The diaphragmatic breathing


Diaphragmatic breathing, also referred to synonymously as "abdominal breathing", is one of two ways of breathing alongside chest breathing. It is medically incorrect to equate diaphragmatic breathing with abdominal breathing, but both terms are used in the same sense. Breathing with the diaphragm is an automatic, unconscious process. You don't have to think about when and how to inhale or exhale, the body does it by itself. The muscles of the chest and diaphragm alternately contract and relax. In passive unconscious breathing, diaphragmatic breathing makes up about 70% of total breathing. To test which breathing you use yourself, you can put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach and breathe normally. If the chest rises and falls, you breathe more with your chest breathing, if your stomach arches you breathe more with your diaphragm.

Mechanism of diaphragmatic breathing

The diaphragm is an almost round muscle that attaches to the ribs from below. Its fibers are connected by a sinewy center in the middle. You can imagine the muscle like a dome. When he contracts with diaphragmatic breathing, the dome lowers. The abdominal organs are pressed downwards, the lungs have more space and can expand, and the negative pressure in the chest causes fresh air to flow into the lungs. The organs in the abdomen are compressed a little so that the abdomen bulges out. This process describes inhalation. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, the dome arches upwards again, and the volume in the chest cavity becomes smaller. The lungs contract, the "used" air is exhaled and the stomach flattens out again.

Who uses diaphragmatic breathing?

In general, it can be said that diaphragmatic breathing rarely takes place in isolation. Most people subconsciously use both the diaphragm (diaphragm) and the abdominal muscles, so-called intercostal muscles, which sit between the ribs and auxiliary breathing muscles for breathing. Especially in a relaxed state, sitting or sleeping, we mainly use abdominal breathing.

Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which someone is particularly dependent on diaphragmatic breathing. Babies in particular are initially reliant on this type of breathing. In addition to musicians who play a wind instrument or professional speakers, singers also prefer abdominal breathing. This allows them to absorb a relatively large amount of air into the lungs, so that they can exhale the air in a focused manner and thus be able to produce the right sounds with their vocal folds. Furthermore, diaphragmatic breathing is particularly needed when you are active in sports. More oxygen is needed to supply the active muscles. More carbon dioxide has to be exhaled and oxygen is required, so that both intercostal muscles, auxiliary respiratory muscles, diaphragm and abdominal muscles are required for increased breathing.

Exercises for diaphragmatic breathing

There are a few exercises you can do to help you breathe more consciously with your diaphragm. If possible, find a quiet place where you can consciously feel diaphragmatic breathing.

Exercise 1: Lie flat on the floor or sit up straight in a chair, place your hand on your stomach and breathe deeply into your stomach so that you can feel the abdominal wall rise and fall. Repeat this exercise a few times, you can try to let the abdominal wall bulge a little more with each breath. If you feel dizzy or painful, stop doing the exercise.

Read more on the topic: Breathing exercises to relax

Exercise 2: As a step up to exercise 1, you can put books on your stomach as extra weight while lying down. This, too, trains abdominal breathing when you try to breathe deeply into your stomach again so that the books are raised and lowered. Start with lightweight books, you can always increase.

Exercise 3: If you have problems “stopping” chest breathing, you can use a belt. Buckle this around your chest. Then follow the instructions as in exercise 1. You can of course also practice diaphragmatic breathing in everyday life. Just go inside for a moment, no matter where you are, maybe put your hand on your stomach and breathe deeply in and out again.

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Collaboration of diaphragmatic breathing with chest breathing

Both diaphragmatic and chest breathing help with inhalation. The muscles between the ribs (intercostal muscles) move the individual ribs upwards, and the thorax expands as a whole. When inhaling, a negative pressure is created in the pleural space, which separates the pleura from the pleura, so that the lungs follow the expansion of the chest and thus air can flow into the lungs. The diaphragm also contracts when you inhale, flattening towards the abdomen, the organs in the abdomen are displaced and the volume in the chest is also increased.

More information can be found here: The chest breathing

Problems with diaphragmatic breathing

There are several reasons why diaphragmatic breathing can be restricted. The diaphragm itself can be inflamed, which is referred to as a diaphragm. The cause can be other inflammations in the vicinity such as peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum), pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura) or pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium). The diaphragm hurts and it is difficult to breathe in the abdomen.

But other causes also lead to the restriction of diaphragmatic breathing. Over-inflated intestinal loops, diaphragmatic hernia or hernia, elevated diaphragm or chronic cough can lead to restrictions in inhalation. Paraplegia in the area of ​​the exit point of the diaphragmatic nerve (phrenic nerve) or inoperability of the nerve is particularly serious. If this is the case, the diaphragm can no longer serve as a respiratory muscle.


Hiccups are caused by a sudden cramping of the diaphragm, which reflexively closes the glottis between the vocal folds. If the air that has already been inhaled collides with the closed glottis, the typical “hiccup” occurs. The cause of the cramping of the diaphragm is an irritation of the phrenic nerve. This is the nerve that innervates the diaphragm. The reasons for such irritation can be varied. Eating quickly, drinking cold liquids, or breathing hastily and irregularly, such as when laughing, can be considered as possible causes. But even a pregnant woman sometimes experiences hiccups from the unborn child. This can be explained by the fact that the immature breathing center in the brainstem of the fetus sends information that leads to gasping, which the expectant mother perceives as hiccups. This gasping for breath subsides by the time you are born.


Stuttering is a language disorder that can have psychological and physical causes. When stuttering, the flow of speech is interrupted and repetitions of sounds, syllables and words, elongation of individual sounds or the squeezing out of initial letters can occur.

The causes of stuttering are not yet fully understood. On the one hand, it is assumed that there is a disorder in the interaction of the nerves and organs that are responsible for speaking. On the other hand, genetic predispositions can influence language development and favor speech disorders. Especially children between the ages of 2 and 6 Year old start to stutter. Most speech therapists consider this to be a normal development process, as the combination of thinking and speaking is not always congruent at this age. If the stutter persists for a long time, it becomes more difficult to return to normal flow of speech. Adults can suddenly have speech disorders too. Often traumatic events or psychological stress can be a reason.

Pain in diaphragmatic breathing

Pain that occurs when inhaling deeply into the abdomen can have organic causes. Chest and abdominal organs come into consideration as causative agents. If the pleura or pericardium is inflamed and moved with the inhalation, pain can occur.An inflamed stomach, gallstones, enlarged liver or air pockets in the intestine can also lead to symptoms. If the diaphragm itself is affected by an inflammation, hernia or breakthrough, it can also lead to unpleasant sensations. If the pain persists for a long time or if it worsens, a doctor should be consulted for clarification.

Read more about this: Pain in the diaphragm