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Abdominal Breathing

breathing techniques

Photo by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

Abdominal breathing technique, which would be more aptly named diaphragmatic breathing technique, since it involves using your diaphragm better in order to take deeper, slower breaths.  If you find that when you breathe you lift your chest and keep your stomach pulled in, you are not doing abdominal breathing, and your breathing is more rapid and shallow.  To visualize how to use your diaphragm better when you breathe it may help to know a little bit about how your body gets air in and out of the lungs.

Physiology of Breathing

The diaphragm is a large, umbrella-shaped sheet of muscle that is attached all around the lower edges of the ribcage.  When it contracts (inspiration), it tightens and draws downward, increasing the volume of the chest cavity.  This downwards movement should also push your abdomen out, resulting in a bit of a pot belly look. After it contracts, it goes through relaxation and returns back to its original position higher up in the chest: this is the outbreath.

Now if your abdominal muscles are tight rather than relaxed, when the diaphragm pushes down it will meet resistance and will not descend very far, resulting in shallow breathing that is higher up in the chest.  This way of breathing tends to be made worse by stress or anxiety, but since the body also feeds back on our emotions, it can contribute to a state of tension or anxiety.  Although abdominal breathing may seem strange at first, it is the way we should breathe and used to breathe as babies.  It is just that over time our bodies have developed a certain amount of tension that makes it hard for our abdomen to relax so we need to relearn how to consciously relax the abdomen while breathing.

1, 2, 3 of abdominal breathing

At the beginning you may find it helpful to lie down or sit back comfortably in order to be more aware of your abdomen moving.

Step 1 – Sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes and put a hand on your abdomen

Step 2 – Relax your shoulders and your shoulder blades down

Step 3 – Bring your attention to your hand and feel it move as the breath goes in and out.

If your abdomen isn’t moving AT ALL (this is rare), slowly push your stomach muscles out to create a slight pot belly on the inbreath and let your tummy relax back on the outbreath.  After a few breaths then stop pushing, take a few relaxed breaths and see if your abdomen is still moving in and out (this time effortlessly).

In most cases you should feel a slight expansion and contraction of your abdomen.  The movement shouldn’t be forced or very big, but rather a soft gentle movement.

If you get it the first time, congratulations! If not keep practising a few minutes at a time and in time you will feel your breathing and abdomen relax more. This way of breathing can have a great positive effect on your stress levels and health as breathing correctly can help lower your brain waves.  Being mindful of our breath can relax both body and mind and is the universal foundation for meditation practice.