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Is Diaphragmatic Breathing Bad For You?

Also Known As: Deep breathing, Belly breathing



Short answer

Diaphragmatic breathing, when done correctly, is not bad for you. It offers numerous benefits for stress reduction, improved oxygen exchange, and better respiratory function. It can also enhance sleep quality, physical performance, and recovery from exercise. However, incorrect technique can lead to issues like hyperventilation or muscle strain. Proper practice and potentially guidance from a professional can help maximize the benefits and minimize risks.



Long answer

Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing for Stress and Anxiety

Imagine you're caught in a swirl of work deadlines, family responsibilities, and the buzz of your smartphone - a recipe for rising stress and anxiety levels. Now, imagine if there were a simple, cost-free tool to help manage this emotional whirlwind. Enter diaphragmatic breathing, a practice that engages the large muscle at the base of the lungs and has been shown to be a powerful ally in the fight against stress and anxiety.

When we're stressed, our ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, and we often resort to shallow, chest-based breathing. This form of breathing can actually increase feelings of anxiety. Switching to diaphragmatic breathing does quite the opposite. Here are some of the specific ways it helps:

  • Activating the Relaxation Response: Deep, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain through the neck to the chest and abdomen. When this nerve is activated, it sends out a signal to your body to relax and calm down – this is known as the ‘relaxation response’.
  • Lowering Stress Hormones: Consistent practice of diaphragmatic breathing has been associated with reduced levels of cortisol, the body's stress hormone.
  • Reducing Blood Pressure and Heart Rate: A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology highlighted that diaphragmatic breathing techniques can lead to reduced blood pressure and heart rate, indicators often elevated by stress and anxiety.
  • Improving Oxygen Exchange: By engaging the diaphragm, this type of breathing maximizes the oxygen that comes into your body and aids the carbon dioxide to exit more efficiently. Better oxygen exchange can lead to increased feelings of calm and less strain on your body.
  • Enhancing Mindfulness and Present-Moment Awareness: The practice of focusing on your breath is a fundamental aspect of mindfulness meditation – a technique praised for its stress-relieving qualities. Diaphragmatic breathing requires you to pay attention to your breathing pattern, anchoring you in the present moment and distracting from stressors.
  • Alleviating Physical Symptoms of Anxiety: For those experiencing physical signs of anxiety, such as muscle tension, diaphragmatic breathing can be particularly beneficial in reducing these symptoms.

While the immediate impact of diaphragmatic breathing on stress and anxiety is clear, the long-term benefits should not be overlooked. Incorporating this practice into a daily routine can lead to sustained improvements in overall well-being and can be a reservoir of calm during high-pressure moments. It's a natural, accessible form of self-care that encourages a holistic approach to mental health.

Likewise, individuals with anxiety disorders have shown improvements when using diaphragmatic breathing as a complementary therapy, as reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. While it's not a standalone treatment for anxiety, when used alongside other strategies, it forms a robust defense against the stress of modern life.

It’s essential, however, to acknowledge that diaphragmatic breathing is a skill – and like any skill, it takes practice. When first starting out, many find it helpful to place a hand on the belly to ensure that it rises and falls with each breath, as a gentle indicator that they're on the right track.

The simplicity of diaphragmatic breathing belies its power. By incorporating it into your stress management toolkit, you are taking a proactive step towards cultivating resilience against life’s everyday pressures and improving your mental and physical health. Just a few minutes a day can serve as a tranquil refuge from the chaos, bringing a profound sense of peace to an overactive mind.

Potential Risks of Incorrect Diaphragmatic Breathing Techniques

When we talk about diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep belly breathing, we're referring to a technique that involves fully engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when breathing. This method is generally beneficial and is often recommended for stress reduction, improved oxygen exchange, and better respiratory function. However, like any physical practice, diaphragmatic breathing must be performed correctly to avoid potential risks. Let’s uncover some of the concerns associated with improper techniques:

  • Exacerbation of Respiratory Conditions: For individuals with preexisting respiratory conditions such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), incorrect diaphragmatic breathing may exacerbate symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science highlighted the importance of proper technique in breathing exercises to avoid acute episodes in such chronic conditions.
  • Muscle Strain: Overexertion or incorrect form, like in any exercise, can lead to muscle strain. When attempting diaphragmatic breathing without proper guidance, there is a risk of straining the muscles in the neck, chest, and even the diaphragm itself. This is why starting with short sessions and potentially under the guidance of a professional is recommended.
  • Hyperventilation Risks: Breathing too deeply or rapidly can disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, potentially leading to hyperventilation. Symptoms of hyperventilation include lightheadedness, dizziness, and a tingling sensation in the limbs.
  • Anxiety and Panic: Although diaphragmatic breathing is advocated for its calming effects, improper execution may induce the opposite in some individuals. Those with anxiety disorders might feel more anxious if they focus too much on breathing or if they feel they can’t get the technique right, potentially leading to panic attacks.
  • Discomfort and Pain: Incorrect breathing technique can sometimes lead to discomfort or even pain. Engaging the wrong muscles, such as those in the upper chest, or not breathing at a natural rhythm for your body can cause tension and pain over time.
  • Incorrect Practice leading to Inefficacy: To gain the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, consistent and correct practice is essential. Otherwise, individuals may become discouraged by a perceived lack of results and potentially miss out on the technique's possible health benefits.

It's worth noting, however, that these risks are generally associated with incorrect practice. With proper technique and, if necessary, professional guidance, diaphragmatic breathing is a low-risk and beneficial practice for most people. Should you decide to incorporate it into your daily routine, consider doing so under the supervision or with the advice of a healthcare professional or a qualified breathing coach, especially if you have existing health concerns.

For those eager to start, remember that gentle increments are key. Start with just a few minutes of focused breathing a couple of times a day, and gradually increase the time and frequency as your body acclimates. It's not just about the action of breathing deeply; it’s about making each breath intentional, controlled, and relaxed. By mindfully practicing, you can minimize potential risks and maximize the calm-inducing, oxygen-boosting rewards that this practice can offer your life.

Diaphragmatic Breathing and Its Impact on Sleep Quality

Anyone who's ever tossed and turned at night knows that good sleep can sometimes be elusive. What if I told you that the way you breathe could be a game-changer for your slumber? Diaphragmatic breathing, a practice that focuses on deep, even breaths from the belly rather than shallow breaths from the chest, can have a significant impact on sleep quality.

The Basics: How Diaphragmatic Breathing Works

Before we dive into how this breathing technique affects sleep, let's understand the basics. Diaphragmatic breathing engages the diaphragm, causing it to move downwards, thereby allowing the lungs to expand fully and your body to take in more oxygen. The practice encourages a full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not only that, but it can slow down the heartbeat and stabilize or lower blood pressure, creating a state of calm.

Diaphragmatic Breathing and Sleep Stages

Research has consistently shown that deep, controlled breathing can influence our nervous system in ways that are conducive to sleep. When you practice diaphragmatic breathing, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system — sometimes referred to as the "rest and digest" system. By doing so, you can enhance your ability to transition into deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. This is important because deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, is when the body repairs itself, and the mind consolidates memories and learning.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety Before Bedtime

One of the barriers to good sleep is stress. High levels of stress hormones like cortisol can keep you lying awake, counting the imperfections on your ceiling. Diaphragmatic breathing can act as a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system, reducing stress and paving the way for a peaceful night's rest. By practicing this technique before bedtime, you can decrease anxiety, quiet your mind, and set a calm stage for sleep. Remember, your bedroom should be a sanctuary, and your pre-sleep ritual is like the welcome mat.

Studies Supporting Diaphragmatic Breathing for Sleep Improvement

  • A 2018 study published in 'Frontiers in Psychology' found that participants who performed diaphragmatic breathing exercises before bed improved their sleep quality.
  • The 'Journal of Clinical Nursing' reported in 2012 that slow, deep breaths can help manage insomnia and sleep disturbances in people with chronic illness.
  • A 2019 study in the 'Journal of Affective Disorders' suggests that diaphragmatic breathing may be beneficial for sleep by reducing cognitive arousal and worry — common culprits behind insomnia.

While investigating how to incorporate diaphragmatic breathing into a nightly routine, the evidence suggests pacing your breath to about six breaths per minute, which seems to be particularly effective. Engaging in this practice for 10-20 minutes before turning off the lights could be just what you need for a ticket to dreamland.

Takeaway Tips for Practicing Diaphragmatic Breathing for Better Sleep

  • Lie down on your back and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you breathe in through your nose, focus on your belly rising more than your chest.
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips, making the exhale longer than the inhale.
  • Practice this technique during the day to become comfortable with it, so it feels natural come bedtime.

So is diaphragmatic breathing bad for you, specifically when it comes to sleep quality? The resounding answer seems to be no — in fact, this soothing practice can be an efficient and simple way to help you slip into a more peaceful night of Zs. Like many self-improvement practices, though, the benefit comes with consistency. So make a habit of it, and sweet dreams might just be a deep breath away.

The Role of Diaphragmatic Breathing in Physical Performance and Recovery

Diaphragmatic breathing, often referred to as deep belly breathing, is a foundational technique that has been shown to affect physical performance and recovery positively. When we engage our diaphragm during breathing, we are utilizing the primary muscle intended for this purpose, leading to more efficient and effective respiration. Here's how this simple practice can influence our fitness and recuperation processes:

  • Enhanced Oxygen Efficiency: Deep breathing allows for a greater volume of air to fill the lungs, which means more oxygen can be delivered to working muscles during exercise. The increased oxygenation can enhance endurance and reduce the onset of fatigue, as suggested by studies on athletic performance.
  • Lower Stress Response: Diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the 'rest and digest' system, which helps to decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Reduced cortisol levels can improve focus and concentration during physical activities, as per the findings of sports psychology research.
  • Improved Core Stability: Regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing can also strengthen the diaphragm and surrounding core muscles. This improved stability is beneficial for athletes, as a strong core can enhance overall performance, balance, and power output, as indicated by studies in exercise physiology.
  • Better Lactic Acid Clearance: By taking deeper breaths, we could potentially help our body to clear lactic acid more efficiently during and after high-intensity exercise. This practice could result in reduced soreness and quicker recovery times, as explored in research on exercise recovery.
  • Enhanced Relaxation for Recovery: The calming effects of diaphragmatic breathing may also aid in recovery post-exercise by promoting relaxation and reducing muscle tension. This is crucial for the repair processes that take place during rest, as discussed in reviews of recovery strategies in sports medicine.

While diaphragmatic breathing has clear benefits for physical performance and recovery, it is important to approach it as a supplementary practice to your regular training routine. Incorporating deep breathing exercises into your warm-up and cool-down routines can help condition your body to use the diaphragm more naturally, even when you're not thinking about it. As always, consistency is key, and the more you integrate diaphragmatic breathing into your schedule, the more likely you are to reap its performance-enhancing benefits.

However, it's also worth noting that like any practice, diaphragmatic breathing should be done correctly to avoid potential drawbacks, such as hyperventilation or dizziness, which could occur with improper technique. Learning the correct way to engage in diaphragmatic breathing from a certified instructor, such as a sports therapist or a yoga practitioner, can help mitigate these risks and ensure you are using this valuable tool to its full potential.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, diaphragmatic breathing can improve cognitive function. By increasing oxygen supply to the brain and reducing stress hormone levels, this breathing technique can enhance concentration, focus, and mental clarity. Additionally, it supports mindfulness, which is beneficial for cognitive health.

To ensure you're practicing diaphragmatic breathing correctly, start by lying flat with a hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall. You can seek guidance from breathing coaches, sports therapists, or yoga instructors. Breathing should be slow and controlled, without discomfort or dizziness.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing such as relaxation can be felt immediately. However, long-term advantages like lowered stress hormone levels and improved respiratory function typically require consistent practice over weeks to months to become more evident.

While diaphragmatic breathing is generally safe for most people, those with respiratory conditions like COPD or asthma should consult a healthcare provider before starting. Similarly, individuals with certain health issues might require guidance to ensure the technique does not exacerbate symptoms.

Ask a question about Diaphragmatic Breathing and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • hyperventilation
  • muscle strain
  • discomfort
  • anxiety and panic


  • activates relaxation response
  • lowers stress hormones
  • reduces blood pressure and heart rate
  • improves oxygen exchange
  • enhances mindfulness
  • alleviates physical symptoms of anxiety
  • improves sleep quality
  • improves physical performance and recovery
  • enhances core stability

Healthier alternatives

  • mindfulness meditation
  • controlled breathing techniques
  • professional breathing coaching

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-23-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-23-2024

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