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.

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.


Kathryn Adel
Kathryn holds a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition as well as a Bachelor and a Master Degree in Kinesiology, all from Laval University. She is a Registered Dietitian and active member of the Ordre professionnel des Diététistes Nutritionnistes du Québec (ODNQ) and of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds the Monash University's certification for the FODMAP diet and IBS, and has considerable clinical experience in that area. She is also an accomplished athlete, having ran track and cross-country at a national level. Kathryn specializes in sports nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, as well as heart and gastrointestinal health.

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