What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Shallow breathing (the opposite of diaphragmatic breathing) is part of the typical stress response. Diaphragmatic breathing is also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing. It is a breathing technique that encourages relaxation and enables you to take a full breath.
The average person takes 5 breaths in 30-40 seconds when practising diaphragmatic breathing. This will break the stress cycle. It doesn’t take a lot of time. I recommend building up to 1 minute in each session.
How is diaphragmatic breathing done?
- either lay down with your knees bent or sit. If you are sitting, tuck in your chin and sit with a straight spine. Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest
- breathe in through the nose for three counts and expand your belly so it pushes against your hand on your belly. The hand on your chest should not move
- breathe out through the nose for three counts and your belly should recede, against the hand on your belly. Feel like you are sinking into the ground or the chair.
Here are some videos that might help you learn diaphragmatic breathing:
This one is purely instructional:
This one is a little longer, includes an explanation on the benefits and some tips to get it right (basically start with the out-breath, not the in-breath). It’s an entertaining watch:
I recommend practising diaphragmatic breathing at least twice a day. Some ideas might be:
- just before you get out of the car/bus to get to work
- just before a stressful situation e.g. presentation, meeting etc
- before you eat to aid digestion and nutrient absorption
- just before you sleep especially if you have trouble getting to sleep
The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing
The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing cannot be underestimated. Take it from someone who suffered laboured breathing as a body signal of stress for years and ignored it. The research on the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing speaks for itself. Below are some examples.
Diaphragmatic breathing stress and cognitive performance
A study conducted by the Beijing Normal University with 40 randomly chosen participants were assigned to one of two groups: either a breathing intervention group (BIG) or a control group (CG). The BIG received intensive training for 20 sessions, implemented over 8 weeks, employing a real-time feedback device, and an average respiratory rate of 4 breaths/min, while the CG did not receive this treatment. The study concluded:
“In conclusion, diaphragmatic breathing could improve sustained attention, affect, and cortisol levels [stress]“
Diaphragmatic breathing and digestion
The University of Camerino in Italy studied the effects of Diaphragmatic breathing on the reduction of postprandial oxidative stress. Postprandial oxidative stress is characterised by an increase in oxidative damage after consumption of a high-fat meal. The study concluded:
“Diaphragmatic breathing, likely through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, increases insulin, reduces glycemia, and reduces reactive oxygen species production.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the intake of high-fat meals (especially one with highly processed food). However, it does demonstrate the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing and diabetes
The University of Helsinki conducted a study to determine if slow breathing could assist patients with type 1 diabetes. Specifically, cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction evaluated as baroreflex sensitivity (BRS), which is evident in patients with type 1 diabetes. The study concluded:
“Slow breathing could be a simple beneficial intervention in diabetes.”
A follow-up study tested this hypothesis in patients with type 2 diabetes with or without renal impairment. The conclusion was:
“Autonomic dysfunction present in patients with type 2 diabetes can be partially reversed by slow breathing, suggesting a functional role of hypoxia, also in patients with DKD” (chronic diabetic kidney disease).
Diaphragmatic breathing and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Many studies have been conducted on diaphragmatic breathing and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (A group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe) all with positive effects. One study also investigated pilates and yoga breathing on patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and concluded:
“We conclude that short-term training in yoga breathing is well tolerated and induces favourable respiratory changes in patients with COPD.”( chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)