Belly Breathing Exercise To Help Ease Breathlessness And Anxiety

Belly breathing is also known as deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing and paced respiration. Belly breathing involves fully engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles and diaphragm when breathing. This means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath. In this way, diaphragmatic breathing helps the lungs fill more efficiently. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises

Belly Breathing Instructions:

  1. Start in a comfortable position – remember to have your shoulders and neck relaxed.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. This is to ensure we feel our belly (our diaphragm region) moving more than our chest, so we know we are using our diaphragm and not our chest and accessory muscles.
  3. Breath in through your nose and you should feel your belly expanding and moving outward. Blow out through pursed lips as if you are blowing out a candle. It’s okay to give a small push on your belly with your hand to feel and help push the air out of your lungs.

A good way to practice belly breathing is to sit in a chair and slightly lean back, make sure you comfortable. You can place both hands on your stomach so you can see better when your belly rises. You can also place an object on your stomach to see it move. Make sure you see the object moving up when you breath in.

equal breathing

When to Practice Belly Breathing

If you are feeling breathless, anxious, completing exercises or daily tasks, remember to take a moment and try out belly breathing. As well, try practicing belly breathing daily. You can perform this technique 3 or 4 times a day for 5 – 10 minutes each. Greater clinical benefits such as improved abdominal motion and diaphragmatic mobility may develop with long-term belly breathing (Yamaguti et al; Morrow et al. 2016). At first this exercise may be challenging, so start slow and do what you can. Over time, you will build the muscles that are used in breathing and feel less short of breath. 

Benefits of Belly Breathing

  • Encourages full oxygen exchange 
  • Relaxes your nervous system
  • Improves muscle function during exercise
  • Slows respiratory rate
  • Improves breathing patterns and respiratory efficiency
  • Reduces heart rate 
  • Lowers or stabilizes blood pressure

Nutritional Status Effects Diaphragmatic Muscle Activity

Belly breathing aims to reduce breathlessness (or dyspnea) by increasing the activity of the diaphragm and simultaneously reducing the work of the accessory respiratory muscles (Cahalin et al; Fernandes, Cukier & Feltrim ; Yamaguti et al; Morrow et al. 2016). An overweight BMI (>25) is likely to be associated with greater abdominal body fat, creating a larger resistance that the diaphragm must work against. In contrast, an underweight BMI (<18.5) may be associated with lower diaphragm muscle mass. Thus, greater work is required by the diaphragm to perform belly breathing. Normal BMI classification (18.5-24.9) responds the best to belly breathing (Morrow et al. 2016).


  • Cahalin L.P., Braga M., Matsuo Y. & Hernandez E.D., 2002, ‘Efficacy of diaphragmatic breathing in persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A review of the literature’, Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation 22(1), 7–21. 10.1097/00008483-200201000-00002
  • Fernandes M., Cukier A. & Feltrim M.I., 2011, ‘Efficacy of diaphragmatic breathing in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’, Chronic Respiratory Disease 8(4), 237–244. 10.1177/1479972311424296
  • Morrow B, Brink J, Grace S, Pritchard L, Lupton-Smith A. The effect of positioning and diaphragmatic breathing exercises on respiratory muscle activity in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. S Afr J Physiother. 2016 Jun 29;72(1):315. doi: 10.4102/sajp.v72i1.315. PMID: 30135892; PMCID: PMC6093095.
  • Yamaguti W.P., Claudino R.C., Neto A.P., Chammas M.C., Gomes A.C., Salge J.M. et al., 2012, ‘Diaphragmatic breathing training program improves abdominal motion during natural breathing in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A randomized controlled trial’, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 93(4), 571–577. 10.1016/j.apmr.2011.11.026

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