Take a Breather!

Diaphragmatic breathing, otherwise known as “deep breathing,” is defined as an efficient integrative body-mind training for dealing with stress and psychosomatic conditions (Ma et al., 2017). Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, notably emotional balance and social adaptation have been investigated in association with meditative practices, ancient eastern religions (e.g. Buddhism), and the movement arts (e.g. yoga and Tai Chi) (Sargunaraj et al., 1996; Beauchaine, 2001; Porges, 2001).

Psychological Applications

Various psychological studies have found diaphragmatic breathing to be an effective non-pharmacological intervention for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression (Stromberg et al., 2015). This breathing practice has also been widely documented in clinical treatments for psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (Goldin & Gross, 2010), motion disorders (Russell et al., 2014), phobias (Friedman & Thayer, 1998), and other stress-related emotional disorders.

Here are some interesting study findings pertaining to psychological applications:

  • A 1-day breathing exercise was found to relieve the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization induced by job burnout (Salyers et al., 2011)
  • A 30-session breathing intervention with a daily duration of 5 minutes significantly decreased the anxiety of pregnant women experiencing preterm labour (Chang et al., 2009)
  • Evidence from a randomized controlled trial suggested that a 7-day intensive yoga program that included breathing exercises reduced anxiety and depression in patients with chronic low back pain (Tekur et al., 2012)
  • A 20-session intervention of diaphragmatic breathing over 8 weeks showed significant decreases in negative affect, salivary cortisol, and sustained attention in healthy participants over a control group (Ma et al., 2017)


So we know that diaphragmatic breathing works - but HOW does it work?

Diaphragmatic, or deep breathing involves contraction of the diaphragm, expansion of the belly, and deepening of inhalation and exhalation, which consequently reduces the respiration rate and maximizes the amount of oxygen to the blood.

Retrieved from http://www.saagara.com/learning-center/deep-breathing-pranayama-guide

Retrieved from http://www.saagara.com/learning-center/deep-breathing-pranayama-guide

For more information about technique in sitting and lying, check out the Cleveland Clinic article on diaphragmatic breathing.

Remember that diaphragmatic breathing is an exercise you can do anytime and anywhere to instantly stimulate your vagus nerve and lower stress responses associated with "fight-or-flight" mechanisms. Go ahead, and give it a try today!


Beauchaine, T. (2001). Vagal tone, development, and Gray’s motivational theory: Toward an integrated model of autonomic nervous system functioning in psychopathology. Dev. Psychopathol., 13, 183–214. doi: 10.1017/S09545794010 02012

Chang, S.-B., Kim, H.-S., Ko, Y.-H., Bae, C.-H., and An, S.-E. (2009). Effects of abdominal breathing on anxiety, blood pressure, peripheral skin temperature and saturation oxygen of pregnant women in preterm labor. Korean J Women Health Nurs., 15, 32–42. doi: 10.4069/kjwhn.2009.15.1.32

Friedman, B. H., and Thayer, J. F. (1998). Autonomic balance revisited: Panic anxiety and heart rate variability. J. Psychosomat. Res., 44, 133–151. doi: 10.1016/S0022- 3999(97)00202- X

Goldin, P. R., and Gross, J. J. (2010). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder. Emotion, 10, 83–91. doi: 10.1037/a0018441

Ma, X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z., Zhang, H., Duan, N., Shi, Y., Wei, G., & Li, Y. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 874. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

Porges, S. W. (2001). The polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system. Int. J. Psychophysiol., 42, 123–146. doi: 10.1016/S0167-8760(01)00162-3

Salyers, M. P., Hudson, C., Morse, G., Rollins, A. L., Monroe-DeVita, M., Wilson, C., et al. (2011). BREATHE: a pilot study of a one-day retreat to reduce burnout among mental health professionals. Psychiatr. Serv., 62, 214–217. doi: 10.1176/ps.62.2.pss6202_0214

Sargunaraj, D., Lehrer, P. M., Hochron, S. M., Rausch, L., Edelberg, R., and Porges, S. W. (1996). Cardiac rhythm effects of .125-Hz paced breathing through a resistive load: implications for paced breathing therapy and the polyvagal theory. Biofeedback Self Regul., 21, 131–147. doi: 10.1007/bf02284692

Stromberg, S. E., Russell, M. E., and Carlson, C. R. (2015). Diaphragmatic breathing and its effectiveness for the management of motion sickness. Aerosp. Med. Hum. Perform., 86, 452–457. doi: 10.3357/AMHP.4152.2015

Tekur, P., Nagarathna, R., Chametcha, S., Hankey, A., and Nagendra, H. R. (2012). A comprehensive yoga programs improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: an RCT. Complement. Ther. Med., 20, 107–118. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2011.12.009

Photo Credit: https://outoftheboxscience.com/health/us-researchers-discovered-new-role-lungs/