Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises

The most efficient way of oxygenating is to expand the lower lobes of the lungs, where the densest capillaries are available to the alveoli.  The upper lobes of the lungs, which are expanded by raising the ribcage, are the least efficient segments of the lungs.  Normally, the only time the ribcage moves significantly to expand the upper lobes is during fight or flight when the body demands every bit of oxygen it can get.  We expand the lower lobes by expanding the abdomen as the diaphragm flattens when we inhale, which pushes down on the contents of the abdomen, creating more space into which the lungs expand.

For aesthetic reasons, women in our culture have typically been taught to hold their abdomen flat and tight and heave the ribcage to expand and contract the lungs instead.  This is not only unnatural and inefficient but tends to trigger the fight-or-flight association with heaving the ribcage.  It’s relatively easy to retrain your breathing habits, but it takes consciousness and practice.

Here’s a video showing an exercise for diaphragmatic breathing --> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TUZiiMy1iI

Here’s a Web page with another good exercise where you put one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest so you can feel how you’re moving to breathe --> http://www.anxietypanic.com/breathing.html

Here’s a better exercise to increase the kinesthetic feedback about how you’re moving your ribcage:  Put your left hand in your right armpit and your right hand in your left armpit, and hold a little pressure downward with your elbows.  Now, breathe as you normally do.  Look down at your elbows and notice if they’re moving outward (forward) as you inhale.  If so, you’re breathing with your ribcage more than your diaphragm.  When you’re breathing diaphragmatically, your elbows and arms won’t move at all.  The only part of your ribcage that moves when you’re breathing efficiently is the expansion of your side ribs below the sternum.

It usually takes a little coaching to get someone to retrain their breathing habits, but it’s not difficult at all.  I’ve done this with many people, mostly women who are frequently anxious or having trouble sleeping.  For chronic chest breathers, diaphragmatic breathing produces a profound improvement in their sense of well-being.