A Primer on Diaphragmatic Breathing
The most important element of life is the breath; however, most of us pay little or no attention to the way in which we breathe. Whether it is breathing correctly through an exercise, or taking a moment for a deep cleansing breath when stressed, it is important to focus on breathing and how to get the most out of your most important bodily function.
Diaphragmatic breathing, often referred to as abdominal breathing, is the best way to breathe deeply for health, meditation, and exercise. You may have heard of diaphragmatic breathing for yoga, martial arts, and Qigong, but rarely is it ever fully explained or instructed. I have been teaching and practicing it for years, and know that it is easy to learn and extremely beneficial for everyone.
I learned to breathe diaphragmatically when I was a singer, back in my other life as a musician. Little did I know that it would be the best thing I ever did for my body and mind. It is a constant source of calming energy as well as a reservoir of audible focus in the form of a “Kiai” when executing martial arts techniques. I learned how to breathe diaphragmatically using the method below, and I have been teaching it ever since for meditation, martial arts, and learning to be in the moment.
Here is a step-by-step approach to starting your practice:
- Lie on your back on the floor and relax.
- Place an object on your abdomen that has some weight, but is not too heavy. In the old days we used a phone book because it was the right size and weight. I often use a binder, so use something comparable.
- Inhale deeply, and think about pushing all of the air into your abdomen, pushing the binder up as high as possible using only your abdomen. If possible, have a spotter watch you inhale to ensure that your chest does not rise. It is important to make sure you are not breathing into your chest.
- Exhale and think about all of the air exiting your abdomen. As the object is falling, imagine it sinking through your abdomen to the floor. This will help you execute a complete exhale.
- Never hold your breath. You should either be inhaling or exhaling.
- Use counting to ensure the breathing is long and even. Breathe in for a count of five and exhale for a count of five, etc.
- With subsequent breaths, try to inhale for a longer duration and exhale for a longer duration. Watch as the object rises and falls with your breath.
- Concentrate on only using the abdomen, as the breath is entering and exiting, to move the object.
- It helps to take audible breaths so you can hear yourself doing the exercise. Strive to make the breaths long.
- After about a dozen breaths, you should feel that you are breathing deeper, and be used to feeling of pushing up the object and letting it fall.
- When you are ready, sit up very slowly. Do not stand. It is common to have a “head rush” when you sit up. If you stand too quickly you may fall.
- Take a few breaths normally and stand, or better yet, sit briefly in a chair.
Take time daily to breathe deeply for a few minutes. Even two to five minutes will be beneficial. You will find that you can relax deeply and when you finish, you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle what awaits you. Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the single most important things that you can do with your body. It is not just for internal business though. On some nights after I close the school, and everyone is gone, I pull out my old clunky guitar and give it a quick tune like I did all of those years ago. I take a deep breath and belt out a couple of my old favorite songs with all the power and volume I want. Breathe deeply, and do all the things that bring you joy.
Are you breathing to your fullest potential?