If you’ve been around the yoga block a few times, you will no doubt have heard the instruction to ‘breathe into your belly’ – and that direction may have had you stumped.  After all, your abdomen doesn’t have lungs (they’re housed up in your rib cage) – so how could you possibly breathe into your belly?

The answer lies in your diaphragm.  The relaxed diaphragm is shaped like a dome that attaches to the inner surface of the lower six ribs, the lumbar vertebrae and the xyphoid process.  It has a completely unique shape, location and function.  The diaphragm separates the contents of your rib cage (lungs and heart) from the contents of your abdomen (organs).  And while most other muscles exist to create movement across joints, the diaphragm’s job is to create breath.

When the diaphragm’s muscle fibers contract, it increases the volume of the thoracic cavity (area inside the rib cage). This creates a vacuum – and air rushes into the lungs to fill the empty space (that’s an inhalation).

The contracted diaphragm is pulled downward into the abdominal cavity, causing the belly to swell as it gently presses against your abdominal organs.

On exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, the lungs deflate and it ‘domes’ back up inside the rib cage.  As it domes up, the pressure is off the organs and the belly softens and sinks back.

In belly breathing, you simply tune in to the continuous rise and fall of the belly, caused by the movement of the diaphragm. It’s demonstrated in the video clip below and also on the 10 Minute Quick Fix for Stress Relief.

Watch our stress relief videos instantly.

Read how to breath away stress.

Read more about your diaphragm.

Amanda Tripp

It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp ... who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda's classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

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Véronique Lamothe

Too relaxing this breath. It is my favorite.

Bree

Thank you so much for this. Through this work, I’m really starting to feel a stronger connection to the movement of my diaphragm, instead of just pushing out my low belly. Seemingly simple, but incredibly profound.

bee pallomina

I never thought about the inhale as being a contraction of the diaphragm (although i knew the action was a lowering). Very cool, this makes so much sense in terms of the exhale have a calming effect on the body and the inhale being energizing.

John

So simple yet not always easy. Most of us tend to breathe only into the chest – I know I do, especially when stressed. Thanks for the short and sweet description of how the diaphragm works. Side note: I always get confused about contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm, because the dome shape “looks” like contraction to me. Maybe that’s just me!

Rick Widdifield

The diaphragm is such a mysterious muscle deep in the body. We have so little ability to actually feel the diaphragm directly so I we have to look for clues that we can see and feel that result from diaphragmatic engagement and release. It’s great to think about the diaphragm giving the heart a little massage (connected fascially to bottom of the heart) and even extended down to the poas and the QL and abdominal viscera. It not only is the biggest muscle of respiration but it’s like having a little internal massage therapist working all the time. And the… Read more »

Sharon

reading the description of the diaphragm the picture develops in my head(from memory of the anatomy books!) and immediately sit up and play with the movement! we all need reminders to breathe better!

Aude

Great description of the inner working of the diaphragm! I will definitely start visualizing a dome like shape as I exhale and relax the diaphragm.

Janine

Great to have the “Sedating, tranquilizing” techniques for use at any time!

Angie

I love your emphasis on the unique function of the diaphragm as compared to other muscles in the body. I have found that students respond to the belly breath cue much differently when they have a better understanding of what it is exactly. I look forward to coming back to this post as a reminder of the interconnectedness of the diaphragm along with the benefits of massaging the abdominal organs.

Chantal Gray

Thanks Amanda. I’m sure the idea of belly breathing is confusing to many! I love your explanation of how the diaphragm works – it’s simple and clear. I’ll be sure to tune into my breath for a few minutes before I tackle my homework tonight!!

Amanda Tripp

Thank you for your comment, Victoria. One of my students (who is 91) found her way into my class a few years ago, shortly after daughter lost her battle with breast cancer. She recently confided that the breathing techniques were what got her through that darkest time of her life and breath work is what continues to keep her coming back. Breath is powerful medicine! Your students and kids are lucky to have you to teach them this incredibly valuable tool.

Victoria Ryder-Burbidge

There have been many times in my life when I have found myself busy and feeling overwhelmed. By changing how I breathe and actually allowing the diaphragm to do what it is designed to do when breathing, has been the silver bullet to getting through those times. I am a true believer. I will now teach it to my college students to help prep them for exams and for practicals. My children have been coached in this when they are having trouble sleeping as well. If a students takes nothing but how to breath from my class, I am happy.

Courtney K

One of the biggest take away’s so far from YTU has been to recognize and pay attention to my diaphragm. I never understood its strong centralized influence over the body and through breathing, the mind. Moving forward throughout my practice and one day teaching, it will be important to focus and emphasize the power and control of the diaphragm. It is important to understand how it works for many reasons, but an important one for me will be to feel the diaphragm and controlling it to help better understand and direct all styles of breathing.

Lindsay Smith

I love starting my classes/sessions with abdominal breathing. It’s an area that so many of us are uncomfortable accessing and thus hold our breath just within the lungs. I always have to remind my students air has zero calories. Fill up! It’s better than (dare I say) three twins mint ice cream with all of the calories removed. 😉 I find that it immediately calms the mind, and once settled into it has a much deeper affect on the entire nervous system and body. Providing a guided breath incorporating the belly breath is another way to really draw someone into… Read more »

Di Anderson

This is a great review of what we went over in class last night! The concept is a little daunting at first but then after a little visualization and conscious breath it clicked. I am definitely more literate in my inspiration and expiration process knowledge and can’t wait for more concepts to click for I have no doubt that it will enhance my practice and teaching abilities.

Steeve

The Diaphragm is such a wonderful muscle. By simply looking at it’s attachments, and how profound these attachments truly are (Xyphoid Process, my lower 6 ribs, and my Lumbar Vertebrae) I can really appreciate how important my Diaphragm is to me.

Now, add that little detail about the Diaphragm being responsible for my breath… You’ve got more than my attention.

Without the breath, I am nothing. If and when control my breathing, everything I do improves!

Thank you Mr. Diaphragm..

Sophie Maranda

I have recently begun to think about breathing as it affects my voice. I’ve been taking voice therapy to learn to better project my voice, as I struggle with damaged vocal chords. My speech language pathologist also advised me to breathe into my belly, saying that this is the most complete and fullest breath possible (as opposed to simply expanding the ribs), which will help by placing less exertion on my throat. Learning to breathe into the belly, thus, has benefits beyond relaxation and stress reduction..

rebecca miller

Today’s Savasana focused on the belly breathe. A good tool to use with seniors who often breath from the chest, shallow & short.

alysa farrell

Learning how to breathe correctly is for most of us elusive! and for some reason understanding the function of the diaphram was even more so for me! I liked how straight forward your article was. Being a new student in YTU the diaphram and muscles of respiration are beginning to be less mysterious. Also the understanding of training proper posture and balance in the rest of the body, the diaphragm naturally strengthens and works in concert with surrounding structures rather than in isolated act. Its all very amazing. Knowledge is Power!

Jocelyn Larson

This is a great way to issolate the breathe. You can focus on the inhale and exhale indidually. Learning how to breathe correctly is extremely important to calm the nervous system. In yoga when we want to advance in our practice it is sometimes our nervous system that holds us back, inversions are a great example of this, but learning to control it can allow us to better our practice. Learning this basic exercise will enable you to advance in your practice by letting your nervous sytem remain calm as you master a given posture! Also the heart is directly… Read more »

Cindy

I actually found myself imagining the contraction and relation of the diaphragm as I read the article. I often start out class with breathing on the back, but I was unaware that this was the most relaxing way to breath. What a great way to start out class! I like the visuals that this article presents when talking about belly breathing, yet another tool in the belt of teaching!

Ada-Reva Spae

I have often wondered about belly breathing, of course it makes sense that deep breathing is essential to taming the flight and fight response, but belly breathing often eluded me. how does breathing into an are where there is no lung tissue affect relaxation, A-ha. The diaphagm, of course this makes sense, in yoga tune up training and it’s training manual it speaks of how it takes 5 minutes for the body to reach a state of deep relaxation, the video which focuses on using the terms inhale and exhale, brings the body to calmness as it stimulates the diaphragm… Read more »

Jamie Leigh

I’m finding this technique quite helpful to get me to sleep at night these days as I juggle Yoga Tune Up Teacher training, finishing school and preparing to move to hawaii in a few weeks. My brain is in a constant state of TURNED ON and this is sooooo helpful at getting me into my body and out into the dream world!

Destiny

Great video! I liked the demo that displayed using the mental picture of feeling your belly rise and fall. It provided a good example for me of how to stop, lie down, relax, and connect to my breathe in times of stress.

nicole b

Great video, thanks for sharing. One of my favorite breathing exercises (really does help with stress/anxiety).

Margaux

A really good exercise and video, thank you for sharing! The benefits of abdominal breathing is an easy way to relax not just yourself or fellow yogis, but something you can help friends and strangers with during emergencies or emotional tough times. During abdominal breathing I like to tell people to think of their breath slowly moving in and out. I’ve found it helps bring people into the moment since when you breathe you never think about your previous or future breath, you only think about your current breath.