What is diaphragmatic breathing?
Also called “ventral” or (erroneously) abdominal, it is used in many fields:
- Martial arts (read )
- Lyric music
As the name suggests, the diaphragmatic one is a type of breathing that involves an active control on the contraction and relaxation movement of the diaphragm (making it stronger and stronger).
In 90% of the cases, diaphragmatic breathing is the best choice and in line of principle, it should be spontaneous; unfortunately, in the course of our life, a lot of us loses this capability and convert it (without realizing it) in an incorrect thoracic breathing:
- Less deep
- Less effective
How to know how we are breathing
The passage to thoracic breathing is very common and its cause can be often recognized in a stressful lifestyle that:
- Influences us, forcing us to hold our breath and block the diaphragm in the lower portion of the chest (not allowing the air to flow freely)
- Causes a natural retraction of the diaphragm (that also affects the other body elements involved in the respiratory process)
A small test
To understand if we are already using the diaphragm in the correct way (at least in part) is very simple:
- Let’s place one hand on our stomach and the other on our chest
- If, while breathing in, we feel the belly expanding outward and our chest remains (relatively) immobile, it means that we are naturally using the diaphragmatic breathing
- If instead, while breathing in, the chest expands and the belly is (almost) still, our breathing is thoracic (read )
A note by Master Kongling – Beyond the martial aspect of breathing, it is always and in any case better to change our method of inhalation and exhalation: an incorrect thoracic breathing harms our health as well as our performances (read Correct breathing).
How diaphragmatic breathing works?
First of all, let’s understand what the diaphragm is:
- It is the main muscle used in breathing
- It is located just below the lungs and the heart
- It has the shape of a slightly flattened “double-dome”
- It expands throughout the chest cavity
Let’s see now (trying to make it as simple as possible) how the diaphragm works:
- During the inhalation, it lowers
- While it lowers, it creates a vacuum effect
- The vacuum effect pushes the air into the lungs
- At the same time, the intercostal muscles (the ones between the ribs), lift the rib cage to help the diaphragm let in sufficient air into the lungs
- During the exhalation, the diaphragm raises back
- While it raises, it forces the expulsion of carbon dioxide
A note by Master Kongling – For a deep understanding of this type of breathing, it is very important to recognize all the phases we have described on our body.
The risks related to an incorrect breathing
Using an (incorrect and involuntary) thoracic breathing we work with the chest, limiting the space of movement of the diaphragm and this can lead to:
- Breathing problems (eg. asthma)
- Blood circulation problems
- Bad posture
- Digestive problems
- Pain on the neck
- Pain on the shoulders
- Pain on the upper back
- Pain on the lower back
- Tension of the facial muscles
The benefits of the diaphragmatic breathing
In sports and in martial arts:
- It soothes the problems related to rapid fatigue (as anyone can test, in the chest breathing it is not easy to make more deep and fast breaths in a row)
- It allows to save energies and therefore to fight for a longer time (with better performances)
- It improves muscular stability
- It does not undergo forced shoulders movements during the execution of techniques (in deep thoracic breathing infact they tend to arise)
- It reduces the risk of muscle injuries and strains
In daily life:
- It lowers blood pressure
- It improves sleep quality
- It allows better memory and concentration performances
- It helps to keep control, relaxing the mind (the thought is much less stabilized if we concentrate the breath at the top of the lungs, read also Breathing for immediate relaxation)
In terms of health:
- It reduces the harmful effects of cortisol (the stress hormone)
- It slows down the heart rate (useful for those suffering tachycardia)
- It prevents hyperventilation in stressful situations (a lot of training must be done in order to be able to do more consecutive deep chest breathing)
- It helps you cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- It generates an expansion that massages / stimulates / inundates all the surrounding organs and tissues with blood and oxygen
How to basically execute the diaphragmatic breathing
This is the method we implement in 6 Dragons Kung Fu:
- Let’s close our mouth
- Let’s inhale using our nose only
- During the inhalation phase, there must be a frontal decontraction of the lower abdomen (the lower part of the belly swells)
- In the expiration phase, you must make a slight abdominal contraction
- The diaphragm must lower during inspiration and return to its place in the exhalation phase
- The movement of the rib cage must be almost imperceptible
In the next article of this series, we will see a few exercises to improve the potential of our diaphragm.
In-depth video courses
- Basic 6 Dragons Kung Fu Exercises – All the fundamental practices to build real Kung Fu skills
- Back and Neck pain treatment – How to solve the most common problems related to back / neck pain
- The 6DKF’s combat breathing – An effective method to manage breathing during combat
- Breathe Yoga: the warrior’s breathing – One of the most important breathing techniques of our style
Reply in the comments and share your experience:
- Are you already using diaphragmatic breathing?
Author: Master Kongling
Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.
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