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Diaphragmatic Breathing Explained

Diaphragmatic breathing involves the contraction of the diaphragm, which is a muscle that acts as a partition between the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. This Buzzle write-up explains this breathing technique along with its benefits.
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Explanation of diaphragmatic breathing
Did You Know?
Hiccups are caused by the spasmodic inhalatory movement of the diaphragm, which is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen.
The term 'breathing' refers to a bodily process that involves inhalation (the act of breathing in or taking in oxygen from inhaled air) and exhalation (the act of breathing out to expel carbon dioxide). In general, breathing is a process through which air moves into and from the lungs. Located at the base of the lungs is the diaphragm, which is the primary muscle of breathing that is responsible for 45% of the air that enters the lungs during eupnea (quiet breathing or breathing at rest that involves the contraction of the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles).

Diaphragmatic breathing, which is also referred to as deep breathing, is a healthier form of breathing. It is believed that practicing this form of breathing can help one relax, thereby providing relief from stress and lowering the incidence of stress or anxiety-induced problems to some extent. However, it is essential to perform this breathing exercise in the right manner to reap its benefits. It must not be confused with chest breathing, wherein minimal breath is drawn into the lungs by contracting the intercostal muscles that are located between the ribs. It must be noted that the chest muscles should not be used in diaphragmatic breathing.

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Unfortunately many people are not even aware that they are affected by shallow breathing, which implies that they are drawing minimal breath into their lungs by using their intercostal muscles. People who breathe primarily from their chest inhale and exhale about 500 cubic centimeters of air with each breath.

Chest breathing

A full diaphragmatic breath moves around 8-10 times that volume. Thus, the volume of air that can be taken in and out with each breath is considerably higher in case of diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Let's find out what this form of breathing involves:

During inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and moves down. The dome flattens and the lower ribs move upward and forward. The lower ribs are pushed out to the sides. This increases the height and the volume of the chest cavity, which lowers the internal pressure. This creates a suction that allows the lungs to expand and fill in with air.

During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes or rises, and the lower ribs move inward. As a result, the height and the volume of the chest cavity decreases. Thereafter, the lungs deflate and carbon dioxide is expelled from the lungs.

Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

If this breathing technique is performed properly, it will surely make you feel calmer. The other benefits include:

It will strengthen the diaphragm.
It allows the lungs to fill in completely with lesser effort.
It helps expel as much air out of the lungs as possible, thereby allowing larger volume of fresh air to be inhaled.
It helps maintain the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
It slows down the rate of breathing, thereby reducing the energy consumed for breathing.
The air is also moved into the lower sections of the lungs, which in turn increases the exchange of oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream.
The increased oxygenation throughout the various cells and systems of the body has a beneficial effect on one's overall health.

Though the movement of the diaphragm is the same in both chest breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, the former is characterized by the vertical movement of the rib cage. In case of the latter, the chest almost remains still. Diaphragmatic breathing is extremely beneficial, but it can be difficult to master. Moreover, it is extremely essential to learn the right technique.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises

These exercises can be performed while you are sitting or lying down. Here are the steps that you need to follow:

Diaphragmatic breathing while lying down

Lie down on your back on a flat surface, with your knees bent.
You can place a pillow under your head and knees.
In order to feel the movement of your diaphragm, place one hand under the rib cage, and the other on the upper chest. The logic behind keeping the hand on the chest is to ensure that the chest remains relatively still throughout the exercise.
As you inhale slowly, try to breathe in so that the air moves further down. Ensure that the hand on the chest remains still, while the other hand that is placed under the rib cage rises.
As you exhale slowly and evenly, the hand under the rib cage should move down. The hand on the chest should remain still.

Later, you can perform this exercise in a seated posture. Here are the steps that you need to follow:

Diaphragmatic breathing while sitting

Sit comfortably in a chair, with your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed and the knees bent.
Place one hand on your upper chest, and the other beneath the rib cage.
While inhaling, ensure that the inhaled air moves down so that the hand under the rib cage rises. The hand on the chest should stay still.
As you exhale, the hand under the rib cage should drop, while the hand on the chest must remain as still as possible.

Initially, perform this exercise for 5-10 minutes, about 3-4 times per day. Gradually, try to increase the duration and the number of times you perform this exercise.

While performing these exercises, it is extremely essential to breathe smoothly, without any jerks, to ensure that there's a steady flow of air from and into the lungs. Don't strain; the breathing must not be forced. Initially, exhalation and inhalation should be of the same duration. Once you get accustomed or feel comfortable, you can try to make the duration of exhalation twice as long as the inhalation. Try to feel the air moving in through the nose to the diaphragm, and back from the diaphragm to the nose. Initially, one may feel tired while performing this exercise, but it will get easier with continued practice. The objective is to breathe with the diaphragm all the time.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.
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Published: May 29, 2014
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