Diaphragmatic breathing (relaxation technique): how is it done?

Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing it is a type of breathing in which the diaphragm muscle is mainly used for breathing.

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

In this article, we explain what this technique is, what it can be used for, what are the steps to perform it 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 people with panic disorder as well as other anxiety disorders.

    Diaphragmatic breathing consists of deep, conscious breathing, which involves primarily using the diaphragm for breathing (although logically there are many other muscles and / or organs involved in this physiological process). The diaphragm is a large muscle located between the pectoral and abdominal cavities.

    In this type of breathing, the most active area of ​​our body is the lower area of ​​the lungs, which connects to the diaphragm and abdomen. So, although technically the abdomen is not the one that “breathes”, this type of breathing receives this nomenclature.

    Through diaphragmatic breathing, the lungs are filled with air, which reaches its lower area, as we have seen. Thanks to that, there is better ventilation in the body, we can get more oxygen and there is better cleansing in the exhalation process.

    Importance of the diaphragm

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

    Determination of the parasympathetic nervous system

    At the neurophysiological level, diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (SNP); remember that this system is what, next to the sympathetic nervous system, forms the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

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

    On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system is what allows us to return to a state of rest after a moment or a period of stress, while the sympathetic nervous system is what activates us and “sets us in motion” at a time. stressful).

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

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

      Technique utilities

      Diaphragmatic breathing as a relaxation technique it can help us overcome panic disorder. Additionally, it is a technique that we can use when we are feeling anxious or overly nervous, which can help us breathe more easily, by 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, we feel more well-being, we we concentrate better, etc.).

        How to practice- (steps)

        As a breathing technique, diaphragmatic breathing consists of the following: it is the person (or patient) who learns to breathe with the diaphragm (i.e. with the abdomen or stomach) rather than with the chest.

        Thus, the person learns to control his breathing by relaxing your abdominal muscles and contracting the diaphragm, relaxing the intercostal muscles.

        Through diaphragmatic breathing, an abdominal breathing exercise is performed. But what is it exactly? Let’s learn the steps necessary to perform this relaxation technique:

        1. Make yourself comfortable

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

        2. Raise your hands

        The second step in diaphragmatic breathing involves placing the hands; one on the chest and another on the abdomen (the abdomen is located just above the stomach).

        3. Inhale

        We will start by taking the air through our noses slowly and deeply. Performing this action, we will have to count to three (there are variations of the technique where up to two are explained), trying to fill all the lungs, while watching the exit of the abdomen.

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

        4. Pause

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

        5. Exhale

        Then we go let air slowly pass through the mouth while we count to three; we will do this by expelling the air with our lips joined and almost closed. We will soon notice how the abdomen retracts (the stomach sinks).


        We will follow the following sequence: inhale for a count of three and expel for a count of three (there are variations in which it is inhaled for a count of two, and exhaled 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 in diaphragmatic breathing is to practice. First, ideally, practice the technique for five or ten minutes each day, three or four times a day.

        However, by internalizing it, we can and should increase the time and frequency of daily practice.

        Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing

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

        However, if we also use this type of breathing in our daily life, and / or in situations of stress or anxiety, the benefits that we can derive from it are even more numerous:

        • They ventilate and clean the lungs thoroughly.
        • There is an objective and subjective feeling of relaxation in the body.
        • The lungs receive a large amount of oxygen.
        • There is 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).

        Bibliographical references:

        • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Flight. 1 and 2. Madrid. 21st century (chapters 1-8, 16-18).
        • Guyton, AC and Hall, J. (2006). Treatise on medical physiology. Elsevier; 11th edition.
        • Martínez-González, L., Olvera-Villanueva, G. and Vila-real-Rius, E. (2018). Effect of deep breathing technique on anxiety level in the elderly. Journal of Nursing of the Mexican Institute of Social Security, 26 (2): 99-104.
        • Merino, J. and Noriega, MJ (2005). General physiology: autonomic nervous system. Open Course Ware. University of Cantabria.

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