Lesson 4 – Thoracic and diaphragmatic breathing

The 2 most important distinctions regarding breathing

The two most popular breathing categories are:

  • Chest / thoracic breathing – Tendentialy typical of the external styles of Kung Fu; it is the one used (rarely in the correct way) by the vast majority of people in everyday life
  • Diaphragmatic breathing (not abdominal) – Much less common, is typical of Kung Fu internal styles (but not only, eg. Yoga); it concentrates on the middle-lower part of the torso

Note – This article has been asked by one of our Core Course practitioners on Patreon (see how to attend our home study classes here Learn Kung Fu online: a beginner-to-expert course).

These are the 2 main types of breathing that you must learn to know and use:

  • You will need them to assimilate more easily all those we will see later
  • Both of them have possible uses in daily life as well in combat


  • In this lesson, we are not going to describe techniques or exercises but only the general functioning of these two “opposing” methodologies
  • Focus on understanding the mechanical theory and wait for the next lesson to start practicing them during training (some basic details are still missing)

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing (incorrectly defined also as abdominal) offers several advantages:

  • It soothes the problems related to rapid fatigue (with chest breathing it is not easy to make more deep and fast breaths in a row)
  • It does not force us to make unwanted shoulders movements during the execution of a combat technique (in deep thoracic breathing they arise)
  • It prevents hyperventilation in stressful situations (a lot of training must be done in order to become able to do more consecutive deep chest breathing)
  • It relaxes the mind, allowing you to keep control over yourself (even physically, you are much less stable if you concentrate the breath at the top of the lungs)

A note by Master Kongling – Do your tests, do not trust me passively. Feel the small differences and multiply the effect imagining the need for precise actions, precise timing and / or stressful scenarios.

How to correctly execute the diaphragmatic breathing

How it works (in 6 Dragons Kung Fu):

  • Close your mouth and inhale using only your nose
  • 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 (the muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity) must lower during inspiration and return to its place in the exhalation phase
  • In this way, it is possible to perform longer and deeper inhalation and exhalation
  • The movement of the rib cage must be almost imperceptible

Thoracic breathing

Proper thoracic breathing offers, in turn, several advantages:

  • It collects the maximum power of the human body and let you use it during the fight (or in other physical activities)
  • It collects the energy necessary to provoke moods linked to courage and determination (eg. to recover strength during a clash that is turning for the worst)
  • It completely empties the lungs by expelling all the harmful stale air (that normally remains trapped in the lungs)
  • It raises body temperature to prevent cold (before it arrives, not after)

How to correctly execute the thoracic breathing

How it works (in 6 Dragons Kung Fu):

  • Close your mouth and inhale using only your nose
  • During the inhalation phase, there must be a frontal decontraction of the upper part of the thorax (it expands / swells in the direction of the shoulders)
  • At the same time, the abdomen must compress and withdraw slightly upwards
  • Avoid reaching the limit of your specific lung capacity, excessive stress causes total energy loss (hyperventilation, dizziness, etc.)
  • In the expiration phase, you have to inflate gradually and sequentially the belly from top to bottom
  • The diaphragm should rise during inspiration and lower in the exhalation phase
  • The movement of the rib cage must be very evident

In the next lesson, we will see exercises about how to make correct breathing a second nature.

In-depth articles

  • Diaphragmatic breathing – More clarification and details (also in relation to the Qi) on how to correctly perform this respiration
  • Breathe Yoga – An article about how does it work the Yoga respiration methods (to which we are closely connected)

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Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

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