By Jennifer Kelleher

We are born with this thing called ‘breath’. Breath grants us life. It is the ticket to this human experience. Yet, how often do you stop to think about it? Besides just keeping us alive, the breath is an incredible tool that can be intentionally used in various ways to achieve different energetic states. For today, let’s keep it simple and foundational, focusing on diaphragmatic breathing.

Our bodies, minds, and energy are optimized when we receive the breath fully. Breathing down into our diaphragm (also known as “belly breathing”) encourages a clear, balanced, calm, and happy state. Yet 99% of my clients come to me as chest breathers, constricting the belly area and preventing the diaphragm from expanding and contracting freely.

I invite you to try it now. Take a deep inhale, and slow exhale. On your inhale: Does your belly expand out, stay put, or draw in? Do your chest and shoulders rise up toward your ears, or remain fairly still? On your exhale: Does your belly move out, in, or not at all? Can you feel a natural and subtle contraction of your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles?

Simply put, you are belly breathing correctly and fully when your abdomen, sides, and back expand outward on the inhale, and come together on the exhale. The chest moves only slightly. It may help to visualize it like a balloon— when you fill the balloon with air (inhale), it expands, and when you let the air out (exhale), it deflates.

So why is belly breathing important? First and foremost, breath is life! You cut off your vitality when you do not breathe fully.

Furthermore, belly breathing: (1) reduces stress, along with stress’ many negative side effects and symptoms; (2) stabilizes energy levels; (3) is the most efficient way to breathe, delivering optimum amounts of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells and removing them of waste; (4) relaxes muscle spasms and eases muscular tension; (5) slows the heart rate and helps to stabilize blood pressure; (6) encourages the body to let go of excess fat; (7) improves core muscle strength and stability; (8) increases athletic performance, while decreasing chances of injury; (9) strengthens the immune system; and (10) increases mental clarity and brain function.

As always, change starts with awareness and intention. To begin, I recommend five to 10 minutes of focused belly breathing in the morning and evening.

How to: Lie on your back with a pillow supporting your head. Bend your knees, allowing them to knock together, with the soles of your feet on the floor slightly wider than your hips. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Imagine your belly is a balloon. Inhale through your nostrils. As the air comes in, allow it to fill up the balloon in your belly, inflating the front, back, and sides of your body. Feel the hand on your belly rise on the inhale. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Imagine the balloon deflating as the air leaves your body. Feel the hand on your belly fall. The hand on your chest remains fairly still throughout this entire exercise. Continue for five to 10 minutes.

Repeat morning and evening.

Yoga is a practice paired with the breath. We invite you to join us at Ocean Bliss Yoga Studio for daily classes and monthly workshops intentionally designed to improve your body and life.

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