Nestled under the rib cage at the base of the lungs, the diaphragm is the body’s best breathing muscle. Here’s how it works: When we breathe in, our diaphragm flattens out and moves down, creating a vacuum for air to rush into; when we breath out, our diaphragm relaxes and moves up, pushing air up and out of our lungs. While our diaphragm is always working, we often don’t use it as much or as well as we could. Think of bending over to pick up a heavy box and straining your lower back instead of squatting down and lifting from your legs. That’s what shallow breathing is like — using your chest and neck to pump air in and out when there’s a much stronger muscle (the diaphragm) made for the job that’s waiting for some action.
Yoga is an incredible practice for engaging with the breath; we are constantly reminded to return to it, witness it, and listen to it. But off the mat it can be easier to let the thread of breath slip away.
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing is a super simple way to breathe more deeply wherever we are, immediately increasing the amount of oxygen in our system and blood in our brains.
First, try it lying down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, following the movement of the diaphragm as it fills with air. If you’re breathing into your diaphragm your top hand will stay where it is while your bottom hand will rise as the belly fills. On the exhale, follow the movement of the diaphragm in and up. Continue until you feel euphoric.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of diaphragmatic breathing in a supine position, try it sitting and standing. The more aware you become of the sensation of deep, vital breaths, the easier it is to recognize when you move back into shallow, chest-centered breathing. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is an absolutely ace relaxation tool to have in your arsenal. Try it the next time you feel unfocused, tired, irritated, disconnected or just want to get a little high, au natural.