Learning to breathe from your diaphragm is one of those rare opportunities in life where you can get huge gains out of a relatively small time investment. If you don’t know already, diaphragmatic breathing simply means that you’re using your diaphragm to pull in air, as opposed to your chest and shoulders. This means that instead of those shoulders rising when you take in a deep breath, your abdomen will expand and you’ll actually get more air.
In an odd twist of fate, most people don’t actually breathe properly. The stresses of modern society have a lot to do with this. Other contributing factors might be tight clothes and the tight tummy fetish that so many of us have. That keeps our stomachs sucked in and our air supply shallow! Worse yet, many people have no idea how to even access their diaphragm, or what it is. Fear not, however, because you can always go back to breathing with your diaphragm, even if it feels like you’ve forgotten. Nothing is more natural!
And it’s not anything fancy. In fact, all mammals breathe with their diaphragm. Have you ever seen a dog breathing while lying on its side? You can see their stomach move in and out. Their shoulders don’t move at all.
Even we as humans start out breathing with our diaphragms. If you’ve ever seen a baby lying around breathing, then you know that’s true. In fact, because their bones are still squishy and not fully formed, it almost looks like their entire torso is breathing for them! We aren’t going to go that far, but I am going to teach you what exactly proper diaphragmatic breathing is in this article, and some exercises to make it a habit.
Just in case you aren’t convinced, here’s a list of reasons why this method beats shallow breathing hands down.
- You get more air per breath
- Better vocal support and tonality
- Better vocal projection
- Reduces stress and chest pain
- It’s the way all mammals naturally breathe
- The best breathing method for meditation
- It encourages (and actually requires) good posture
- It just feels right
The first thing we’re going to do is ensure you can actually take in air into your diaphragm. If you haven’t used it in awhile, it may be a little difficult.
Learn How to Breathe Properly
You may still be wondering if you breathe from your diaphragm or not. The best way to tell is to watch your body while you breathe. Go stand in front of a mirror and take a deep breath. What moved? Your shoulders and chest, or your stomach? If your stomach was the only thing that moved, then you’ve either received vocal training of some sort of you’re one of the rare individuals who retains proper breathing past childhood.
For all the rest of you, move on to the next section.
Breathing From the Diaphragm
The way I learned to access my diaphragm was by laying down, so that’s what we’re going to do here. You’ll need a book, a bare tummy, and a sense of humor for this one.
Lay down on the ground, preferably away from others so they don’t make fun of you, and place a book on your stomach. The object of this game is to get that thing to move, steadily rising and falling with each breath. And don’t just use your stomach muscles to move it. I did that at first and it’s definitely cheating.
You’re going to use your diaphragm muscle to pull in the air. If you want a nice little visual picture, check out the link above at wikipedia and give it a shot. If you’re more hands on, then dig your fingers right under your rib cage and cough. That’s your diaphragm you feel kicking out at you.
You want the book to move in rhythm with your breathing. Take in deep breaths through your nose, and imagine that the air is being pulled down just below your sternum (breast bone). If you don’t get it right away, keep doing it. Remember, your shoulders shouldn’t move at all. My chest moves a little when I do this, but it’s mostly all stomach.
Now get up, and start breathing. Chances are you’ve already reverted back to your normal style. That’s ok – we’re just starting here. Your goal is to make this way of breathing into a way of life.
Don’t Revert to Old Breathing Techniques
Getting this technique down is usually pretty easy, but forming the habit is hard. I find that I still haven’t quite made it a habit yet. One of the best things you can do to ensure you’re breathing right throughout the day is to set up what I like to call a conditioning anchor. I actually just made that up, but it sounds pretty cool. I wonder if there’s an term that’s already established for what I’m talking about.
Some really good anchors for this particular exercise would be a mirror and a telephone. You’re going to condition yourself to check your breathing every time you pass a mirror or pick up the phone. Even if you feel like you’re conscious enough of your breathing right now, go ahead and pass by a mirror a few times and take a deep breath. Make sure your shoulders aren’t expanding, but your stomach is.
Before you know it, you’ll have set up the anchor, much like Pavlov’s dogs. Now you’ll find yourself unconsciously checking your breathing several times a day, which will help make it a habit that much faster. The coolest part about this way of learning is that it’s relatively passive. You don’t have to do a whole lot of work. Just walk by the mirror and answer the phone to a better way of life!
I hope this has been helpful to you. Even if you aren’t a professional singer or speaker, we could all gain some benefit from learning to become more conscious of our breathing, and nothing feels better than a nice deep breath from the diaphragm.
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