When we are stressed, we usually breathe faster and less deeply. In extreme cases, some people can even suffer from hyperventilation. To relax, abdominal breathing can help a lot. What is it and how to do it?

When we breathe with our chest, to get air into the lungs, the muscles between the ribs contract, causing the chest to rise and expand. During abdominal breathing, the diaphragm moves downward and the space in the chest cavity expands. Then the air is drawn into the lungs. In this way of breathing, the abdomen expands slightly as the organs are pushed forward.

Abdominal breathing requires less effort than chest breathing. In addition, it has a calming effect.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing

1. Reduces and prevents stress

First, diaphragmatic breathing helps with stress. When you are stressed, you often breathe too fast, too high, and too shallowly. This is called chest breathing or shallow breathing and because of this your body and your mind have difficulty relaxing. As a result, you feel more restless and stressed.

So a quiet diaphragm breathing helps you to relax and feel less stressed. Yogis have known this for thousands of years and now there are also quite a few scientific studies that have proven it to be true.

2. Helps detoxify the body

Your lymphatic system is responsible for cleaning up your body. Toxins and waste products are transported through the lymphatic system. This is facilitated by breathing and by moving. Indeed, the lymphatic system does not have a pump like the heart. When you move or breathe, your muscles get moving which in turn helps the lymph fluid through the system to move and drain.

When breathing is disturbed, this system does not work optimally and too many toxins and waste products remain in the body, which is a breeding ground for all kinds of different disorders. By optimizing your breathing, you can also improve your lymphatic system. So you help your body in this way to detox.

3. Promotes Mental clarity

Your brain needs oxygen to function properly. In the event of non-optimal breathing, the supply of oxygen is also not optimal. The part of your brain responsible for thinking and decision-making, the cerebrum, is the first victim of this because this is the part of your brain that is least important for survival.

When this happens, you will notice, among other things, that you can concentrate less well, that you can think less clearly and that you make worse decisions.

When you learn to breathe more calmly and deeply again, there will always be enough oxygen supply, which will improve your mental clarity.

4. Deacidifies the body

CO2 acidifies the body. When you do not breathe optimally, there is more CO2 in your blood than is actually good for you. You do not have to notice this immediately in the form of complaints, but the acidity of your body goes up as the CO2 content increases.

As a result, your body produces more inflammation and this increased degree of inflammation in the body is again fertile ground for all kinds of different health problems. Optimal breathing ensures optimal biochemistry of the body.

5. Improves your digestion

When your body is stressed and in ‘fight or flight mode, it concentrates all its energy on the vital functions to survive and temporarily shuts down unnecessary systems that consume energy. Digestion is one of such energy-guzzling systems.

Therefore, when you’re stressed, your digestion is disrupted. Through diaphragmatic breathing you can take your body out of the survival mode, so that it puts the digestive system back ‘online’ and you can therefore digest food better.

6. Improves your posture

Good breathing improves your posture. With high and fast breathing, you use muscles that you basically do not need to breathe. And you use them way too much. As a result, they become overloaded and other muscles have to compensate. This creates a kind of chain reaction in the body that does not benefit your posture.

Diaphragmatic breathing prevents this and ensures that free and flush breathing can place, which benefits body posture.

7. Balances your nervous system

Your autonomic nervous system consists of your sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.

The mission of the parasympathetic system is to save energy and maintain basic activities; it is said to be trophotropic. The sympathetic system, on the whole, puts more strain on the organism than its parasympathetic counterpart. It is used to mobilize energy in times of stress: it is said to be ergotropic. 

By practicing diaphragmatic breathing, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. You give your body a signal that it does not have to be overactive, and that it can recover and relax.

If your nervous system is overstimulated and always in action mode, diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most effective ways to bring your nervous system back into balance.

8. Helps you to lose weight

An Australian has shown that optimal breathing helps to lose weight. How? We exhale a large part of the weight we lose in the form of CO2!

Well, your breathing alone will not give you the body you crave. That takes a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. But a good, healthy low abdominal breathing can contribute to this process and thus help you lose weight naturally.

9. Helps against neck and shoulder pain

When we breathe the wrong way, we use a lot of muscles that we don’t really need to breathe properly. For a short period of time, this is okay, but if these muscles are always used in the breathing process, then they become overloaded.

These are often muscle groups in the neck and shoulders, therefore neck and shoulder complaints can arise with less than optimal breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing prevents these neck and shoulder complaints from arising.

10. Increases your energy

Your body needs oxygen to create energy in an efficient way. When the oxygen supply is less than optimal, your body still produces energy, only much less efficiently. So you simply have less energy at your disposal if you breathe fast, high, and rushed. Like you’re always out of breath.

By breathing calmly, you improve the oxygen absorption and supply to the mitochondria so that the energy-burning process can run efficiently and you have more energy at your disposal.

11. Improves your sleep

Have you ever wondered why you can’t sleep? It is often the case that your body, mind, and nervous system are still in the action mode. Indeed, when you are stressed, it is difficult to sleep.

Calm breathing with the help of the diaphragm helps you to relax all the systems so that your body can get ready for the night.

This way you fall asleep more easily and the quality of your night’s sleep is much better so that you wake up rested.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing – Video Summary

How to practice diaphragmatic breathing

  • Sit or lie down comfortably.
  • Put a hand on the stomach and feel it rise and fall.
  • Breathe in through the nose and let the belly swell, feel the breath push against your hand.
  • Breathe out calmly and feel the stomach recede under the hand: no need to monitor the breathing, just the movement of the abdomen.
  • Try to exhale longer than the inhales, wait a moment before inhaling again.

Practice these sessions for about five minutes, several times a day, even without placing your hand on your stomach. Gradually, adopt abdominal breathing while reading, working on the computer, browsing your smartphone, watching a movie, during a meeting or an exam… all occasions are favorable.

Elena Mars

Elena writes part-time for the Scientific Origin, focusing mostly on health-related issues.