In this 2 part video blog post I will teach you the technique of belly – also called diaphragmatic – breathing and you can use the shorter practise video to deepen your own practise.
Belly Breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, because we are learning to stretch and move our diaphragm, involves pushing our in-breaths into our bellies, filling up that space and slowly letting the breath out, pulling the navel towards the spine.
Regular practice of belly breathing is seen in research to reduce stress and anxiety, to engage our parasympathetic nervous system which enables feelings of calm, and to reduce cortisol one of our stress hormones. Diaphragmatic breathing can be seen to calm the nervous system when we feel fearful, anxious or distressed.
The diaphragm is an internal muscle, in that it lies closer to the inner body than to the outer edges near the skin. When we breath deeply the diaphragm,which runs around the upper waist under the rib cage, expands out and up, a bit like opening an umbrella inside our abdomens up under our rib cage.
When we are born we are fully able to breathe into our bellies, filling the lungs fully, pushes the abdomen out on each in breath. You can watch small babies breathing and see their bellies get big and then small on each in and out breath. As we grow up, perhaps experiencing times of an anxiety and not feeling as safe as we need to, our bodies might begin to breath in a more short, rapid and shallow ways, often the breath only happens up high, in our chests.
We do this as a result of feeling unsafe, it’s a way to manage these types of feelings. It is a biological instinct in the body. This short breath gets the heart rate up and the muscles tense, so we are ready for danger. We can then become accustomed to shorter more shallow breath, our diaphragm begins to become less elastic over time, so when we first begin practising diaphragmatic breathing, it can feel really hard. We might struggle to get the belly too e outwards in the in breath, the diaphragm can feel like a tight belt around the upper abdomen, making belly Breathing feel impossible.
Practice begins to loosen and develop flexibility in the diaphragm over time. Belly breathing is long, slow and intentional. We often count the in and out breath to get them even and as long as possible. This long slow belly breathing, seen in babies engages our parasympathetic nervous system, telling out brains, all is well, all is safe and we can produce calming chemicals in the brain, and produce less cortisol, a stress hormone.
Each time we breathe in this way we exercise the parasympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve that runs through it, helping this to become stronger and more efficient. This new strength and efficiency we’re building can help over time, to assist us finding it easier to return to feelings of calm and rest after feelings anxious stressed or experiencing panic. The more often we practice the more easily and quickly we return our bodies and minds from states of anxiety and stress, to rest and calm.
We can use this type of breathing as an emergency technique when we feel stressed or anxious, as well as as a way to build more strength in our nervous systems and become more resilient over time. Practice regularly to build this new autonomic nervous system resilience.