The diaphragm is a large muscle that sits below the lungs. It helps move air in and out of the lungs.
Normal breathing is relatively shallow and does not use the full capacity of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a deep breathing exercise that fully engages the diaphragm and increases the efficiency of the lungs.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique taught to gastrointestinal patients to help them manage stress caused by GI conditions, like IBS.
Focusing one’s breath is an effective way to encourage the body to relax. When practicing diaphragmatic breathing, the stomach, rather than the chest, moves with each breath, expanding while inhaling and contracting while exhaling. Specifically paying attention to each breath serves to distract and quiet the mind.
For those suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, diaphragmatic breathing offers specific benefits: Activating the diaphragm creates a gentle massaging action felt by internal organs like the intestines and stomach, which can reduce abdominal pain, urgency, bloating and constipation. While diaphragmatic breathing, you are facilitating the activation of the parasympathetic system, which can be thought of as the relaxation response of the body or the “rest and digest” state. Diaphragmatic breathing can help in specific GI-related situations:
- Diarrhea and urgency: Diaphragmatic breathing can help calm the digestive track and ease those moments of panic (i.e. “I MUST get to the bathroom immediately!”).
- Constipation: Diaphragmatic breathing can be used while sitting on the toilet attempting to have a bowel movement to calm and massage the system. The result may be a more complete bowel movement.
Learning to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Sit or lie in a comfortable place. Close your eyes.
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. The bottom hand should do the moving. The top hand should remain still or only move as the bottom hand moves.
- Inhale through your nose for about 4 seconds, feeling your abdomen expand. (You may feel slight tension the first few times you inhale.)
- Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
- Exhale very slowly and steadily through your mouth for about 6 seconds. The mouth should be relaxed.
- Repeat for 5-15 minutes.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Demonstrations from Michigan Medicine and UCLA
>> Demonstration video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/UB3tSaiEbNY
>> Demonstration video: https://www.youtube.com/embed/g2wo2Impnfg
Michigan Medicine: Diaphragmatic Breathing for GI Patients
UCLA: Integrative Digestive Health and Wellness Program
Last updated on Jan 14, 2021