Animation of diaphragmatic breathing with the diaphragm shown in green
Animation of diaphragmatic breathing with the diaphragm shown in green

Diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing,[1] or deep breathing,[2] is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. Air enters the lungs as the diaphragm strongly contracts, but unlike during traditional relaxed breathing (eupnea) the intercostal muscles of the chest do minimal work in this process. The belly also expands during this type of breathing to make room for the contraction of the diaphragm. [3]


According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, "12.7 percent of American adults [have] used deep-breathing exercises... for health purposes,"[4] which it describes as follows: "Deep breathing involves slow and deep inhalation through the nose, usually to a count of 10, followed by slow and complete exhalation for a similar count. The process may be repeated 5 to 10 times, several times a day."[5]

According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, "Diaphragmatic breathing allows one to take normal breaths while maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into the bloodstream. It is a way of interrupting the 'Fight or Flight' response and triggering the body's normal relaxation response."[6] They provide a video demonstration.[7]

Diaphragmatic breathing has a physiological effect on the body by assisting in blood flow, lowering pulse rate and blood pressure "by improving vagal activity and reducing the sympathetic reaction."[8]

In complementary and alternative medicine

Some practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine believe that particular kinds of breathing they identify as diaphragm breathing can be used to bring about health benefits.[9]

Deep breathing exercises are sometimes used as a form of relaxation, that, when practiced regularly, may lead to the relief or prevention of symptoms commonly associated with stress, which may include high blood pressure, headaches, stomach conditions, depression, anxiety, and others.[10]

Due to the lung expansion being lower (inferior) on the body as opposed to higher up (superior), it is referred to as 'deep' and the higher lung expansion of rib cage breathing is referred to as 'shallow'. The actual volume of air taken into the lungs with either means varies.

Relation to yoga and meditation

Hatha Yoga, tai chi and meditation traditions draw a clear distinction between eupnea and diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing.[11] The more specific technique of diaphragmatic breathing is said to be more beneficial.[11]

Fitness and wellness

Some claim diaphragmatic breathing could provide a way to combat high stress, but clear evidence is yet to be shown. The World Health Organization (WHO) states: "They should maintain a calm approach, where possible remove sources of anxiety and coach respirations (i.e. encourage normal breathing, not deeper and quicker than usual).[12] ... Acute stress should be managed using psychological first aid as per WHO (2010) mhGAP guidelines."[13] Following up in "Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers",[14] published in 2011, the WHO states "Encourage the person to focus on their breathing, and to breathe slowly." Then although they instruct calming respiration as a response to stress, no instructions regarding diaphragmatic breathing are given.

Furthermore, there are those who claim diaphragmatic breathing may reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and menstrual cramps, but the research presented is lacking.

One should note that casual diaphragmatic breathing relies on other muscles used in thoracic breathing (such as the intercostal muscles), and that the diaphragm usually participates in healthy thoracic breathing, suggesting the speculated separation between the two isn't as neat as some would like to believe.

Finally, some pathologies, especially those affecting the elasticity or mobility of the chest or rib cage, would spell for an increase reliance or necessity for diaphragmatic activity during respiration.


The use of diaphragmatic breathing is commonly practiced, especially in those patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to improve a variety of factors such as pulmonary function,[15] cardiorespiratory fitness,[15] respiratory muscle length,[16] and respiratory muscle strength.[17] Specifically, diaphragmatic breathing exercise is essential to asthmatics since breathing in these patients is of the thoracic type in association with decreased chest expansion and chest deformity[clarification needed] as a result of a deformed sternum like pectus excavatum (funnel chest); a shortened diaphragm, intercostals and accessory muscles from prolonged spasm causing stenosis of the major airways leading to an abnormal respiratory pattern.[18]

Relation to music

Diaphragmatic breathing is also widely considered essential for best possible singing performance.[19] Diaphragmatic breathing also allows wind instrumentalists to maximise intake of air, minimising the number of breaths required for progressing players.

See also


The link in Reference 5 is broken. I was unable to find the video on their website.

  1. ^ "Learning diaphragmatic breathing". Harvard Health. 2016-03-10. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  2. ^[bare URL PDF]
  3. ^ "39.10: Breathing - Types of Breathing". Biology LibreTexts. 2018-07-17. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  4. ^ "Relaxation Techniques for Health: An Introduction"
  5. ^ "Terms Related to Complementary and Integrative Health". NCCIH. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  6. ^ "Stress Management and Reduction at the University of Texas at Austin". Archived from the original on 14 April 2016.
  7. ^ "diaphragmatic breathing video".((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Hopper SI, Murray SL, Ferrara LR, Singleton JK (June 2018). "Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing on physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review protocol". JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports. 16 (6): 1367–1372. doi:10.11124/JBISRIR-2017-003477. PMID 29894405. S2CID 48364340.
  9. ^ Shaw BS, Shaw I (2013). "Review of the effectiveness of various modes of breathing training in asthma management". African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance. November (Supplement 1): 168–179. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  10. ^ "Relaxation Techniques for Health". NCCIH. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  11. ^ a b "Breathing Practices and Pranayama". Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  12. ^ "Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises - Benefits and How To". Harmonic Breathing. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  13. ^ "Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress".
  14. ^ "Psychological first aid: Guide for field workers".
  15. ^ a b Shaw I, Shaw BS, Brown GA (2010). "Role of Diaphragmatic Breathing and Aerobic Exercise in Improving Maximal Oxygen Consumption in Asthmatics". Science & Sports. 25 (3): 139–145. doi:10.1016/j.scispo.2009.10.003.
  16. ^ Shaw BS, Shaw I, Brown GA (2013). "Concurrent aerobic and resistive breathing training improves respiratory muscle length and spirometry in asthmatics". African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance. November (Supplement): 180–193. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  17. ^ Shaw I, Shaw BA (2014). "The effect of breathing and aerobic training on manual volitional respiratory muscle strength and function in moderate, persistent asthmatics". African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance. Supplement 2 (September): 45–61. Retrieved 2015-02-11.
  18. ^ Shaw BS, Shaw I (April 2011). "Pulmonary function and abdominal and thoracic kinematic changes following aerobic and inspiratory resistive diaphragmatic breathing training in asthmatics". Lung. 189 (2): 131–9. doi:10.1007/s00408-011-9281-8. PMID 21318637. S2CID 26451387.
  19. ^ "Confused About Diaphragmatic Breathing?".

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