“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Diaphragmatic (Belly) Breathing

Your thoracic diaphragm is the main engine for breathing, supplemented by the accessory muscles of your chest and abdomen. It is also an important postural muscle with functional connections to your pelvic floor. We'll go over those connections in a future post; in this blog post, let's look at “diaphragmatic” or “belly” breathing.

Figure 1: The thoracic diaphragm (also showing psoas major muscle).

In diaphragmatic breathing, you actively expand the abdomen during inhalation. The abdominal expansion occurs via the diaphragm contracting and pressing down on the abdominal contents. Chest expansion is kept at a minimum in this type of breathing. Exhalation is a relaxed process and occurs through the elastic recoil of the chest wall and lungs.

Regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing draws the mental focus into what is known as the “belly brain”. It has a calming effect on the mind while, at the same time, potentially strengthens the diaphragm. I recommend practicing diaphragmatic breathing for 5-10 minutes per day. We have included a video link below to guide your practice and aid you in visualization of the movement of the diaphragm and abdomen.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Video:

How much does your diaphragm actually move?

The answer to this question depends on how deep of a breath you take and what part of the diaphragm you are asking about. The diaphragm is a sheet like dome-shaped muscle (when it is relaxed). Upon contraction, it flattens out and presses down on the abdomen. The net result is a negative inspiratory pressure, which draws air into the lungs.

Tidal, or resting breathing results in smaller movements of the diaphragm, while vital capacity breathing (as in a deep diaphragmatic breath) results in much larger movement. This is where you take a complete full inhalation.

The posterior, or back part of the diaphragm exhibits the greatest excursion; the amount of diaphragmatic motion decreases progressively as we come forward. Figure 2 illustrates this. MRI studies (which are considered the most accurate) have quantified diaphragmatic motion during deep breathing, with the posterior region moving an average of 10 cm (about 4 inches) between inhalation and exhalation. This decreases progressively moving forward, with the most anterior portion moving about half that of the posterior. Diaphragmatic motion decreases by about one-third in the sitting position compared to lying on your back. (see reference below)

Figure 2: Thoracic diaphragm (side view): P= posterior; D= dome; A= anterior. Note that the excursion of the posterior diaphragm is greatest.

Does the heart move with your diaphragm when you breathe?

Yes, but not the full excursion of the posterior diaphragm. The pericardium, which is a sac surrounding the heart, has fascial connections to the diaphragm. Accordingly, the heart does move during breathing. Your heart is located more anterior on the left dome of the muscle, and so it moves less than the full excursion of the posterior portions of the diaphragm, but it moves significantly nonetheless. Click here for a video that illustrates diaphragmatic and cardiac movement during breathing (I recommend you start viewing at about the 40 second point, and later at about 4:00 for deeper breathing). This cineradiography video strikingly illustrates this process. (you may also want to mute the sound :)

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 4 - Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions".

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 1 - Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses".

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to have a look at the videos on Youtube. Check back in the next week or so as I have some new info on stretching to share as well.

Learn more about anatomy, biomechanics and physiology for your yoga in “The Key Muscles of Yoga”, “The Key Poses of Yoga” and the Yoga Mat Companion series. Click on any of these books to page through.

All the Best,

Ray Long, MD

and Chris (illustrator/animator)

Kiryu SLoring SHMori YRofsky NMHatabu HTakahashi M.  Quantitative analysis of the velocity and synchronicity of diaphragmatic motion: dynamic MRI in different postures. Magn Reson Imaging. 2006 Dec;24(10):1325-32. 


  1. You guys are awesome! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  2. Great video to share with students to help them understand belly breathing. Thanks for posting!

  3. This is incredible! Thanks goodness YOU are available to the Yoga Community!

  4. Hi Guys - how do you teach this to pregnancy ladies?

  5. thanks for this Ray and Chris. Helpful, useful and informative.

  6. What are the results of this type of breathing verses other pranayama?

  7. Can you tell us more about the importance of the "belly brain"?

  8. Always look forward to your blogs and wonderful illustrations. Thank you for the great information. It was nice to hear Ray's voice and to follow the meditation.

  9. Beautiful illustration and explanation. Thank you!

  10. I believe we can also perform diaphragmatic breathing without expanding the belly. Keeping your abdomen stable, place your hands on the lowest part of the outer rib-cage and expand into this space on the inhale (as if you had gills) also elicits a diaphragmatic breath. Am I wrong?

  11. Thanks for sharing, this is wonderful to show patients. I was always curious why in your poster for the Muscles of Respiration, the diaphragm was omitted.

  12. Thank you! So grateful for your video, your writing is fantastic and having the audio/video component brings my understanding of the subject matter to the next level.

  13. Thank you! Very helpful explanation and illustration!

  14. Gracias por vivenciar los beneficios del Yoga de una forma tan ilustrativa, anatómica y orgánica.

  15. Wow this is amazing. I never been so interested in learning my body until now. Thanks you very nice illustration.

  16. I practice an internal martial art called Yi Quan which uses many static standing and slow moving postures for a yoga-like training. Your blog and your book has been a tremendous help in visualizing and 'awakening' the muscles and fascia involved in creating Hunyuan (whole-body) strength. In Tai Chi and other internal martial arts besides my own a key development is awakening the 'Dan Tian', an area involving core abdominal muscles and the thoracolumbar fascia, as well as the pressure produced from diaphragmic breathing. I experience the Dan Tian as a band of abdominal muscle that runs horizontally about 3 inches below the belly button. Is there a similar development in the practice of Bandha Yoga? Do you have any experience or knowledge you can share about how the Dan Tian links and helps direct strength between the upper and lower body? Greatly appreciate your work. Thanks.

  17. Just observing the belly breathing video had a relaxing effect on me! Excellent teaching tool.

  18. You’ve done a wonderful work of teaching helpful knowledge with simplicity for this yoga teacher. Thankyou so much!

  19. Thank you ❤️ I'm so grateful to have discovered your wonderful work🙏A treasure chest of knowledge and so beautifully delivered🕉️🙏🕯️📿 💚