Belly Breathing and Why You Should Be Doing It

By: Dr. Amy Poynter PT, DPT

Diaphragmatic (or “belly”) breathing is a technique used to help reduce stress, increase ability to utilize your core musculature, and decrease use of your accessory chest muscles from being too active with breathing. We live in a stressful world – always on the go – and moving to the next task at hand. Over time, this can significantly impact your ability to relax from the day’s troubles and allow your body the rest it deserves.

Diaphragmatic breathing taps into a portion of our nervous system that is in charge of “rest and digest.” It’s actually pretty cool; if done correctly, during or after diaphragmatic breathing you may hear your stomach start to grumble! This is because your body feels safe enough to digest the food in your stomach and does not feel as if it needs to be on high alert. Unfortunately, most of us live in a state of “fight or flight,” meaning we are constantly going and not in a restful state.


The diaphragm itself is a large dome-like muscle sitting right under your lungs, which moves every time you take a breath. This muscle can lengthen and shorten just like your bicep can during a bicep curl. By performing diaphragmatic breathing you are purposefully lengthening this muscle while you inhale and then shortening this muscle as you exhale. With a normal shallow breath just within the chest itself, there is much less engagement of the diaphragm.

Diaphragmatic breathing is a great exercise to perform during times of stress or right before you are going to bed. It allows your body to calm down, reset, and prepare for resting. The best thing about it is once you learn how to do it, you can perform it sitting, standing, or lying down!

Here’s how to do it:

Start with laying down on your back with your knees bent up.

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.

Typically, we are chest breathers – meaning our chest is the main thing that moves while we breathe.

Instead, think about sending all that air past the chest, and breathing deep into your belly. This should automatically make your belly come out, almost presenting as if you are several months pregnant.

INHALE through your NOSE, sending the air to your belly, then EXHALE through your MOUTH.

Repeat six times.

Other benefits (besides stress relief and digestion include):

  • Lowering heart rate
  • Works your core musculature
  • Can help lower blood pressure
  • Slows your rate of breathing

Give it a try tonight before bed and then pay attention to your sleep quality. Did you sleep better and wake up less throughout the night? Try adding a regular practice of belly breathing to your routine and see if it changes how you sleep and feel!

If you need additional help with wellness services or improving how you move or feel with physical therapy, Body One PT has just what you’re looking for. Call today or click to schedule. Body One has three convenient locations: North Indy, Fishers, and Zionsville. Make this our year to put your health first!