WHY should you do diaphragmatic (belly) breathing?
What is the diaphragm? What is diaphragmatic breathing? Why is diaphragmatic breathing helpful? Keep reading to have all your questions answered.
The Basic Anatomy:
Lets first take a look at the basic anatomy. You have:
- The abdominal muscles at the front.
- The spinal muscles at the back.
- The diaphragm at the top, underneath the ribs.
- The pelvic floor muscles at the bottom of the pelvis.
The diaphragm is the principle muscle of respiration. When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts down and on the exhale, the diaphragm will return upward (Alison et al., 1998).
The pelvic floor muscles work in a coordinated manner with the diaphragm, whereby the pelvic floor muscles lengthen during inhalation as the diaphragm contracts down (Hodges et al., 2007).
So, why diaphragmatic breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique aimed to strengthen the diaphragm, but it has lots of other known benefits including stress management and improving core stability.
Additionally, benefits are seen in those presenting with pelvic floor dysfunction, particularly pelvic pain, sexual pain and dysfunction in emptying the bladder or bowel.
Understanding the relationship between the diaphragm and pelvic floor is important to understand why this works. As discussed above, as the diaphragm contracts during inhalation the diaphragm moves downward. During the inhalation, the pelvic floor relaxes and lengthens too. Therefore, if the pelvic floor muscles are not be relaxing effectively, the inhalation during diaphragmatic breathing may help to improve this.
How do I perform diaphragmatic breathing?
- Position: Lying on your back with your knees bent.
- Place one hand on your chest, and the other hand on your belly.
- You want to feel most of the air moving down into the hand over your belly.
- Breath in through your nose, think about your belly rising into your hand as the air enters the lungs.
- Breath out through your mouth and allow the abdomen to go back to neutral.
- Repeat this for at least 5 minutes daily.
As your pelvic floor awareness improves, you may notice a slight relax of your pelvic floor muscles on the inhale. Not to worry if you don’t feel this right away.
Please contact me to find out if diaphragmatic breathing is the right exercise for you and to ensure you are performing it correctly. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any queries 🙂
Allison GT, Kendle K, Roll S, et al.: The role of the diaphragm during abdominal hollowing exercises. Aust J Physiother, 1998, 44: 95–102. [Medline] [CrossRef]
Hodges PW, Sapsford R, Pengel LH: Postural and respiratory functions of the pelvic floor muscles. Neurourol Urodyn, 2007, 26: 362–371. [Medline] [CrossRef]