
- You can very slightly contract your belly to emphasize the movement in your lower back.
- You may feel an almost indetectable movement in your lower back, or you may feel no movement at all.
- Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth, allowing your belly and sides of your waist to naturally contract.
- Inhale again and focus on expanding your lower back into your hands.
- Exhale and release the breath completely.
- Repeat the process for 10 cycles.
Note: You can’t actually breathe into your back or belly. You can only breathe into your lungs. This exercise involves using the expansion of your lungs within the body to help stimulate sensation and movement in the lower back.
See lower-back breathing video instructions on Healthline’s Instagram.
Box breathing is also known as square breathing. This is because each of the four steps involves breathing or holding the breath for 4 seconds, creating a 4×4 effect.
- Sit or stand upright.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.
- Inhale as you count slowly to four in your head, filling your lungs completely without strain.
- Hold the breath while counting slowly to four.
- Exhale and release the breath slowly to the count of four.
- Hold the breath out for the count of four.
- Repeat the cycle 5 to 10 times.
- Let your lips part slightly. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
- Close your lips and inhale silently through your nose as you count to four in your head, filling the lungs completely without strain.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat for 5 to 10 rounds.
Research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing can have a wide range of benefits. It may help you:
lowerthe harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body, by helping you relax
- manage the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- lower your heart rate and blood pressure
- make core strength exercises
more effective, improving your core muscle stability improveyour body’s ability to tolerate exercise, if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Stress and anxiety
One of the biggest benefits of diaphragmatic breathing is reducing stress.
Being stressed keeps your immune system from working at full capacity. This can make you more susceptible to numerous conditions.
Over time, long-term or chronic stress — even from seemingly minor inconveniences like traffic — can sometimes lead to anxiety or depression. Deep breathing exercises may help you reduce the effects of stress.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Diaphragmatic breathing is often recommended for people with COPD.
With healthy lungs, your diaphragm does most of the work when you inhale to bring fresh air in and exhale to get carbon dioxide and other gases out of your lungs.
COPD causes your lungs to lose some of their elasticity or stretchiness, so air doesn’t move in and out as easily. It also makes your diaphragm less effective. Doing breathing exercises that benefit your diaphragm specifically can help train this muscle and improve your breathing.
Like COPD, with asthma, your lungs can lose elasticity over time, so they don’t go back to their original state when you exhale.
Breathing exercises that help your diaphragm do its job can improve your body’s ability to exchange air through the lungs.
To improve your lung function, it’s important to continue doing breathing exercises regularly.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped respiratory muscle found near the bottom of your rib cage, right below your chest.
When you inhale and exhale air, the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles around your lungs contract (or squeeze). The diaphragm does most of the work during the inhalation part. During inhalation, your diaphragm contracts so that your lungs can expand into the extra space and let in as much air as is necessary.
Muscles in between your ribs, known as intercostal muscles, raise your rib cage to help your diaphragm let enough air into your lungs.
Muscles near your collarbone and neck also help these muscles when something makes it harder for you to breathe correctly. They all contribute to how quickly and how much your ribs can move and make space for your lungs.
Some of these muscles include:
Autonomic nervous system and your breath
Also, breathing is part of your autonomic nervous system (ANS). This system is in charge of essential bodily processes that you don’t need to put any thought into, such as:
- digesting food
- how quickly you breathe
- metabolic processes that allow your body to transform food into energy
- overall body temperature
- blood pressure
The ANS has two main components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. Each division is responsible for different bodily functions.
The sympathetic usually gets these processes going, while the parasympathetic stops them from happening. While the sympathetic controls your fight-or-flight response, the parasympathetic is in charge of everyday functions.
Even though most ANS functions are involuntary, you can control some of your ANS processes by doing deep breathing exercises.
Taking deep breaths can help you voluntarily regulate your ANS, which can have many benefits, including:
- lowering your heart rate
- regulating blood pressure
- helping you relax
- lowering the release of the stress hormone cortisol
Diaphragmatic breathing isn’t always helpful on its own. It can’t replace other treatments or therapies recommended by a doctor.
In fact, some older
For some people with generalized anxiety disorder or similar mental health conditions, focused breathing exercises may temporarily increase feelings of anxiety. If this happens to you, consider trying different techniques to calm anxiety instead.
If you have a lung condition such as asthma or COPD, talk with a doctor or respiratory therapist before starting breathing exercises. They can help determine which exercises are safe for you to try.
There are a lot of different breathing exercises out there, but they may not all be the right choice for you.
Talk with one or more of the following professionals for advice on breathing exercises:
- Primary care physician: They likely know more about your overall health than anyone, so they can give good advice tailored to your needs.
- A respiratory specialist: If you have a respiratory condition such as COPD, a specialist can give you specific treatments and advice on your breathing.
- A cardiac specialist: If you have a condition that affects your heart or bloodstream, a cardiac expert can guide you through the benefits of breathing for your heart.
- A mental health professional: If you’re thinking about breathing to help lower stress, talk with a licensed therapist or counselor who can help you gauge if breathing exercises will help.
- A physical therapist: Your muscles and posture
can affectyour breathing. A physical therapist can help you learn how to best use your muscles and movement to assist you in breathing better.
- A licensed fitness professional: If you just want to use breathing for daily stressors, talk with a certified personal trainer or yoga teacher. If you have a gym membership, you can usually find a personal trainer there.
Creating a routine can be an excellent way to get in the habit of diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Try the following to get into a good groove:
- Do your exercises in the same place every day. If possible, choose somewhere that’s peaceful and quiet.
- Don’t worry if you’re not doing it right or enough. This may just cause additional stress.
- As much as you can, clear your mind of the things that are stressing you out. Focus instead on the sounds and rhythm of your breathing or the environment around you.
- Do breathing exercises at least once or twice daily. Try to do them at the same time each day to reinforce the habit.
- Try to arrange your schedule so you can do these exercises for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
Talk with a doctor or respiratory therapist if you’re interested in using this exercise to improve your breathing if you have COPD, asthma, or another lung condition.
Diaphragmatic breathing may help relieve some symptoms of anxiety, lung conditions, and conditions affected by stress, such as IBS. Still, it’s always best to get a medical professional’s opinion to see if it’s worth your time or if it will have any drawbacks.