Diaphragmatic breathing

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Animation of diaphragmatic breathing with the diaphragm shown in green

Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. Air enters the lungs as the diaphragm strongly contracts, but unlike during traditional relaxed breathing (eupnea) the intercostal muscles of the chest do minimal work in this process. The belly also expands during this type of breathing to make room for the contraction of the diaphragm. [1]


According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "12.7 percent of American adults [have] used deep-breathing exercises... for health purposes,"[2] which it describes as follows, "Deep breathing involves slow and deep inhalation through the nose, usually to a count of 10, followed by slow and complete exhalation for a similar count. The process may be repeated 5 to 10 times, several times a day."[3]

According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, "Diaphragmatic breathing allows one to take normal breaths while maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into the bloodstream. It is a way of interrupting the 'Fight or Flight' response and triggering the body's normal relaxation response."[4] They provide a video demonstration.[5]

Diaphragmatic breathing has a physiological effect on the body by assisting in blood flow, lowering pulse rate and blood pressure "by improving vagal activity and reducing the sympathetic reaction."[6]

In complementary and alternative medicine[edit]

Some practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine believe that particular kinds of breathing they identify as diaphragm breathing can be used to bring about health benefits.[7]

Deep breathing exercises are sometimes used as a form of relaxation, that, when practiced regularly, may lead to the relief or prevention of symptoms commonly associated with stress, which may include high blood pressure, headaches, stomach conditions, depression, anxiety, and others.[8]

Due to the lung expansion being lower (inferior) on the body as opposed to higher up (superior), it is referred to as 'deep' and the higher lung expansion of rib cage breathing is referred to as 'shallow'. The actual volume of air taken into the lungs with either means varies.

Relation to yoga and meditation[edit]

Hatha Yoga, tai chi and meditation traditions draw a clear distinction between diaphragmatic breathing and abdominal breathing or belly breathing.[9] The more specific technique of diaphragmatic breathing is said to be more beneficial.[9]

Fitness and Wellness[edit]

Some claim diaphragmatic breathing could provide a way to combat high stress, but clear evidence are yet to be shown. The World Health Organization (WHO) states: "Health-care providers should always rule out physical causes before considering psychological intervention for hyperventilation. They should maintain a calm approach, where possible remove sources of anxiety and coach respirations (i.e. encourage normal breathing, not deeper and quicker than usual). Health-care providers should explain that hyperventilation can sometimes occur after recent exposure to extreme stressors. Acute stress should be managed using psychological first aid as per WHO (2010) mhGAP guidelines."[10] In "Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers",[11] published at 2011, The WHO states "Encourage the person to focus on their breathing, and to breathe slowly.", instructing calming respiration as a response to stress. No instructions regarding diaphragmatic breathing are given.

Furthermore, there are who claim diaphragmatic breathing may reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and menstrual cramps, but the research presented is lacking.

One should note that casual diaphragmatic breathing relies on other muscles used in thoracic breathing (such as the intercostal muscles), and that the diaphragm usually participates in healthy thoracic breathing, suggesting the speculated separation between the two isn't as neat as some would like to believe.

Finally, some pathologies, especially those affecting the elasticity or mobility of the chest or rib cage, would spell for an increase reliance or necessity for diaphragmatic activity during respiration.


The use of diaphragmatic breathing is commonly practiced, especially in those patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to improve a variety of factors such as pulmonary function,[12] cardiorespiratory fitness,[12] respiratory muscle length,[13] and respiratory muscle strength.[14] Specifically, diaphragmatic breathing exercise is essential to asthmatics since breathing in these patients is of the thoracic type in association with decreased chest expansion and chest deformity[clarification needed] as a result of a deformed sternum like pectus excavatum (funnel chest); a shortened diaphragm, intercostals and accessory muscles from prolonged spasm causing stenosis of the major airways leading to an abnormal respiratory pattern.[15]

Relation to music[edit]

Diaphragmatic breathing is also widely considered essential for best possible singing performance.[16] Diaphragmatic breathing also allows wind instrumentalists to maximise intake of air, minimising the number of breaths required for progressing players.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ . "The Types of Breathing". Biology. Boundless (2020). 39.3B.
  2. ^ "Relaxation Techniques for Health: An Introduction" http://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress/relaxation.htm
  3. ^ http://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/camterms.htm "Terms Related to Complementary and Alternative Medicine"
  4. ^ "Stress Management and Reduction at the University of Texas at Austin". Archived from the original on 14 April 2016.
  5. ^ "diaphragmatic breathing video".
  6. ^ Hopper SI, Murray SL, Ferrara LR, Singleton JK (June 2018). "Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing on physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review protocol". JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports. 16 (6): 1367–1372. doi:10.11124/JBISRIR-2017-003477. PMID 29894405.
  7. ^ Shaw BS, Shaw I (2013). "Review of the effectiveness of various modes of breathing training in asthma management". African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance. November (Supplement 1): 168–179. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  8. ^ "To relax using this method, you consciously slow your breathing and focus on taking regular and deep breaths...Because relaxation is the opposite of stress, the theory is that voluntarily creating the relaxation response through regular use of relaxation techniques could counteract the negative effects of stress...Chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure, headaches, stomach ache, and other symptoms. Stress may and in many cases will worsen certain conditions, such as asthma. Stress also has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses." - Relaxation Techniques for Health: An Introduction
  9. ^ a b "Breathing Practices and Pranayama". Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  10. ^ "Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress".
  11. ^ "Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers".
  12. ^ a b Shaw I, Shaw BS, Brown GA (2010). "Role of Diaphragmatic Breathing and Aerobic Exercise in Improving Maximal Oxygen Consumption in Asthmatics". Science & Sports. 25 (3): 139–145. doi:10.1016/j.scispo.2009.10.003.
  13. ^ Shaw BS, Shaw I, Brown GA (2013). "Concurrent aerobic and resistive breathing training improves respiratory muscle length and spirometry in asthmatics". African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance. November (Supplement): 180–193. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  14. ^ Shaw I, Shaw BA (2014). "The effect of breathing and aerobic training on manual volitional respiratory muscle strength and function in moderate, persistent asthmatics". African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance. Supplement 2 (September): 45–61. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  15. ^ Shaw BS, Shaw I (April 2011). "Pulmonary function and abdominal and thoracic kinematic changes following aerobic and inspiratory resistive diaphragmatic breathing training in asthmatics". Lung. 189 (2): 131–9. doi:10.1007/s00408-011-9281-8. PMID 21318637. S2CID 26451387.
  16. ^ "Confused About Diaphragmatic Breathing?".

Additional Reading[edit]

External links[edit]

CAM therapy suggestions[edit]