During diaphragmatic breathing, our goal is to lower our diaphragm to initiate our breathing rather than using our chest muscles to do so. So how do we accomplish this, and when should we be doing this?
Diaphragmatic Breathing and Relaxation
When our body is in a state of relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing comes naturally. Your diaphragm, made up of skeletal muscle, lowers and the pressure change allows your lungs to fill with air. You may notice when you are lying in bed, about to fall asleep, your breath deepens and slows. When you’re stressed or distracted, your breathing may become quick and shallow. Many practices use diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation or meditation technique. In fact, diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to lower cortisol levels (aka your stress level!) in healthy controls(1) as well as increase the quality of life in subjects with breast or prostate cancer when combined with guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation(2). Because of its benefits, I have almost all of my patients try diaphragmatic breathing at some point throughout our treatment.
Diaphragmatic Breathing How-To
So how are you supposed to do this exactly? Start by lying flat and placing a hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Try to take a deep, slow breath and focus on your belly rising and your chest staying calm. Then let it go. Try to repeat this for about 5 minutes, keeping a slow steady pace and staying relaxed throughout your body. You can listen to calming music or a meditation, or just be alone with your thoughts at this time. Many people find this a calming practice to perform before bed to unwind before the day, or even starting your day with this to help clear your mind.
The more you practice this breathing, the easier it will become for your diaphragm to gain mobility and your body to relax. When you’ve become comfortable with 5 minutes per day, try to increase it to 10 minutes. You can perform diaphragmatic breathing at any time, however, I love to recommend it to my patients to begin or end their days as a way to calm their bodies and minds to prepare for their day or their sleep.
Diaphragmatic Breathing and Physical Therapy
How does this relate to pelvic floor physical therapy? Many of our patients come to us with tension and decreased mobility, both in their pelvic floor and throughout their entire bodies, including their diaphragms! By releasing one area of tension, it allows us to make progress in other areas, because, as we know, the entire body is intertwined and connected. If you have more questions about diaphragmatic breathing and how it can work in to your current wellness routine, contact your pelvic physical therapist to find out more benefits and exercises you can incorporate.
Now take another deep breath… Feeling relaxed yet?
Jessie McGown, PT, DPT
(1) Ma, Xiao, Zi-Qi Yue, Zhu-Qing Gong, Hong Zhang, Nai-Yue Duan, Yu-Tong Shi, Gao-Xia Wei, and You-Fa Li. “The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults.” Frontiers in Psychology. Frontiers Media S.A., 2017.
(2) Shahriari, Mohsen, Mojtaba Dehghan, Saeid Pahlavanzadeh, and Abdolrahim Hazini. “Effects of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Guided Imagery and Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing on Quality of Life in Elderly with Breast or Prostate Cancer.” Journal of Education and Health Promotion. Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2017.