Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most important foundation
practices for meditation.
When the diaphragm muscle contracts, it pulls the bottom of the lungs
downward, causing them to fill, while the ribs flare outward to the
sides. The chest and abdominal muscles are not used in diaphragmatic
breathing. Conscious diaphragmatic breathing is extremely relaxing to
the autonomic nervous system and is essential preparation for deep
The diaphragm is a huge muscle that rests horizontally across the base
of the rib cage. Imagine an oval shaped dinner plate, turned upside
down, and inside your lower rib cage. The diaphragm is connected in
the front, along the sides of your lower ribs, and also along the
On inhalation, the diaphragm muscle contracts, and pulls downward,
such that the ribs flare out slightly, and pulls the bottom of the
lungs downward to bring in air. On exhalation, this releases and the
air goes out. With deep diaphragmatic breathing, the space just below
the breast bone, at the upper abdomen pushes in slightly so as to
exhale more completely.
When the diaphragm is used for breathing, there is little motion in
the lower abdomen, and the chest remains still. However, we lead
stress-filled lives, and learn bad breathing habits, using the abdomen
and the chest. This creates further tension that leaves us in a
vicious cycle of mental chatter driving bad breathing and physical
tightness, and the bad breathing, in turn, causing trouble to the
It is important to note that modern medicine has finally acknowledged
what the yogis have known for thousands of years, that the breath is
intimately connected to the autonomic nervous system and the mind.
Even some hospitals and medical establishments are now willing to
train people in breath regulation.
We need to consciously practice diaphragmatic breathing. This involves
a retraining program, and while another person can teach us how to do
it, it is actually a self-training program. Nobody can do the actual
awareness and training for you.
The benefits of learning and practicing diaphragmatic breathing are
immense. Without it, it is unlikely that one will progress in
meditation as a spiritual pursuit.