Belly breathing, what is it?

Belly breathing is not breathing air into your belly as the only part of you that fills with air is your lungs. Belly breathing is using your diaphragm to breathe rather than using your chest muscles.

When we breathe using our chest muscles, our chest will move in and out as we breathe in and out. When we use our diaphragm, the muscle under our lungs, your belly moves in and out or up and down (depending on how you are seated or lying).

So why belly breathing?

Belly breathing is a way to relax and calm yourself, we should be belly breathing when we are at rest. So as you read this be aware of how you are breathing and if your tummy isn’t moving then you are chest breathing, try to belly breath so that your tummy is moving more than your chest.

Chest breathing is for activity, if you are moving, walking, running or doing some sort of activity your body needs oxygen, your muscles need oxygen to work effectively. Chest breathing gets the air into your lungs so that your body can be supplied with oxygen. Chest breathing gets O2 to where it’s needed.

Belly breathing is, as mentioned above, for rest periods, you may be watching tv, lying in the bath, meditating, doing activities where you aren’t moving too much. Oxygen is still needed but not in as great a demand as if we were/are active.

Belly breathing has a calming affect on us too, it sends the message out that we are at rest and don’t need to be ready for action, our body doesn’t need a large amount of oxygen.

Belly breathing stimulates your vagus nerve and can reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the “relaxation response” of your parasympathetic nervous system. Put basically, belly breathing relaxes your whole body.

The vagus nerve is connected to nearly every organ in your body (the only one it isn’t connected to is your adrenal glands that sit on top of your kidneys). Your parasympathetic nervous system is also activated in times of little activity, when you are at rest and is concerned with ‘resting and digesting’. Your body needs rest so that it can do some of those background ‘things’ or processes that it does and that we aren’t aware of, digesting being one of them.

The easiest way to learn how to belly breathe, I find, is to lie down, place your hand on your belly and watch it go up and down as you take steady deep breaths. Once you feel you have mastered it then try it sitting, watching your hand move in and out as you breath.

Belly breathing is something that you can do almost anywhere and is helpful for anxiety, stress, anger, frustration, anything that gets you feeling agitated in some way.

People who suffer from anxiety disorders are often chest breathers, you can sometimes tell by watching them. They will often move their shoulders as they breath, not always every breathe but they will raise their shoulders as if they are trying to fill their lungs more. Even at rest they will use their chest rather than belly breathe.

Chest breathing is the body being on high alert, ready for action, the flight or fight mode, which I am sure you will be aware of (if not then please do let me know and I can do something about it).

So people who suffer from anxiety, anger, panic will find belly breathing helpful, they may need to practise it more than some. Make sure you practise during times of okness, times when everything is ok, not during times of stress or anxiety.

Helen Goad

Hypnotherapy Works

BWRT Penrith

Here is a link you may find helpful:

https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/preventing-falls/fear-and-anxiety-about-falling/relaxation-techniques