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Stressed? Try Diaphragmatic Breathing

Dr. Tara Brown, (Hon) BA Kin, DC, ART®, D.Ac - Doctor of Chiropractic


With the heightened stress and anxiety many people are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt it was important to touch on a topic that has been shown to help reduce stress. And that is the importance of breath.

We are always breathing. There are times when you may notice it more – like during strenuous exercise, or perhaps when falling asleep. For the most part though, it is something we do subconsciously and goes unnoticed as we move through our day.

But what if we made a conscious effort to focus on it?

Diaphragmatic breathing is one way to go about that.

Before we dive into how to perform this type of breathing, it is important to understand the role of the diaphragm itself. The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle below our lungs and plays a large part in breathing. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward making room in your chest for your lungs to inflate. When we exhale your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward.

As mentioned above, one of the greatest benefits of diaphragmatic breathing is reducing stress. We all know that chronic stress is not good for our health. So, relearning to breathe this way is important. I say “relearning” because we are born breathing from our diaphragm. Have you ever watched a newborn breathe? They really take advantage of their diaphragm, as their bellies largely expand and relax. For some reason, as we get older, we start taking more shallow breathes and no longer use our diaphragm to its full capacity.

On that note, I am going to walk you through how to practice diaphragmatic breathing.

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface (the ground or bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and knees for support if it is more comfortable.

  • Place on hand on your chest and the other on your belly.

  • Slowly start to breathe in through your nose (about 2 seconds), focusing on the air going deep towards your belly (or to the hand on your belly). The key here is the hand on your chest should not rise, while the one on your belly should.

  • Tighten your abdominal muscles, letting them fall inward as you breathe out through pursed lips. The hand on your chest should again, remain still.

Note that this will feel hard at first! You are likely using your diaphragm properly for the first time. But with patience and persistence it will get easier.

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