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Breathe better, manage your stress

Before you start reading, if you are ok to do so, please take a deep breath.

When I ask people to take a deep breath, they invariably puff their chests, fill the lungs to the top and lift the collarbone. The body is using the costal (rib) muscles and accessory muscles to take this breath. Nothing wrong with this but let’s look closer at what is going on.

Our main breathing muscle, the diaphragm, is a domed sheet of combined muscle and tendon that spans the entire torso, separating the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity. Its rim is attached the base of the rib cage and to the lumbar spine at the rear. It acts a piston, drawing air into the lungs and exhausting it away with each breath.

As we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity, thus creating a vacuum in the lungs, then there is a stretch reflex and the diaphragm releases upwards. The process is way more complicated than this simplistic summary, but you get the point.

The diaphragm should account for most of the breath we take (80%), with the costal muscles across the ribs (15%) and accessory muscles around the neck, shoulders, and collar bone (5%). Pause for a moment and think about that that deep breath…

Consider the diaphragm compressing and releasing the abdominal spaces and massaging the lumbar spine and digestive system up to 20,000 times a day, if we were breathing in this way. The diaphragm also activates the vagus nerve, which is the main cranial nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, controlling specific functions such as digestion, heart rate and the immune system, lowering the body’s stress response.

I read somewhere that of you look at a toddler breathing they breathe into their tummy, you might see it pushing out and releasing with the breath, perfectly natural.

Then, with a few years on the clock, lots of sitting, lots of stresses and we have developed the skill of ‘backward breathing’ – fixing the diaphragm, holding ourselves in, breathing up into the chest cavity, over breathing up to 18 breaths per minute in some cases, losing all those positive, natural, attribute above, with each breath.

We can retrain ourselves to breathe better and be the best we can by checking on and seeing what our default breath is. Forget about holding your tummy in, let is out, let the diaphragm go and breathe!

Yoga techniques teach us how to strengthen the diaphragm and retrain our breath. The breath is the one function of the autonomic nervous system that is controlled and controllable and given that the breath can control our nervous system, it makes sense to become breath aware as it’s with us for life and we owe it to ourselves to get it right.

I am a breath coach and I teach techniques to empower people to breathe better, it sounds obvious but, through life, we have been gradually, unknowingly developing the wrong way to breathe.

A few weeks of this practice will open your eyes to the breath and open the right pars of your body too!

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