How To Breathe Better

Diaphragmatic Muscle Techniques to Maximize the Benefits Your Respiration

Sam Lupovich – D.O.M.P; B.A. Hons

Take a deep breath in. Keep it in. Now take another sip in..and another. Now exhale..and before you inhale again, exhale some more..all the way out.. all the way..don’t stop! spit it out if you have to! where DOES it stop?

How is it that we find these extra ways to squeeze more out of respiration?

The diaphragm is the major muscle of respiration- a large dome-shaped muscle that sits below the lungs and separates the thorax from the abdomen. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and flattens to allow enough space and pressure for the the lungs to fill up with oxygen. When we exhale, the diaphragm releases and air (carbon dioxide) is pushed out as it relaxes back to its domed curve.

If we can identify which muscles insert and attach, we can focus on where to contract and relax. And like any other muscle, train them to open and close wider. Think of it as improving the range of motion of your diaphragm through active, indirect stretching. Once it becomes more flexible, you’ll be able to breathe better and easier!

To give you a quick gist of the anatomy, the muscles of the diaphragm arise from the lower part of the sternum (breastbone), the lower six ribs, and the lumbar vertebrae of the spine, attaching to a central membranous tendon.

I like to simplify this and categorize these diaphragmatic muscle origins into 3 chambers:

  1. Thoracic (chest)
  2. Ventral (belly)
  3. Dorsal (lumbar area)


Here is how a full breath with a relaxed diaphragm feels to me:

(on single inhale)

  • Fill Chest- expand ribcage while keep shoulders down
  • Once chest is full, spill oxygen down into belly by releasing abdomen
  • With belly and chest still full, release lumbar area and fill that pocket with air

(on exhale) – Reverse order

  • Constrict lumbar area and squeeze air out to belly
  • With lumbar still flexed, squeeze belly and tighten core as air shoots up through the chest
  • Release through chest

Practice Active Breathing

In yoga there is a a very effective exercise where you inhale by forced exhalation. Instead of focusing on inhaling, you force the exhale, thereby turning the inhale almost into a reflex. The contraction and release of the abdominal and lumbar muscles are what drive the breathe in and out. The more you can flex them on an exhale, the more potential for expansion on the inhale. Think of a sponge retaking its shape after being squeezed; the harder it’s squeezed, the faster it will resumes its shape.

Now try isolating the three chambers (chest belly, lumbar) by playing around with your breath:

  1. Breathe in ONLY to your chest. Constrict the belly and lower back as you try to expand the ribcage as much as possible. Feel the muscles engages in supporting a fully engulfed chest
  2. Isolate your belly by restricting your rib and lumbar, and practice shooting air in and out of the abdominal cavity. Keep belly protruded for a few seconds as you try to expand it even further. Control the flexure on the exhale.
  3. Isolating the lumbar region is usually the most challenging of the chambers to identify. When you’re stressed, your breathing patterns change and cause strain and tension in the mid-back. Your shoulders hunch up and cause pain throughout the upper and middle back.

A simple and effective exercise for relax your trunk and open your lower back is to push your hands against a wall with a flat back. Constrict the ribs and suck the belly in as you rifle air straight from your nose to you lumbar region. The movement should feel like a slight extension of the lumbar vertebrae, like a traction effect.

Your Flow

Once you get comfortable accessing these chambers, it’s fun to play with and manipulate your air channels. For example, try taking three consecutive breaths through the chest ONLY.. then on the fourth, open up all three channels. Try different combinations. Be creative. Stretch the diaphragm indirectly by forcing your breath into pockets of its cavity. The more you can relax your abdomen, the easier and quicker it becomes to access these chambers. Get comfortable swishing air through your body, as if you were swishing mouthwash..your deep breaths will become fuller.

How Often You Should Breathe

As if breathing properly wasn’t enough work already, recent studies have revealed the optimal timing and frequency of breathing cycles. Turns out how often you breathe, is just as important as how you breathe.

‘Heart rate variability’ describes the variation in time intervals between heart beats. Higher heart rate variability (HRV) is more desirable because it reflects the resilience of your heart and its ability to adapt to physiological and environmental demands quickly. Higher levels of HRV are indicative of a healthy heart and a marker of overall healthy physiological functioning.“[1]

Your heart rate variability is closely tied to your breathing and is at its highest when your heart rate and breathing synchronize. Slow respiration may reduce the deleterious effects of myocardial ischemia, and, in addition, it increases calmness and wellbeing.“[2]

It appears that the oscillating rhythms of blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, all synchronize at about 5.5 second inhalation and 5.5 second exhalation, which comes out to around 5.5 breath cycles per minute.

So 5.5 seems to be the magic number of synchronized (or resonant) breathing.


1- The Impact of Resonance Frequency Breathing on Measures of Heart Rate Variability, Blood Pressure, and Mood

by Patrick R. Steffen, Tara Austin, Andrea DeBarros, and Tracy Brown

2-Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study

by Luciano Bernardi et al.