Deep belly breathing and lung anatomy

If you have ever attended a yoga class then I am sure you have been told about the importance of deep breathing and why it will benefit you both mentally and physically.

Deep belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, can be utilized as a warm up exercise, an important lifting cue or a recovery tool. The versatility and importance of breathing into your stomach cannot be understated. While most people are taking shallow breaths in their chest, an increasing number of exercise professionals are trying to teach deep belly breathing to improve their clients' performance and recovery.

Let’s look at why breathing into your stomach benefits your body from the perspective of our lung anatomy.

Our lungs are like balloons and as they expand we bring in oxygen. We use the muscles of our abdomen, intercostals (between the ribs) and our diaphragm to expand our midsection to create space in order for our lungs to inflate. The diaphragm is the primary muscle involved in respiration.

The diaphragm is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. This creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs.(1)

Our lungs extract oxygen from the air we breathe through small sacs called alveoli. Alveoli is where oxygen diffusion into the blood occurs. Deeper breathing into our abdomen allows more air to reach these sacs in our lungs which allow more of these sacs to fill up and do their jobs. Thus creating more efficiency with each breath, while shallow breaths into the chest will be the least efficient due to the decreased volume of air (and oxygen) reaching the alveoli.


Due to atmospheric pressure there is always a small reserve volume of air left in your lungs. This air has less oxygen content in it because we have already extracted some from it. Due to the presence of this reserve, when take shallow breaths into our chest all we accomplish is pushing that reserve volume lower while the fresh, oxygen-rich air stays higher up in the top of our lungs. If that fresh air does not reach down into alveoli then we do not get the most efficiency out of each breath. Less efficiency means less oxygen into the system for our bodies to utilize. This is where problems such as hyperventilation can occur.

Therefore, breathing deeply into our abdomen will increase breath efficiency which will then increase the amount of oxygen flowing into our body. From there we receive so many benefits such as nervous system regulation, hormone regulation, heart rate recovery, muscle activation and overall recovery. All these benefits come from just breathing correctly!

Looking forward to hearing about other benefits of deep breathing? Stay tuned for more blog posts about physiology and deep belly breathing as a recovery method!


2. Photo credit

3. Photo credit Lung Anatomy Physiopedia

4. Photo credit Schochet, P. MD. Anatomy of a Child’s lung

68 views0 comments