Do you really know how to breathe? | Simon Altman B.HSc CMA

We all breathe every day, but do you really know how to breathe properly?  Traditional Chinese Medicine has always promoted diaphragmatic breathing, which is also known as abdominal breathing, belly breathing or simply deep breathing.


There are a wide range of health benefits associated with the use of regular deep breathing exercises.  This includes helping with issues such as stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches, stomach conditions, depression, anxiety and many more.

“Deep breathing involves slow and deep inhalation through the nose, usually to a count of 10, followed by slow and complete exhalation for a similar count. The process may be repeated 5 to 10 times, several times a day” – National Institute of Health

Generally speaking, as we go about our daily routines we breathe primarily using our chest.  Our breaths are superficial in that our chest expands and contracts as we breathe throughout the day.  It does takes practice to start breathing using your abdominal muscles rather than your chest.  This is especially true if you are not consciously noticing how you breathe normally which can be extremely shallow. When you start breathing deeply using your diaphragm you will notice your stomach or abdomen expand and relax rather than your chest.


Start by taking a slow breath in through your nose and expand your stomach out before inflating your chest out.  See if you can slowly breathe in with your diaphragm moving down as you naturally breathe in, then as your breath continues in allow your stomach to expand and then finally your lungs can increase before you slowly breathe out.   Exhalation occurs in the opposite way that inhalation does, allow your chest to deflate then your stomach and finally your diaphragm goes back to its normal position at the very end of your breath out.  You can then wait a moment and repeat the process.

The main points to master diaphragmatic breathing are:

  1. Inhale slowly through your nose.
  2. Feel your diaphragm moving down as your stomach expands.
  3. Feel your chest expanding as the final limits of your inhalation.
  4. Feel your chest contracting as you start to slowly exhale.
  5. Feel your stomach contract to its normal position as you continue to exhale.
  6. Feel your diaphragm return to normal as you notice your body starting to adjust to this new state of relaxation.


Deep breathing often occurs unconsciously when you are in a state of deep relaxation, meditating or are extremely relaxed.  However, Deep breathing can be done consciously throughout the day and can promote a range of positive health benefits.


Chinese physical practices such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong use deep breathing to promote the natural flow of energy throughout the body.   This encourages the body to start relaxing, recharging and has a direct effect on our nervous system.


Our Autonomic Nervous System is comprised of two parts, the Sympathetic Nervous System which is often considered our “fight or flight” response and the Parasympathetic Nervous System which is often considered to be the “rest and digest” aspect of our Autonomic Nervous system.


With the speed of our lives today there is a tendency for our sympathetic nervous system to be active for the majority of our day.  We rush in the morning to get ready for work or school and then quickly travel to our daytime destination.  During the day it is common to skip breaks, take a short amount of time for lunch and rush through our work, often coffee or energy drinks can be used to boost our energy if there is a slump somewhere in there.  Then we finish for the day, rush home, do any chores, prepare dinner, deal with children and other aspects of our nightly routine.  Then we possibly have some time to sit down and relax before going to sleep.


If we think about how much time in the day we spend using our sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” time compared to the more relaxed “rest and digest” aspect of the parasympathetic nervous system, we can see how out of balanced we can be.


Deep breathing is a conscious exercise that allows our body to start relaxing and switches your system over from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.  It allows your body to relax, take a moment and recharge.   Acupuncture also has a similar effect on the body that allows you to relax, take time out and switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.


Put some time aside each day to practice deep breathing.  A few moments a day is all that it takes at the beginning to start practicing deep breathing.  Deep breathing does take some practice at first as you have to retrain your body to consciously breathe in a relaxed manner.  Do not be discouraged if it takes a little time to master as once you have the knack you can use this technique for a few moments throughout the day and experience the health benefits associated with diaphragmatic breathing.

Simon is available for consultation at MCM Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
For bookings call p:59736886 or visit

Image: pinterest

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