What Is Belly Breathing & How To Do It ?

What Is Belly Breathing & How To Do It ?

I was discussing with my friend on the topic of power of breathing and it was then she asked me “What is Belly Breathing”. She told me no one teaches us how to breathe, breathing is automatic function of the body to keep us alive.

I asked her Did you know that we all have a breathing pattern and rhythm? Her reply was “What pattern and rhythm are you talking about, isn’t it simply inhale and exhale?”

Majority of us equate breathing to inhale and exhale, very few pay attention to the relationship that breathing has on our moods, health and overall all well-being. In this post I am going to discuss belly breathing technique and how it positively affects your entire body.

Belly Breathing also referred as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, simply means breathing deeply into your stomach. There is a muscle that runs horizontally across your belly, it is called as diaphragm. It sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It looks like a parachute, dome-shaped structure at the bottom of your ribcage and is responsible for respiratory function.

You may not be aware of this but when you inhale, your diaphragm tightens (contracts) and moves downward creating a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs and allows it to expand. When you exhale the opposite happens, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs. We depend heavily on the diaphragm for our respiratory function because if the diaphragm is impaired then it can compromise our breathing.

This brings me to the next question do you breathe using your chest or belly ?

Belly Breathing vs Chest Breathing

Have you ever seen infants breathe? It is a perfect demonstration of belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Babies and young children use their abdominal muscles much more to pull the diaphragm down for breathing.

While belly breathing is our body’s natural way to inhale and exhale however majority of adults do not breathe the natural way. Most people resort to chest breathing as they grow up and due to which they experience a shallow breath for the most part of the day.

Before we arrive at a conclusion on belly breathing vs chest breathing first lets understand few basic principles of breathing so that we are able to differentiate between chest breath and belly breath.

Chest Breathing vs Belly Breathing

If you have ever been to yoga session you may have come across this common advice or instruction “Breathe deeply into your belly” – How would you interpret this instruction? THINK THINK…

Many will interpret this advice as breathing deeply so that air travels into your belly…BUT…WAIT…WAIT…does air travel into your belly? Air only goes in and out of lungs then how can I breathe deeply into belly?

You may say that when I breathe I can feel my abdomen rising and falling – Is this not air which is making my belly rise and fall? The answer is NO… Are you confused…a bit perhaps?

The muscle at the bottom of your chest called the diaphragm moves up and down as you breathe air in and out of your lungs. It is this muscle that makes your belly move up and down when you breathe.

So Belly breathing is a “focused breathing technique” that involves utilizing diaphragm to promote maximum lung capacity as we breathe air in and out of lungs

Chest breathing on the other hand allows the chest to expand and contract with each breath. In chest breathing we overuse the muscles in the neck and upper body (also known as accessory muscles of inspiration) and underuse the diaphragm.

Belly Breathing vs Chest Breathing

The diaphragm is designed to work indefinitely, whereas the accessory muscles tire more easily and overusing them will eventually leave you feeling fatigued and tired. Thus, chest breathing is more exhausting rather than restorative.

Hence, the WINNER is Belly breathing as it utilizes your entire lung capacity and breaths taken while performing this exercise are deep and slow, taking longer to inhale and exhale. These type of breath are more efficient and improved the quality of life. Belly breathing usually requires focus and it is important to dedicate the time and train your body so that it becomes effortless

Now the sad part is not everyone knows how to use the diaphragm efficiently while breathing and resort to use chest breathing throughout the day. When you get stressed during the day, the tension tightens your belly and it is harder to breathe efficiently. This in turn makes your breath more shallow which eventually makes you more stressed, frustrated and tired.

How To Do Belly Breathing

Any breathing exercise or technique will yield results only when you practice regularly. As you continue to perform the breathing exercises, you will notice improvements both mentally and physically. So go ahead and try this belly breathing exercise.

  • If you are new to belly breathing then it is probably easier to learn it by lying down, Once you get a hang of it then you can do this form of breathing while seated or standing.
  • Lie down on a flat surface, you can use pillows under your head and beneath the knees for support and to keep the body in a comfortable position.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other one below the rib cage. This will help you gain awareness of the movement of your belly and chest.
  • Start by taking a slow, deep breathe in through your nose and as you breathe in, the hand on your belly should rise than the one on the chest. This ensures that your diaphragm contracts and lungs is filled with air. (Inhale for count of 4-5 seconds)
  • Now breathe out for a count of 5-6 seconds (ensure count of exhalation is longer than the inhalation). As the air leaves your lungs, gently tighten your abdominal muscles. While you do this, you should feel the hand on the belly moving downwards.
  • As you breathe in and out, ensure the hand on the chest remains still.
  • Try to do this exercise 5 – 7 minutes daily preferably in the morning empty stomach. Doing belly breathing on a full stomach can be harmful. Wait for at least 2 hours if you had food before you perform the exercise.
  • As with any new exercise, practice makes you perfect, ensure you incorporate the belly breathing exercise as a part of your daily routine.

The key trick to belly breathing is to use your diaphragms to their full potential. For the best possible results, make sure to activate your diaphragm when practicing these techniques. Go ahead and try this exercise and let me know how it feels. If you have questions feels free post them in comments.

Related Post: Learn How To Unfold The Secret Breath Effortlessly With Pranayama

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Alex

    Hello Satish,

    It is a very informative article. I didn’t know much about belly breathing before. I just thought that breathing is breathing. It is just an exercise of inhalation and exhalation. If belly breathing is so good for our health physically and mentally, I’ll practice it every day. But I would like to ask can I practice this exercise at nighttime since I have to go to work in the very early morning?

    1. Satish

      Hi Alex,

      Preferably do belly breathing in the morning empty stomach, however if you don’t have time, you can do it in the night as well but ensure you wait for atleast 2 hours post dinner. Doing belly breathing on a full stomach can be harmful ~ Stay Blessed 🙂

  2. Dr. SD

    Hi Satish,

    Belly Breathing is a great way to keep yourself healthy and stay away from doctors, I personally believe this intensely. But do you know, where I often face a problem… mainly 2 areas,
    1. I always do it the wrong way.
    2. I often feel lazy after a long day of work.
    I know no one can cure the second reason because it’s only myself who can decide to adopt a healthy way of living or not. But, here I got a clear picture to practice Belly Breathing smoothly. I must thank you a lot for this comprehensive post.

    1. Satish

      Hi Dr.SD,

      I am glad you found the post useful. Adopt belly breathing or for that matter any breathing practice a part of your daily routine like brushing or having a bath – We never get bored of having a bath or brushing our teeth ? Regular practice of breathing practice will have a big impact on many different aspects of your body’s health and well-being ~ Stay Blessed 🙂

  3. Darcy

    Hi Satish,

    Thank you so much for writing an article on belly breathing that is easy to understand! Until now, I didn’t know that diaphragmatic breathing and belly breathing were the same thing, I heard the term “belly breathing” on a television show before, but they never gave an explanation on what that was, and it bothered me to know end! As it turns out — I belly breathe on a regular basis! I listen to guided meditation every day and I am always instructed to take diaphragmatic breaths before the medication begins.

    Thanks again for this informative write-up!

    1. Satish

      Hi Darcy,

      I am happy to know that you practice belly breathing on a regular basis, thanks for the comment and wishing you all the very best with you practice ~ Stay Blessed 🙂

  4. Amy Smith

    Hi Satish,

    This was so relaxing just to read and learn to do, I never heard of belly breathing before so thank you for introducing this to me, it is definitely a technique I am going to practice using.
    Its amazing how something so simple can make you feel so much better when your stressed and tired, I felt relaxed and surprisingly energized after doing this. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Satish

      Hi Amy,

      Indeed belly breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the nervous system, causing a state of calmness. Many of us zone out in front of the television at night to relax, however we must learn to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. I am glad you tried belly breathing and found it relaxing, I encourage you to make it a regular practice as this is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body and feel energetic & fresh ~ Stay Blessed 🙂

  5. Aminah Ahmed

    Hi Satish,

    I absolutely love your website! I learn something new every time I read your posts. I meditate and go to yoga pretty often, but I definitely know that I have to work on my breathing more often. I will definitely dry this technique out! Thank you.

    1. Satish

      Hi Aminah,

      I am happy to know that you are finding the posts useful, thanks for your comment ~ Stay Blessed 🙂

  6. Matt

    Hi Satish,

    Thanks for this comprehensive article about belly breathing, it’s easy to understand and insightful. I never focus on my breaths in the day time since I was chased by my work and daily chores, instead of real breaths. By your tips shared, I think I would practice belly breathing in my lunch break to get myself calm and peaceful.

    Is 5-7 minutes the best length of time? Or I could practice for 10 minutes?

    Thanks for sharing,
    Matt

    1. Satish

      Hi Matt,

      Make sure you have a gap of 2 hours after having food (lunch or dinner) before you practice belly breathing. Yes you can start the practice with 5 minutes and then gradually increase your time to 10 minutes. The way you breathe affects your whole body. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress ~ Stay Blessed 🙂

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