Diaphragmatic Breathing (relaxation Technique): How Is It Done?

A summary of what diaphragmatic breathing is and how to use it as a relaxation technique.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing is a type of breathing in which the diaphragm muscle is used primarily to breathe.

In addition to being a type of breathing, it is also a relaxation technique, especially used in cases of panic disorder, other anxiety disorders or anxiety in general.

In this article we will tell you what this technique consists of, what it can help us for, what are the steps to follow to carry it out and what are its main advantages.

Diaphragmatic breathing (as a relaxation technique)

Diaphragmatic breathing, also called abdominal breathing, is a relaxation technique widely used in cases of people suffering from panic disorder, as well as other anxiety disorders.

Diaphragmatic breathing consists of deep and conscious breathing, which mainly involves using the diaphragm to breathe (although logically many other muscles and / or organs are participating in this physiological process). The diaphragm is a wide muscle that is located between the chest and abdominal cavities.

In this type of breathing, the area that works the most in our body is the lower area of ​​the lungs, which connect with the diaphragm and the abdomen. Thus, although technically the abdomen is not the one that “breathes”, this type of breathing receives this nomenclature.

Through diaphragmatic breathing, the lungs fill with air, which reaches its lower zone, as we have seen. Thanks to this, there is better ventilation in the body, we can capture more oxygen and there is better cleaning in the exhalation process.

Importance of the diaphragm

We have seen the importance of the diaphragm in this type of breathing; The key is to learn to be aware of its movement (since whenever we breathe, we unconsciously move the diaphragm), and to get to control it, intervening on it.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system

At the neurophysiological level, diaphragmatic respiration activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS); remember that this system is the one that forms, together with the sympathetic nervous system, the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The ANS (also called neurovegetative or visceral nervous system), is one that controls the involuntary functions of the viscera, that is, heart rate, respiratory function, digestion, salivation, sweating, urination …

For its part, the parasympathetic nervous system is what allows us to return to a state of rest after a moment or period of stress (on the other hand, the sympathetic nervous system is the one that activates us and “starts us up” in a stressful moment ).

Through the SNP, we emit relaxation responses through the regulation of different systems and devices, such as: the digestive, cardiovascular, genitourinary …

In this sense, the SNP allows our heart rate to slow down, to salivate more, for our breathing to slow down … in short, to relax.

Utilities of the technique

Diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation technique can help us overcome a panic disorder. In addition, it is a technique that we can use when we feel anxious or excessively nervous, which can help us breathe easier, inhaling more air.

Thus, its main use is to promote relaxation, which can indirectly improve other areas of our life (for example, it can make us more active and exercise more, feel a greater sense of well-being, concentrate better, etc. .).

How to practice it (steps)

As a breathing technique, diaphragmatic breathing consists of the following: it involves the person (or the patient) learning to breathe with the diaphragm (that is, with the abdomen or belly) instead of with the chest.

Thus, the person is taught to control breathing through the relaxation of the abdominal muscles and the contraction of the diaphragm, relaxing the intercostal muscles.

Through diaphragmatic breathing, an abdominal breathing exercise is performed. But what exactly is it? We are going to know the steps necessary to carry out this relaxation technique:

1. Make yourself comfortable

First of all we will sit in a chair that is comfortable for us (we can also choose to lie on our back, with a pillow under our head). In both cases, however, it is important that our back is supported.

2. Place your hands

The second step in diaphragmatic breathing is to place your hands; one on the chest, and one on the abdomen (the abdomen is located just above the stomach).

3. Inhale

We will start by taking air through the nose slowly and deeply. While we perform this action, we must count to three (there are variants of the technique where we count to two), trying to fill all the lungs, while we observe how the abdomen comes out.

We will see how, as we inhale the air, our hand rises slightly (because the abdomen “rises”, it swells). It is important here to keep the chest still.

4. Take a break

In the next step of this diaphragmatic breathing exercise, we will take a short pause, which will last a few seconds.

5. Exhale

Next, we will proceed to release the air through our mouth slowly while we count to three ; We will do it by expelling the air with our lips together and almost closed. We will immediately notice how the abdomen moves inwards (the stomach sinks).


We will follow the following sequence: inhale for a count of three, and expel for a count of three (there are variants in which you inhale for a count of two, and exhale for a count of four, it all depends on our needs and preferences).

Through these sequences, we will achieve slow, deep and even breathing.

6. Practice

The last step of diaphragmatic breathing involves practicing. In the beginning, the ideal is to practice the technique for five to ten minutes each day, three to four times a day.

As we internalize it, we can and must increase the time and frequency of daily practice.

Advantages of diaphragmatic breathing

What are the advantages of using diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation technique? Logically, its main advantage is that it can ** help us overcome a panic disorder, as well as some other anxiety disorder. **

However, if we also use this type of breathing in our day to day, and / or in situations of stress or anxiety, the advantages that we can obtain from it are even more numerous:

  • The lungs are thoroughly ventilated and cleaned.
  • There is an objective and subjective feeling of relaxation in the body.
  • The lungs receive a high amount of oxygen.
  • There is a stimulation of the circulation and the heart.
  • There is an improvement in intestinal transit.
  • There is a massage in the different organs involved.
  • Our natural way of breathing improves (with practice).

Bibliographic references:

  • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Vol. 1 and 2. Madrid. XXI century (Chapters 1-8, 16-18).
  • Guyton, AC & Hall, J. (2006). Treaty of Medical Physiology. Elsevier; 11th edition.
  • Martínez-González, L., Olvera-Villanueva, G. and Villarreal-Ríos, E. (2018). Effect of the deep breathing technique on the level of anxiety in older adults. Revista de Enfermería del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, 26 (2): 99-104.
  • Merino, J. and Noriega, MJ (2005). General Physiology: Autonomous Nervous System. Open Course Ware. University of cantabria.

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