20 July 2019

This breathing technique could be just what you need

A technique where you breathe deeply and engage your diaphragm could be helpful if you suffer from COPD, stress or anxiety. Learn how to do it.

We breathe without thinking. Yet, the way we breathe can have a big effect on our health.

Many people are in the habit of breathing from their chests, as restrictive clothing, bad posture and tense shoulders limit deep breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes referred to as belly breathing, is a breathing technique where you engage the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle located at the bottom of your rib cage.

Your abdomen should rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale. When you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your diaphragm doesn’t engage as strongly as it should.

To compensate, people often overuse the muscles in their neck, shoulders and back to help them breathe, which doesn’t move enough air towards the lungs. Experts therefore reckon that if you train your diaphragm, it will help the breathing process.

So-called belly breathing is not only beneficial for those with COPD, but can also help with stress and anxiety and high blood pressure.

So, how do I belly breathe?

If you are used to "shallow" breathing, diaphragmatic breathing may take some work and practice. According to the COPD Foundation, this is how you go about it:

1. Make sure you're rested and relaxed and either sitting back or lying down.

2. Relax and drop your shoulders.

3. Place one hand on your abdomen.

4. Breathe in and make sure that the hand on your abdomen rises as your abdomen expands.

5. Now breathe out and allow your abdomen to contract.

6. Make sure you're inhaling through your nose and exhaling through slightly open, pursed lips.

7. As you get the hang of this breathing method, you can practice it while standing up, and finally during activities like walking or climbing a flight of stairs.

Tips for deeper breathing

Apart from strengthening the diaphragm, paying more attention to your breathing may benefit your breathing in general. Here are some tips from the COPD Foundation:

  • When you feel short of breath, stop what you are doing and relax your shoulders and neck.
  • Continue your activity while inhaling deeply and exhaling through pursed lips.
  • Know and avoid your COPD triggers, whether it be smoke, exposure to chemicals or dust and other allergens.
  • Visit your doctor regularly to check your lung function and overall health. 

Image credit: iStock