Written by: Lisa Charles, Executive Contributor at Brainz Magazine.
99% of the human body has only six elements: oxygen being one of them. The saying is that you can go months without food and days without water but only minutes without oxygen. Every cell in our body needs oxygen to survive; the key to that survival is our ability to breathe. Not only does breathing influence multiple bodily systems, including the autonomic nervous system, circulatory system, chemical regulation, and metabolism. It also influences our posture stability and motor control, and psychological state. The power of breath is undeniable, but how we breathe can represent the difference between health and sickness.
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing is taking slow, deep breaths from our diaphragm in the lower abdomen area ‒ ideally six breaths per minute. With each breath, you take in oxygen and release the waste product, carbon dioxide. This method activates our parasympathetic nervous system—the “rest and digest” response and helps us relax and focus. Research has shown that diaphragmatic breathing can help decrease heart rate and blood pressure and influence heart rate variability while promoting calmness and well-being. Increased heart rate variability enhances parasympathetic activity, thereby increasing the relaxed state.
At a time when the World Health Organization (“WHO”) has classified stress as “the health epidemic for the 21st century”, learning how to breathe diaphragmatically can be a health “game changer.”
Why Breathe Diaphragmatically?
The simple act of breathing can profoundly impact your overall health and well-being. Diaphragmatic breathing has incredible benefits, including improved mental and physical health, increased energy, and better sleep. Though diaphragmatic breathing provides a wide range of benefits, an estimated 85% of the World’s population breathes shallowly.
As we go about our busy lives, it’s easy to forget to take a few deep breaths and relax. But diaphragmatic breathing, or deep belly breathing, is a powerful way to improve your well-being. Focusing on your breath and diaphragmatically breathing can reduce stress, improve your mood, and even boost your immune system.
When we breathe shallowly from our chests, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode, characterized by increased heart rate and blood pressure. This sympathetic nervous system response is designed to be temporary and should only be activated when we are in danger. However, chronic stress can keep our bodies in this state of hyperarousal, leading to long-term health problems.
Our bodies are hardwired for happiness, and endorphins are hormones that promote a sense of joy. Research shows that shallow breathing deprives the body of essential oxygen and can lead to rapid deoxygenation. Therefore, breathe slow and deep to experience cellular rejuvenation, the release of cellular waste and toxins, and the release of endorphins that can bring feelings of happiness. Endorphins are released when you exercise, meet someone you love or indulge in an activity you enjoy. But you can also trigger endorphins by simply breathing deeply.
How to Breathe Diaphragmatically?
- Lay on your back on the floor or in the bed. Keep your legs straight and arms relaxed by your side.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your lower abdomen.
- Breathe through your nose, filling your lower abdomen and lungs like a balloon.
- Imagine the breath going all the way down beyond your lower belly.
- Once your diaphragm and lungs are full of oxygen, slowly breathe out through your mouth, keeping your mouth and jaw very relaxed. Repeat this process until you feel calm.
When feeling stressed or anxious, remember to take a few minutes to focus on your breath and engage in some deep breathing for better productivity and energy renewal. Take five slow breaths to increase your focus before any important meeting or phone call so you can show up as the best of you. The practice of controlled breathing can help with self-regulation and the restoration of mental and emotional balance.
Additional Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Improves the Ability to be Present
When we take deep breaths, we bring more oxygen into our lungs and, later, into our bloodstream. This oxygenated blood then flows to our brain, where it increases our alertness and helps us be more present. We become calmer and more composed, able to think clearly and make decisions more efficiently. When stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, which interferes with decision-making. By taking deep breaths and slowing down our heart rate, we reduce the cortisol levels in our bodies, helping the brain to find a more peaceful state.
Reduces Tiredness and Pain
Shallow breathing can lead to feelings of fatigue and pain because your body does not get sufficient oxygen to function correctly. However, deep breathing allows your body to receive the oxygen it needs to perform at its best and reduces muscular tension.
As mentioned earlier, when you breathe deeply, it gives your brain a signal that you are relaxed and calm. As a result, the muscles in your body can let go of any tension they may be holding, eliciting a relaxation response. Additionally, deep breathing can reduce pain and renew energy by decreasing muscle tension and allowing cellular rejuvenation.
Enhances Sleep Quality
Poor sleep quality can have adverse effects on our physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. One way to improve sleep quality is by practicing deep/diaphragmatic breathing before bedtime to trigger full-body relaxation. This relaxation technique can increase slow-wave sleep—the deepest stage of sleep—and decrease blood pressure. As a result, those who practice diaphragmatic breathing before bed tend to fall asleep faster and feel more rested. With better sleep, people can experience reductions in daytime dysfunction and sleep disturbances while increasing sleep duration and efficiency. Reduced daytime napping and lowered fatigue will result in better sleep continuity.
Improves Physical Endurance
Diaphragmatic breathing also helps improve your overall endurance. While shallow breathing leads to faster heartbeats and an erratic supply of oxygen to your cells, deep breathing provides a steady stream of oxygen to your body and slows down your heart rate. This process enables your body to use oxygen more efficiently, improving stamina and reducing fatigue.
Enhances the Immune System
Deep breathing benefits your physical health and results in an enhanced immune system. When you breathe deeply, it forces the downward movement of lymph—a colorless fluid containing white blood cells that boosts immunity to fight off infection. It stimulates the lymph system’s cleansing by creating a vacuum effect that pulls the lymph through the bloodstream. This process helps drain toxins and waste products from your cells, which helps prevent illness. Thus, incorporating deep breathing into your daily routine may help ward off these health issues and leave you with an enhanced immune system.
The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing are plentiful. Taking deep breaths increases oxygen intake, improves lung function, and reduces stress levels; deep breathing can promote lifelong health and healing. Given its impact on every system within the body, it is essential to incorporate focused deep breathing into your daily life routine.