Diaphragm Breathing in 4 Easy Steps

October 31, 2022 , , ,

The autonomic nervous system, which regulates all involuntary bodily processes, is divided into two systems with opposite actions: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. These control the effects of stress and relaxation on the body. The sympathetic nervous system can sometimes release too many hormones and cause a high state of tension, while the parasympathetic nervous system works to reduce this excessive release of hormones, promoting relaxation.
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Stress is both a cause and a consequence of digestive symptoms. It is a vicious circle. For example, having pain or urgency to go to the bathroom can cause a lot of stress. In turn, stress can worsen digestive symptoms by activating the sympathetic nervous system which releases hormones that can affect digestion, more specifically motility and visceral hypersensitivity.

Diaphragm breathing has been used for centuries. This is a very simple technique that allows you to relax, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and break the cycle of symptoms and stress. It has been shown to improve gut motility and reduce pain perception.

Here’s how to perform diaphragm breathing in four steps:

  1. Lie down comfortably with your legs stretched out in front of you.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen above your belly button.
  3. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Your mouth should be open for exhalation. This should be done slowly. Count to five with each inhale/hold/exhale. The goal is for your abdomen to lift when you inhale and relax when you exhale, while your chest and shoulders remain still. To help you achieve this, imagine a balloon that is inflating and deflating inside your abdomen.
  4. Practice this breathing exercise for five minutes, at least once a day, and ideally three times a day in case of digestive symptoms.

Note: When you feel proficient, you can try to perform this exercise while sitting or standing.

Author

Kathryn Adel
Kathryn completed degrees in kinesiology and nutrition, as well as a Masters in Sports Nutrition. She is a member of OPDQ and of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She ran track and cross-country at a national level. Kathryn specializes in sports nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, as well as heart and gastrointestinal health. Kathryn is experienced with the low FODMAP diet and she completed the Monash University low FODMAP dietitian's training.

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