Feeling stressed in these uncertain times?


Try diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation tool that can help you both physically and mentally.

Diaphragmatic breathing is a relaxation exercise that not only helps to strengthen your diaphragm but also has many physical and mental benefits. You might have heard of this technique by other names such as deep breathing or belly breathing. Multiple peer-reviewed studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing has been an effective non-pharmacological intervention that has multifaceted positive effects on an individual’s life.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing

  • Reducing anxiety, depression and emotional exhaustion
  • Improve sustained attention span
  • Lowering blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreasing the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Improves core stability
  • Decreases the likelihood of injury

What is your diaphragm

Your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that contracts and relaxes under voluntary and involuntary control.  As you breathe in and air flows into your lungs, your diaphragm moves downward to allow inspiration to occur within the breathing cycle. When you exhale or breathe out, your diaphragm rises back up to its starting position.


While this cycle is continuous, it can be interrupted by external and internal factors that can have lasting effects.  When this muscle is not working properly it can cause a decrease in oxygen consumption and an increase in the amount of tension that is present around your neck and shoulders.

How to breathe with your diaphragm

To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and place a pillow under both your head and legs for increased support. Next, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach just below your ribcage; this hand placement will allow you to better feel your diaphragmatic breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your stomach move up into your hand for 2-4 seconds, making sure that there is a minimal excursion of your chest.

Finally, exhale through pursed lips allowing your stomach to descend back down to its resting position. This will result in slow, even, and deep breaths. Repeat this sequence for several minutes to allow maximal relaxation.  If you are not comfortable laying on your back, you can modify your position to perform this exercise exactly the same but in a seated position. Make sure that both feet are flat on the floor and you feel supported in your chair throughout the entirety of the exercise.

Helpful Hints

  • Initially, perform the exercise daily for 3-5 minutes and gradually increase the amount of time spent performing this breathing technique
  • Try to incorporate this exercise into your daily routine; perhaps try and do it when you are in bed in the morning and at night for easier integration.
  • If you feel dizzy at any point, discontinue the exercise immediately

If you are interested in learning more about this exercise or other helpful techniques, contact a physical therapist at South OC PT today!

Dr. Allison Paris


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SouthOCPT June 1, 2020

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