Diaphragmatic breathing: how it works and what are the benefits

Diaphragmatic breathing: how it works and what are the benefits. Fighting stress with your breath? In fact, it is possible. At least as a first aid. Because those who are stressed and tense breathe quickly and shallowly. And vice versa, when the body is relaxed, breathing is deep and slow. Thus, the way we breathe reflects our physical and psychological state.

Our everyday language also demonstrates this: those who sigh with relief are relaxing after a period of tension. On the other hand, there are times when we hold our breath in surprise or anxiety.

Most of the time, we breathe unconsciously and automatically. But unlike other bodily functions, such as digestion and heartbeat, we can control our breathing consciously.

And we can use this concept to our advantage. The feeling of not being able to breathe deeply, caused by anxiety, can be controlled by doing various exercises.

The feeling of not being able to breathe deeply, caused by anxiety, can be controlled by performing various exercises, such as: autogenous training

Diaphragmatic breathing is a way of breathing that is of great benefit in everyday life and is very useful in “emergencies”.

Diaphragmatic breathing
  • The importance of diaphragmatic breathing and what it is used for
  • how to calm anxiety with the help of breathing
  • some of the simplest diaphragmatic breathing exercises for anxiety
  • Take a deep breath and let’s get started!
The way we breathe affects all of our organs, as we are “programmed” to ensure the best possible adaptation to the environment, like an autopilot that adjusts itself to meet the challenges it faces. Emotions directly and automatically influence the rhythm and amplitude of our breathing to prepare our body for an adaptive response.

Think, for example, of the emotion of anger and the increase in breathing rate it entails: this is to ensure greater oxygen availability and therefore to be able to cope with a possible threat.

The same thing can happen when we experience an anxiety attack. It’s the night before an important exam: we want to relax and rest, preparing for the test, but instead we toss and turn in bed, captive to thoughts and emotions, with tachycardia, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach and anxious trembling (one of the possible psychosomatic symptoms caused by an anxiety disorder).

This situation can arise even in the absence of a specific challenge, especially when we are experiencing a hectic or particularly stressful pace of life.

We would like to be able to take a break, to enjoy a moment of relaxation, but we feel that we cannot because we are attacked by thoughts that literally do not allow us to “switch off” and can instead cause shortness of breath, wheezing and so-called “air hunger”.

This is called anxiety dyspnoea, which is a feeling of shortness of breath and heaviness in the chest caused by anxiety. The classic advice given in such cases: “Breathe!”. But how do you breathe properly when you have anxiety and shortness of breath?

It can happen that our automatic pilot is constantly on the alert (as in times of extreme stress) or overreacts to certain stimuli (depending on the person’s history).

Then we may feel overwhelmed by emotions, even when there is no threat and we just want some peace and relaxation. In such cases, it can be very helpful to turn off the autopilot and take control to regain calm by practising diaphragmatic breathing.

The diaphragm is a muscle that lies between the abdominal and thoracic cavities. The function of the diaphragm in breathing is crucial, as is its position. The upper part of the diaphragm is in contact with the heart and lungs, while the lower part is in contact with the liver, stomach, spleen, adrenal glands, kidneys and pancreas.

When the diaphragm contracts, it descends during inhalation, pushing air into the lungs, and returns to rest during exhalation, releasing carbon dioxide. Diaphragmatic and chest breathing both work with the diaphragm, but there is a difference between them:

if the breathing is dominated by the work of the diaphragm muscles, we speak of abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing (what is commonly referred to as “belly breathing”) if, on the contrary, the movement of the intercostal muscles prevails, we speak of thoracic breathing.

Sometimes we may feel pain in the diaphragm and feel that it is blocked. But the diaphragm cannot get “stuck” (if it did, as it is the main muscle responsible for our breathing, the consequences could be irreversible).

On the contrary, it may happen that we feel that we cannot breathe deeply and experience pain. This, together with muscle pain in the back and gastrointestinal tract, can be one of the symptoms of a “blocked” diaphragm.

Muscle tension, which we define as “diaphragm pain”, can be caused not only by poor posture but also by situations of high stress and anxiety. However, you can do exercises to improve your breathing, learn how to breathe with your diaphragm and enjoy all its benefits. Let’s see how to do it.

Before we start practising diaphragmatic breathing, we can do a quick breathing test: place one hand on our chest and the other on our upper abdomen. If the hand moves while inhaling, it means that we are doing chest breathing, which is superficial and fast by nature and will not help bring the mind and body back to a state of calm. Simple exercises can be done to make diaphragmatic breathing an effective relaxation technique for anxiety and stress:

How to do diaphragmatic breathing?
  • Get into a comfortable position: it is best to start lying on your back with your knees bent
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, trying to let all the air go down as if you were
  • Exhale slowly, allowing the air to escape through your mouth, emptying the ball inside your abdomen.

You can also practice diaphragmatic breathing while sitting. When should I practice diaphragmatic breathing and how many times a day? You can do this exercise at any time of the day and as often as you like.

One of the immediate benefits of diaphragmatic breathing is that you will feel your heartbeat slow down, your head slowly empty and a pleasant feeling of calmness. If anyone is wondering whether diaphragmatic breathing hurts, the answer is no, it is a safe exercise with no particular contraindications.

  • Do not force your breaths: they do not need to be particularly deep for diaphragmatic breathing to be effective. In fact, it’s important to pay attention to how you breathe, making sure you only move your hand with your stomach….
  • Do not worry if you are unable to follow these instructions immediately: it may take some exercise to restore the full and correct functioning of the diaphragm.

Diaphragmatic breathing is the most automatic and natural way of breathing that our body knows and has a positive impact on a global scale. Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits because it ensures the correct functioning of the diaphragm:

  • helps to lower blood pressure
  • promotes better digestion and elimination of waste substances
  • improves muscle stability and posture
  • increases resistance to intense physical activity
  • Slows down the rate of breathing and thus helps to save energy
  • improves the quality of sleep.
Managing stress through breathing is not magic, but it depends on how the autonomic nervous system works. Simply put, this system has a “tension nerve”, the sympathetic nerve, and a “relaxation nerve”, the parasympathetic nerve. When a person is excited, tense and under stress, the tension nerve is activated.

The body is preparing to give its best. As a result, the heartbeat increases, breathing becomes faster and more shallow. In a relaxed state, the body recovers, the heart beats more slowly, and breathing becomes calmer and deeper. This reaction, which is controlled by the body, can be provoked on purpose: deep, calm breathing, especially with an emphasis on exhalation, signals the body to calm down. The stress level decreases.

Anxiety can increase heart (and breathing) rate and cause insomnia. To cope with these symptoms, diaphragmatic breathing for anxiety is proving to be a successful and easy ally.

What’s more, among the relaxation techniques for anxiety, diaphragmatic breathing is one that can be performed independently and at any time.

Of course, if we have never tried diaphragmatic breathing, we can start with guided relaxation for anxiety.

As we have seen, diaphragmatic breathing has a number of useful benefits at different stages and ages of life. For example, diaphragmatic breathing techniques are used to help manage emotions (e.g. anger).

  • greater sensitivity and awareness of your body and how it works
  • Increased ability to self-regulate when needed
  • to achieve a state of optimal psychophysical well-being.

Contraindications to breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can rightly be considered a safe and natural way to treat and prevent many diseases. But they also have their contraindications:

  • internal bleeding;
  • severe pathological diseases;
  • Fever and fever;
  • injuries and other diseases of the spine;
  • uncontrolled arterial hypertension; hypertension;
  • arrhythmia;
  • heart disease;
  • bruises to the head;
  • thrombophlebitis.

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