The power of deep diaphragmatic breathing

When life gets stressful, someone might tell you to take a deep breath. You might roll your eyes and think “surely a breath isn’t going to fix anything?”. Well, think again. Exercise Physiologist, Leanne Horsley, explains how diaphragmatic breathing can make a real difference to your well-being – both physically and mentally.

Breathing: the power of the breath

Currently, we’re inundated with an overwhelming amount of information about how to relax. There’s mindfulness, guided imagery, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation… the list goes on.  However, I think the most simple, easy to administer, time efficient, and adaptable therapy is the basic breath.

It may sound simple, and that’s because it is. But this key function of the human body has been shown to positively impact the quality of life in cancer patients, person’s suffering with pain, including Fibromyalgia, as well as impacting our heart rate and blood pressure.

You may be asking “how can such a basic, autonomic bodily survival function such as a breath improve and impact all of these factors?”.  Well, Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing (DDB) is more than just your everyday breath.  DDB is not something all of us do, especially if we haven’t been taught how.

Read more: 4 ways to reduce stress

What is Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing (DDB)?

Put simply, DDB utilises the full capacity of our lungs and diaphragm and can increase our inspiration capacity from an average of 500ml per breath to over 3000ml.  In turn, this assists our bodies’ cells to utilise more energy from the oxygen we breath as well as stimulating our Vagus Nerve.

What is our Vagus Nerve?

The Vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. Vagus (latin for wandering) connects the surface of the brain to tissues and organs in the neck, chest (lungs and heart) and abdomen.  Ultimately, it connects our mind and body together.

This nerve has four key functions within the body, including;

  • sensory (from the heart, lungs and abdomen);
  • special sensory (taste buds behind the tongue);
  • motor (providing muscular function to muscle responsible for swallowing and speech); and
  • influencing our nervous system.

The nervous system itself can be split into two components; the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system.  Put simply, the sympathetic system is responsible for increasing our alertness, energy, blood pressure, heart and breathing rate.  The parasympathetic system is heavily impacted by our Vagus nerve. It decreases alertness, blood pressure and heart rate variability and assists in achieving calmness, relaxation and improved digestion.  Other effects of the Vagus nerve include decreasing inflammation and moderating fear management (dealing with stress, anxiety and fear).

Given all the positive impacts that simple breath can have on your health – it’s time to learn how to implement this into your daily (and often busy) life.

Read more: Is overbreathing negatively affecting your health?

The DDB Basics:

There are unlimited online resources and videos that can guide you through DDB techniques. You can also contact your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist to assist you. Some additional tips include:

1. Finding a calm and comfortable area to lie on your back, knees bent with feet flat on floor.

Note: If you have any health concerns, such as low blood pressure, or inability to access the floor you can also complete this in a seated position

2. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your ribs and breath as normal. Take note of your hands and which one is moving more. Ultimately, you would want to see your hand on our abdomen moving the most, as your draw in your breath

3. Draw your breath in through your nostrils and either exhale back through your nose, or pursed lips to push the air out from your lungs.

4. If you find you are breathing mostly through your chest, imagine your diaphragm as a balloon that you breathe into your abdominal cavity, filling the balloon up, feeling your hand rise on your abdomen.

5. As you become more aware of your breath, you can slow your rate of breath down, aim for 5 slow breaths and close your eyes.

6. Once you have done the 5 breaths slowly, bring awareness back to your body, open your eyes, wriggle your fingers and toes, slowly roll to your side and take your time to stand from the floor.

7. You should feel a sense of relaxation and clarity – but don’t worry if you don’t achieve this straight away. DDB takes practice and each time you complete it you will notice the improvements.

Finding help

So now that you know the impact and power of the simple breath – go ahead and give it a go!  Deep diaphragmatic breathing does take practice and patience; however, if you do it regularly you will soon notice the improvements to your mind and body health.

To find an exercise professional to help you to perfect your breathing techniques, click here.

read more blogs

Written by Leanne Horsley. Leanne is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Guardian Exercise Rehabilitation and has a keen interest in musculoskeletal rehabilitation as well as overall health and well-being, utilising an array of methods to assist her clients with returning to optimal health and function.