Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises: Keep Respiratory System And Lungs Strong
| April 23, 2009
The diaphragm is a large muscle, resting along the base of the rib cage in a horizontal position, and connected along the sides, back and front of the rib cage. In shape it is like an upside down oval dinner bowl or plate.
When we inhale, the muscles of the diaphragm contract. They pull downward, in such a manner that the ribs flare outwards slightly, while the bottom of the lungs is pulled down to expand, thus sucking in air. When we exhale, the muscles are released, allowing air to be expelled.
When we do deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises, the space between the breast bone and upper abdomen pushes inwards a little, allowing complete exhalation. We do not use the abdominal and chest muscles in diaphragmatic breathing. But, because of stress, most of us have inculcated bad breathing habits, where we use the chest and abdomen. This creates more tension and is extended to a mental chatter, leading to more stress. It would take time and practice to learn diaphragmatic breathing the correct way, whereby the chest and abdomen will be completely motionless and only the diaphragm region will show motion.
Such diaphragmatic breathing exercises, which is done consciously, relaxes the autonomic nervous system. It is essential as one of the preparations for, and is a foundation for meditation.
There are some yoga postures followed by pranayama which will help us learn and inculcate the best diaphragmatic breathing exercise
- You can start with any of the forward bends, since they strengthen the muscles needed for exhaling.
- Back bends are also helpful. They cause the chest muscles to open up, since they are done in a standing position.
- The Mountain Pose (Tadasana) is helpful for opening up the chest.
- The Warrior Pose I (Veerasana) strengthens the muscles used in breathing
- The Cobra Pose and Cat Pose also make the respiratory system strong.
- Side bends increase the rib cage’s flexibility.
Doing these exercises in Pranayama (breath exercises) will help you do diaphragmatic breathing
- Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma-Viloma) - In this we close one nostril at a time and breathe in and out through it. This creates a balance by clearing both the nostrils for proper breathing.
- Ocean Breath (Ujjayi) - During Ujjayi, you breathe in while partly closing the glottis. You can feel air flowing on your palate, and a resonating sound can be heard from inside.
- Bee (Brahmari) – during this breathing exercise, you close the lips, and make a smooth, gentle buzzing sound in your throat. This makes the breath even, and vibrates the mouth, jaw and throat.
- Spinal Breath – this is another step to learning diaphragmatic breathing. You can do it sitting or lying down. You imagine that your breath is flowing smoothly from the top of your head to the base of your spine and vice versa.
- Complete Breath (Deergha swasam), Bellows (Bhastrika) and Breath of Fire (Agniprasana) all help in progressing toward diaphragmatic breathing.