Taking a full breath is vital to good health. The diaphragm is a
large muscle that attaches to the ribs and vertebrae just above the
abdominal cavity. On inhalation, the diaphragm descends into the
abdominal cavity creating a vacuum in the lungs. This type of breathing
allows for maximum use of the lung’s surface area. Oxygen, a vital
nutrient necessary for life, is absorbed on inhalation and carbon
dioxide is excreted on exhalation as a waste product which helps to
maintain the bloods delicate acid/base balance. Diaphragmatic breathing
also acts as a pump for the lymphatic system. As the diaphragm descends
into the abdominal cavity, it gently massages the internal organs below
the diaphragm squeezing lymph into the vena cava. The heart also sits
on top of and is connected to the diaphragm via the fibrous tissue of
the pericardium. This has a positive effect on the immune and
circulatory systems. The breath is an integral part of many spiritual
practices including yoga, chi gong, and many forms of meditation. The
breath is the only function in the body that operates either
voluntarily or involuntarily. For example we can increase our rate of
breathing or hold our breath, or if you are not paying attention to
your breath your autonomic nervous system automatically tells your body
to breathe. On the contrary, other bodily functions such as your heart
beat or digestive system cannot be controlled at will. This is
important because working with your breath will affect both the
conscious and subconscious mind since it is controlled by both.
Breath-work is used by many traditions as a means to alter
consciousness. Becoming conscious of your breath will give you a tool
to help regulate stress and emotions. When you experience a heightened
stress response, your breath will generally become shallow and rapid.
By changing the rate and depth at which you are
breathing, you will change your response to a stressful or highly
charged emotional situation.
1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. If you chose to sit,
make sure that your back is straight, preferably not leaning against
the back of your chair and feet are on the ground. If you tend to fall
asleep while lying down, practice your breathing exercises in the
2. Once you have found a comfortable position, close your eyes and
observe your breath. Notice if you are breathing primarily into your
chest, abdomen, or both. If you are a chest breather you will feel
expansion only in the upper chest as you inhale. If you are breathing
into your abdomen, you feel expansion at the belly button as you
inhale. If you feel expansion first in the abdomen and then into the
chest, then you are already breathing properly.
3. Abdominal Expansion – Focus your attention on your spot about two
inches below your belly button. As you inhale, feel as if you are
breathing into that area. As you inhale your abdomen should expand. As
your diaphragm pushes down, your belly will expand outward. Practice
this for several minutes.
4. Chest Expansion – Focus your attention on the center of the
sternum bone. As you inhale, breathe into the chest expanding the rib
cage. Practice this for several minutes.
5. Full Diaphragmatic Breath – Return your attention to a couple of
inches below the belly button. Resume breathing into the lower abdomen.
As the lower abdomen expands and becomes “full” then expand the
ribcage. This step links abdominal expansion and chest expansion.