Monday, August 9, 2021

How to do Diaphragmatic Breathing: 7 Simple Exercises [with Script in PDF]


For most people, belly breathing is very easy to learn.  Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other side, requires a bit more practice.  

So in this blog, I'll share with you a sequence of simple breathing exercises that you can practice to do diaphragmatic breathing properly. 

In my previous blog, I talked in detail about the differences between belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, and what are their benefits.  I encourage you to read that article first so that you can clear any doubts you might have.  

Meanwhile, just keep in mind that whenever I mention diaphragmatic breathing I'm referring to thoraco-diaphragmatic breathing (or diaphragmatic ribcage breathing), and not just belly breathing.


How to do diaphragmatic breathing


The breathing sequence below is based primarily on what I've learned from my teachers at the Himalayan Yoga Tradition in India.   And it is the same sequence I use during my online pranayama classes.  I've written it down as a script though so that you can use it on your own.

I also created a free PDF with a Diaphragmatic Breathing Training Guide based on the script below.  To download it you just need to sign up to my mailing list here

I teach this sequence in a mindful and meditative way, to learn not only how to engage the diaphragm properly, but also to induce a sense of calm and tranquility.

It takes about 30 minutes.  The whole pranayama class takes 75 minutes.

If you would like to join my online yoga classes you can also sign up to my mailing so that you can be notified of my weekly schedule.  

Whenever you try this sequence on your own make sure that you are breathing through the nose at all times.  Nose breathing and diaphragmatic breathing goes hand in hand.


Observing the breath in prone position



1.  Laying down in makarāsana (crocodile pose)



  • Lay down on the abdomen and keep the chest lifted by keeping the elbows bend, shoulder-distance apart, at a 45-degree angle from the armpits.
  • Rest the forehead on the forearms.  
  • Keep the legs apart and relaxed, with the feet pointing outwards.
  • Relax the neck, shoulders, back muscles, hip joints, legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Allow the whole body to relax.  
  • Feel the pressure of the abdomen against the floor while you observe the movement of the breath.  
  • Notice how this pressure changes during the inhalation and exhalation.
  • Then try to notice the movement of the side body and back body, expanding on the inhalation and contracting on the exhalation.
  • Do this for about 7 minutes

This posture, called makarasana or crocodile pose, is very important for developing the diaphragmatic breath.

By laying down on the abdomen we simulate the intraabdominal pressure (explained in my previous blog) which forces the breath to move to the side body and back body.  

Additionally by keeping the chest lifted this posture naturally prevents upper chest breathing.  


Observing the breath in supine position



2.  Laying down in shavāsana (corpse pose)



  • Now turn your body and lay down on your back. 
  • Keep the legs about 30 degrees apart from each other.
  • Place the right hand on the belly and the left hand on the chest (the order of the hands is not important).  
  • Keep the arms relaxed with the elbows resting on the mat.
  • Observe the natural breath by observing the right hand rising on the inhalation and falling back down on the exhalation.  
  • At the same time make sure there is no movement on the left hand.  In other words, no movement on the chest.
  • Continue observing the natural breath for about 7 minutes.

When we lay down on our backs we will naturally breathe only with the abdomen.  So this becomes belly breathing and not diaphragmatic breathing.  But it is still beneficial and important to practice.  

This breathing exercise is both, a form of breath awareness practice and a relaxation exercise.  I recommend you try this at home whenever you are struggling with anxiety or stress. 

I teach this simple breathing technique to induce a deep state of relaxation, to remove any fatigue, and as a transition before sitting up.  This is all necessary for practicing pranayama.

To be able to actually practice diaphragmatic breathing when laying down on our backs, we would need to place a sandbag (or some other heavy object ) on the abdomen.  The idea is to restrict the movement of the abdomen.

This is not very practical during online classes so we simply focus on abdominal breathing.


3.  Deep abdominal breathing


After a few minutes, while still laying down on our backs, we practice deep abdominal rhythmic breathing.  

  • Breathe in to the count of five allowing the belly to expand fully
  • Breathe out to the count of five allowing the belly to relax completely
  • Breathe slowly and deeply using only the belly.  Make sure there is no movement on the chest
  • Do this seven times.
  • After seven times return to the natural breath 

Deep abdominal and rhythmic breathing can help to remove irregularities from the breath.  It can also help to enter an even deeper state of relaxation, especially after you return to the natural breath.

I recommend you try this breathing exercise whenever you are having trouble falling asleep.  It works wonders.

Feel free to increase the count if that's more comfortable for you.  You can also increase the number of repetitions if you wish.


4.  Complete breath


Then we practice the complete breath.  

  • Breathe in to the count of eight. 
  • Start with the belly up till the count of five, and then continue with the chest till the count of eight.
  • Allow the chest to expand fully so that you can inhale to your full lung capacity
  • Breathe out to the count of eight, allowing the lungs to empty completely.
  • Do this five times.
  • After five times return to the natural breath 

The idea of this exercise is to gain control and become familiar with the difference between belly breathing and chest breathing.  

It also helps to energize the body before we sit up, after several minutes of laying down on the back.


Observing the breath in sitting position


After observing the breath for several minutes in a prone and in a supine position, we move to a sitting posture. 

This is where many people have difficulties.  

In my experience, although most people will be able to easily practice diaphragmatic breathing when laying down on the belly or on the back, the moment we sit up they immediately start breathing with the chest.

I have seen this even among advanced yoga practitioners.

The reason, I believe, is because of lack of practice sitting crossed-legged on the floor, and also because of not knowing how to sit with the back straight and upright.  That's why I always encourage my students to sit on a chair if needed.

You can visit my previous blog How to Sit for Meditation and Pranayama [with a Straight Back] to get some suggestions for finding a comfortable posture.

If we struggle with the sitting posture it will create tension in the body and therefore tension in the breath.  This discomfort is also going to force us to breathe with the chest.

Whatever sitting posture we use, it should feel so steady and comfortable that allows the body to relax completely without losing the alignment.  This will allow the breath to move freely in the abdominal area.  

Besides this, we also need to make sure the breath feels very relaxed, soft, effortless, and spacious.  It should be silent, continuous, and at all times through the nostrils.

Having this in mind, this is what we do when sitting up.


5.  Right hand on the upper abdomen.  Left hand on the chest



  • Sit comfortably with the back straight and upright.  
  • Keep the head, neck, and spine in alignment. 
  • Maintain the natural curvature of the spine keeping the lower abdomen slightly in.
  • Place the right hand on the upper abdomen and the left hand on the chest (the order of the hands is not important).
  • Observe the natural breath. 
  • Notice how the belly pushes the right hand out during the inhalation. 
  • Notice how the belly moves back in during the exhalation.
  • Make sure there is no movement on the left hand or the upper chest.
  • Make sure there is no movement on the shoulders.
  • Do this for about two minutes.

In this exercise, we could be either doing belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.  That's why it is important to sit properly, keeping the lower abdomen in, to make sure we are actually breathing diaphragmatically.

Our main focus here though is on making sure that there is no movement on the upper chest.  The next exercise will ensure we engage fully the diaphragm.


6.  Left hand behind on the mid back



  • After a couple of minutes move the left hand behind, to the mid-back.  So the right hand is on the upper abdomen and the back of the left hand on the mid-back.
  • Notice how the mid-back expands during the inhalation pushing the left hand out.
  • Notice how the mid-back contracts during the exhalation allowing the hand to move back in.
  • Try to feel both, the upper abdomen and the mid-back, expanding and contracting with each breath.
  • Make sure there is no tension on the back and no movement on the spine.
  • Do this for about two minutes.

This is the most difficult step but it is also the most important.  It is here where we actually feel the three-dimensional movement that characterizes the diaphragmatic breath.

If you feel no movement on the mid-back you just need to bring your full awareness to this area and imagine that you are breathing in and out through it.

Eventually, you will start feeling the movement of the back.


7.  Hands on the lower ribs



  • Now place the hands on the lower ribs, just above the waist.
  • Feel the breath moving deeply into the bottom part of the lungs.
  • Notice how the lower ribs expand on the inhalation.
  • Notice how the lower ribs contract on the exhalation.
  • Make sure there is no movement on the upper chest and shoulders.
  • Do this for about two minutes.

Here we are ensuring that the movement is in all three dimensions, not only the upper abdomen and back body but also the side body.
 
After this, you can relax the arms down placing the hands on the thighs or knees, and continue observing the breath for as long as you wish.


Conclusion


If you practice these breathing exercises regularly you will certainly experience the many benefits of diaphragmatic breathing.  

You will also understand, based on your own personal experience, the differences between belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.

Like I mentioned in my previous blog, diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation for meditation and pranayama.  That's why I always start my pranayama classes with this sequence. 

But not only that.  Diaphragmatic breathing is also crucial for mental and physical health, and even for physical performance.  So anybody can benefit from learning how to breathe diaphragmatically. 

If you would like to join my online classes you can subscribe to my mailing list here to be notified of my weekly schedule.  Once you subscribe you'll be able to download my free meditation e-book

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you Marco, for putting this together.
    I have experienced this. Your mindful and meditative way of teaching during your online pranayama classes really induce a sense of calm and tranquility in the students.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Dhananjay for your positive feedback. I'm happy to hear that you've had this experience during my classes. 🙏

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  2. Namaste Marco and Thank you thank you thank you for all the explanations and pdf and pictures - you are a great teacher xx

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