12 Benefits Of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is much more than a practice for meditation, yoga or Tai Chi. It is your way to greater control of your body. Better known as deep breathing, abdominal breathing or belly breathing, this type of breathing has a profound effect on every aspect of your physical and mental health with effects reaching deep into every cell in your body.

Breathing deeply and filling your lungs fully to engage the diaphragm, a muscle below the lungs involved with breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). It’s sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” system as it keeps the body in balance, allowing for proper sleep and digestion. When active, the PSNS encourages a feeling of relaxation.

The PSNS also “turns off” the flight-or-fight response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). It’s the system of high stress and driven by short, shallow, rapid breathing. The SNS turns on your body’s stress response and boosts levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has far-reaching impacts on your health as it promotes inflammation and muscle loss. Shallow breaths also decrease oxygen levels throughout the body leaving you feeling fatigued and tired.

Breathing, then, gives you much more control over whether you feel relaxed or not. It gives you control over the way your body works, even at the cellular level. While you can’t see the benefits at the cellular level, here are 12 benefits of deep, diaphragmatic breathing you can experience.

More Energy. Deeper breaths draw more air into the lungs. This increases the amount of oxygen available to the body; it also encourages blood flow throughout your entire body. This delivers oxygen everywhere boosting your metabolism and overall energy levels.

Greater Alertness. Oxygen also energizes brain cells, meaning deep breathing improves alertness and awareness.

Improves Weight Loss and Weight Management. Oxygen is essential for your body to burn fat efficiently. Deep breathing increases your oxygen levels and promotes blood flow which supports your natural fat burning systems.

A Slower Heart Rate. The heart and lungs work together. As the lungs expand, the heart pushes more blood to them to receive oxygen. Exhaling contracts the lungs and send the blood back to the heart to be pumped throughout the body. Slow, deep breathing slows the entire system down which also slows down your heart rate, taking stress off your heart.

Stable Blood Pressure. A slower heart rate helps to stabilize blood pressure, which can increase during periods of stress.

Less Anxiety. Stress often comes in the form of feelings of anxiety. The activation of the PSNS by deep breathing starts a “relaxation response,” a physical response and state of being observed and described by Harvard Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson in the 1970s. Deep breathing literally shifts the mind from a physical state of stress to relaxation.

Pain Relief. Stress makes pain worse. By relieving stress, feelings of pain can be lessened.

Less Illness. Better digestion associated with a relaxed state improves the health of the gut where nearly 80% of all immune response takes place. The calmer state encouraged by deep breathing also reduces stress-related factors which suppress the immune response.

Better Posture. The importance of posture in overall health is often overlooked. Slumped shoulders prevent deep breathing while “slouching” when sitting restricts blood flow through the pelvis and to the legs and puts stress on the heart. To breathe deeply, the spine must be straight and shoulders back; this also pulls the lower back into alignment with the spine, opening the pelvis. In this posture, the lungs open and can take deep breaths. Blood flow also improves throughout the upper body.

A good posture also triggers the release of a hormone that promotes positive feelings and confidence.

Better Digestion. Improved blood flow and more oxygen aid the digestive process. A relaxed state also supports the best environment for digestion from the stomach through the colon.

Makes for a Great Core Stretch! Deep breathing stretches the internal and external obliques as well as muscles along the spine. Your organs also get a gentle internal massage with the expansion and contraction of the lungs and diaphragm.

Release Waste and Toxins. The lungs are an important part of the toxin and waste removal system in the body. Deep breaths allow for a greater and more efficient release of carbon dioxide. Deeper breathing also clears the lungs of pollutants in the air, which otherwise could get trapped when the lungs do not go through a full expansion and contraction.

Ko MJ1, et al. Effects of deep breathing on internal oblique and multifidus muscle activity in three sitting postures. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018 Apr;30(4):504-506. doi: 10.1589/jpts.30.504. Epub 2018 Apr 13.

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