Diaphragmatic breathing (relaxation technique): how is it performed?
A summary of what diaphragmatic breathing is and how it is used as a relaxation technique.
Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is a type of breathing in which the diaphragm muscle is used primarily for breathing.
In addition to being a type of breathing, it is also a relaxation technique, especially used in cases of panic disorder, other anxiety disorders or anxiety in general.
In this article we tell you what this technique is, what it can help us, what are the steps to follow to carry it out and what are its main advantages.
Diaphragmatic breathing (as a relaxation technique)
Diaphragmatic breathing, also called abdominal breathing, is a relaxation technique widely used in cases of people suffering from panic disorder, as well as other anxiety disorders.
Diaphragmatic breathing consists of deep, conscious breathing, which involves using primarily the diaphragm to breathe (although logically many other muscles and/or organs are participating in this physiological process). The diaphragm is a broad muscle located between the pectoral and abdominal cavities..
In this type of breathing, the area that works the most in our body is the lower part of the lungs, which are connected to the diaphragm and the abdomen. Thus, although technically the abdomen is not the one that "breathes", this type of breathing receives this nomenclature.
Through diaphragmatic breathing, the lungs are filled with air, which reaches the lower part of the lungs, as we have seen. As a result, better ventilation occurs in the body, we can take in more oxygen, and there is a better cleansing and there is a better cleansing in the exhalation process.
Importance of the diaphragm
We have seen the importance of the diaphragm in this type of breathing; and the key is to learn to be aware of its movement (since whenever we breathe, we unconsciously move the diaphragm), and to control it, intervening on it.
Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system
At the neurophysiological level, diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). (PNS); let us remember that this system is the one that forms, together with the sympathetic nervous system, the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
The ANS (also called the neurovegetative or visceral nervous system) controls the involuntary functions of the viscera, i.e. heart rate, respiratory function, digestion, salivation, sweating, urination....
For its part, the parasympathetic nervous system is the one that allows us to return to a state of rest after a moment or period of stress (on the other hand, the sympathetic nervous system is the one that activates us and "starts us up" in a stressful moment).
Through the PNS, we emit relaxation responses through the regulation of different systems and apparatuses, such as: the digestive apparatus, the digestive system, the nervous system and the nervous system.such as: the digestive system, the Cardiovascular system, the genitourinary system...
In this sense, the PNS allows our heart rate to slow down, our salivation to increase, our breathing to slow down... in short, to relax.
Diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation technique can help us to overcome a panic disorder.. In addition, it is a technique that we can use when we feel anxious or excessively nervous, which can help us to breathe more easily, breathing in more air.
Thus, its main utility is to promote relaxation, which can indirectly improve other areas of our life (for example, it can make us more active and do more exercise, feel a greater sense of well-being, concentrate better, etc.).
How to practice it (steps)
As a breathing technique, diaphragmatic breathing consists of the following: it involves the person (or patient) learning to breathe with the diaphragm (i.e., with the abdomen or belly) instead of with the chest.
Thus, the person is taught to control breathing through relaxation of the abdominal muscles and contraction of the diaphragm through relaxation of the abdominal muscles and contraction of the diaphragm by relaxing the intercostal muscles..
Through diaphragmatic breathing, an abdominal breathing exercise is performed. But what exactly does it consist of? Let's learn the necessary steps to perform this relaxation technique:
1. Make yourself comfortable
First of all, we will sit on a chair that is comfortable for us (we can also choose to lie on our back, with a pillow under our head). In both cases, but, it is important that our back is supported..
2. Placing the hands
The second step of diaphragmatic breathing is to place the hands; one on the chest and the other on the abdomen (the abdomen is located just above the stomach).
We will begin by slowly and deeply inhaling through the nose.. While we perform this action, we should count to three (there are variants of the technique where we count to two), trying to fill all the lungs, while observing how the abdomen comes out.
We will see how, as we inhale the air, our hand rises slightly (because the abdomen "rises", swells). It is important here to keep the chest still.
4. Take a pause
In the next step of this diaphragmatic breathing exercise, we will make a small pause, which will last a few seconds.
Next, we will proceed to We then proceed to let the air out of our mouth slowly while we count to three, expelling the air with the breath.We will do this by expelling the air with our lips together and almost closed. Then we will notice how the abdomen is pulled inward (the stomach sinks).
We will follow the following sequence: inhale counting to three, and exhale counting to three (there are variants in which we inhale counting to two, and exhale counting to four, it all depends on our needs and preferences).
Through these sequences, we will achieve a slow, deep and even breathing.
The last step of diaphragmatic breathing involves practice. In the beginning, the ideal is to practice the technique for five to ten minutes each day, three or four times a day..
As we internalize it, however, we can and should increase the time and frequency of daily practice.
Advantages of diaphragmatic breathing
What are the advantages of using diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation technique? Logically, its main advantage is that it can **help us to overcome a panic disorder, as well as some other anxiety disorder. **
However, if we also use this type of breathing in our daily life, and / or in situations of stress or anxiety, the benefits we can get from it are even more numerous:
- The lungs are ventilated and cleaned in a deep way.
- An objective and subjective sensation of relaxation is produced in the organism.
- The lungs receive a high amount of oxygen.
- There is a stimulation of the circulation and the heart.
- There is an improvement of the intestinal transit.
- There is a massage in the different organs involved.
- Our natural way of breathing improves (with practice).
- Caballo (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Vol. 1 and 2. Siglo XXI (Chapters 1-8, 16-18).
- Guyton, A. C. & Hall, J. (2006). Treatise on Medical Physiology. Elsevier; 11th edition.
- Martínez-González, L., Olvera-Villanueva, G. & Villarreal-Ríos, E. (2018). Effect of deep breathing technique on anxiety level in older adults. Nursing Journal of the Mexican Institute of Social Security, 26(2): 99-104.
- Merino, J. and Noriega, M.J. (2005). General Physiology: Autonomic Nervous System. Open Course Ware. University of Cantabria.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)