Diaphragmatic Breathing: Tips & Exercises

By Thursday February 12th 2015

A step by step guide to diaphragmatic breathing.

Take a deep breath.

Seriously, do it. While your breathing look down at your chest and stomach. You will probably see that your chest rises and falls with your breath.

You might not have noticed or been bothered by this, but your chest rising instead of your stomach is a sign your body is off balance. It is likely that the muscles in the front of your neck are tight and your core muscles (transverse abdominis, diaphragm, and pelvic floor) are weak.

To correct this, you should try diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the chest cavity and stomach cavity. When you breathe this way, you should see an expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest during breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing is considered by some to be a healthier way to breathe because you are not using accessory muscles around your neck and shoulders, but instead you are helping activate your core musculature by expanding and contracting your abdomen.

Your core muscles play an important role in stabilizing the lumbar spine, trunk, and pelvis. If properly activated and used, this type of breathing can keep common diagnoses like low back pain at bay.

Here’s how to do diaphragmatic breathing. Try and do this once a day to make a difference.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

  •  Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent, you can place a pillow under your head if that is more comfortable. Keep your chin tucked.
  • Place one hand lightly on your lower abdomen and one hand on your chest.
  • Concentrate on breathing using the diaphragm, not using the chest, and feeling the stomach rise as the lungs fill from the bottom (your hand on your chest should not be moving up and down).
  • Let the stomach fall naturally when breathing out by relaxing the diaphragm.
  • Perform 3 sets of 10 deep breathing repetitions.

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You can also add the following exercises to your routine to enhance the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing.

Posterior Pelvic Tilt: This counterbalances excessive hip flexor tightness and will help with core activation and stability.

Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent. Keep your chin tucked.

  • Inhale and exhale. During your exhale tuck your pelvis under by squeezing your gluts to roll your tailbone off of the floor.
  • Actively push your lower back into the floor and maintain this position for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat for 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

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Upper Trap/Levator Scapulae Stretch: These stretches will loosen your accessory muscles in your neck to help you use your diaphragm.

Upper Trap Stretch

  • Grab the opposite side of the top of your head.
  • Pull your head so that your ear is moving towards your shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat for 3 sets on each side.

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Levator Scapulae Stretch

  • Grab the opposite side of the top of your head.
  • Pull your head down, looking into the arm pit of pulling arm.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat for 3 sets on each side.

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About Summer Sanders

Summer Sanders received her bachelor's degree in General Studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a focus in biological sciences, health sciences, and psychology. She completed her doctorate in physical therapy in 2013 at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Summer's interest in physical therapy stems from years of playing field hockey, soccer, basketball, golf, and competitive piano. Her compassionate approach during treatment in based on previous work and observation in skilled nursing facilities, long-term acute care facilities, and orthopedic clinics. Summer was introduced to React Physical Therapy while completing her final clinical rotation at UIC.

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