Diaphragmatic breathing is the root of all healthy breathing.
Without it, all your activities, the whole of your life, is built upon a shallow and weak foundation. That sounds like a pretty bold statement and it is… and it’s also true. Diaphragmatic breathing is the engine of your inhale and a strong inhale is going to properly feed your body. Before moving into more esoteric breathing exercises, you need to have your solid base down pat.
So what is the diaphragm and how is it used for breathing?
As you can see from the image above, it is a very large sheet style muscle attaching along the bottom of the rib cage and separating the chest cavity (holding the lungs and heart) from the abdominal cavity (holding the digestive organs). When it contracts, it draws downward into the abdominal cavity, increasing the volume of the chest cavity. When this happens, the air pressure in the chest cavity decreases relative to the air pressure around the body and, being that nature abhors a vacuum, air rushes into the nose (or the mouth if your breathing isn’t yet refined) to balance out the pressures. Voila… you’ve inhaled!
The opposite of deep diaphragmatic breathing is shallow breathing. In this method of respiration, the intercostal muscles (those between the ribs) and the muscles of the neck and shoulders are the primary drivers for expanding lung capacity to create the change in thoracic air pressure. The two problems with shallow breathing are 1) the intercostal, neck and shoulder muscles can’t increase the volume of the chest cavity enough to completely fill the lungs and 2) it’s muscularly harder for those muscles to be the prime drivers of inhalation. They’re smaller and meant for the end of the breathing cycle, not the beginning.
So proper deep breathing fills the lungs more completely with less physical effort.
With more fresh air in the lungs there is a greater exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the blood and the air – the blood receives more oxygen and is able to pass out more carbon dioxide. You’ve brought in more fuel and gotten rid of more by-products.
Another benefit of proper diaphragmatic breathing is the improvement of blood flow. The inferior vena cava is the large vein which transports oxygen depleted blood from the lower body back to the heart. It passes through the caval opening of the diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts and draws downward into the abdominal cavity, the caval opening increases in size. This allows more blood to flow upward through the vena cava to the heart. What this means is lower blood pressure.
Starting your practice of deep breathing.
To begin your journey into breathing exercises, you’ll need to really become aware of and strengthen your diaphragmatic breathing. Practice along with the video above and when you’re confident in your belly breathing, move on to the next section, the Yogi Complete Breath.