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YogaDork Ed: Abdominal Breathing – Your Immediate “How To” for Stress Relief

in YogaDork Ed


breathing-muscles-inhale-exhaleby Jill Miller

The physiological effects of Abdominal Breathing (belly breathing) is a gift we’ve been given, but too many of us have become accustomed to Thoracic Breathing (chest breathing) and end up living in a state of fight or flight. Watch this video below for your how to guide for abdominal breathing, but first, let me explain….

Abdominal breathing, once you become conscious of it, is easy to do and is the way we were born to breathe. If you watch a baby, it will belly breathe naturally. It is only once we take on the daily stressors of life that thoracic breathing takes on its evil grip.

Here’s how it works: Abdominal breathing relies on the unimpeded motion of the respiratory diaphragm. This dome shaped muscle contracts downward towards your abdominal viscera during inhalation; this creates a vacuum in the lungs and air then rushes in to fill the void. The diaphragm’s downward motion jostles and shifts the abdominal contents in all directions and this creates a bloating or swelling of the core.

As the body exhales, the respiratory diaphragm relaxes and flows back up towards the lungs, expelling the out-breath as it resets itself into its docile mushroom cap-like position. The abdominal muscles and its contents recoil and sink towards the spine as the diaphragm migrates towards the lungs. The downwards and upwards movements of the respiratory diaphragm create the appearance and sensation of the “belly rise, belly fall,” action that you’ll experience in this sedating breathing exercise.

Abdominal breathing helps to turn ON the OFF SWITCH in the nervous system. It tranquilizes a body and mind that is stressed, aroused and “up-regulated” into a calmer, more sedated, “down-regulated” state. Practice abdominal breathing to “chill out,” and collect your cool if you feel yourself spiraling towards panic. Let me know how it works for you…Happy Belly Breathing!



14 comments… add one
  • Great! Donna Farhi’s “The Breathing Book” also gives great information on the physiology and practice of abdominal breathing. She also explains the effects of thoracic breathing on the nervous system. It’s my go-to resource for understanding breathing.

  • nice text summary of abdominal breathing, “Abdominal breathing helps to turn ON the OFF SWITCH in the nervous system”

    and nice visuals in the video, esp liked the closed captions, really helps!


  • Abdominal breathing is glorious and deeply relaxing, but I think we might be careful not to vilify thoracic breathing! Ideally we humans can breathe in many different ways, in many different situations. Even in the space of our yoga practice, we may mobilize our breathing patterns in different ways, depending on what we are doing. For example, don’t try to practice belly breathing in Vira 3- you might fall over! But lying down in supta baddha konasana- belly breathe away- yum!

    • David D

      Joanna’s comments are spot on. We should not vilify thoracic breathing, which is useful, normal, and, at times, probably optimal (Vira 3 is a great example). I would also point out that there seems to be an implication in the article that thoracic breathing, in and of itself, does not properly use the diaphragm or does so inefficiently, which is not accurate.

      • B

        Completely agree. Also wonder why there seems to be a perception that people generally “chest breathe” rather than belly breathe because of life’s traumas/stresses etc. (Babies breathe into their bellies because they are babies and adults should not be trying to emulate babies’ underdeveloped bodies, but that’s another story)
        Anyway, I find most of my students are stuck in a belly breath pattern and are locked out in their chests (and struggle to unlock the tightness of their chest when breathing ujjaiyi for example) so I wonder why so many people describe something that I do not find true for my students or myself. They seem to be talking about an extreme situation, like hyperventilation, when in reality most people tend to “belly breathe” anyway. Seems to me people need to learn the opposite– breathing deeper into their chest and finding space and freedom in all parts of their bodies.

  • we’re discussing belly breathing and the languaging of same right now at my house…..http://lindasyoga.blogspot.com/2011/07/yoga-miscellaneous-healing.html

  • Sorry if I created any confusion around the awesome-ness of thoracic breathing. In the space of 650 words, it is difficult to bring to light all of the glory of the respiratory diaphragm and its physiological and functional impact on the body, breath and nervous system. Thoracic breathing is super important for our bodies, as is it’s northern-most neighbor, clavicular breathing. Breathing requires training and awareness, as dysfunctional breathing is wide-spread…I see this daily with new students in my classrooms. Most folks who have chronic pain and injury also have some disconnect to a well-functioning breath pattern….which directly connects to stress. What I meant with this article to build awareness and recognition of the base-line of healthy breathing, which is to have a mobile and responsive diaphragm. Belly breathing can help to start this process.

  • Very nicely done video. I like how you broke down the breathing in the text. Definitely found it helpful, and the breathing is very calming, not if I could just do it all the time!

  • Hi Jill, I’d like to say thank you for sharing the video and information. I found it very useful and it will help me loads. I hope there is more to come. 🙂


  • COOL discussing this at my school lol so relaxing

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