The Physiology of Belly Breathing

Physiology of Belly Breathing

How Diaphragmatic Breathing Activates Our Relaxation System

Why “belly” breathing calms us down and keeps our brain from being emotionally reactive:

Research has shown that just 20 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing is all that’s needed to activate and oxygenate the mindful and thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex).

  1. A belly breath causes the lungs to press on the diaphragmatic wall.
  1. The diaphragmatic wall pushes down on the abdominal cavity (like a balloon being squeezed).
  1. The squeezed abdomen spreads outward in the front of the abdomen and the back where it presses on the spine.
  1. This causes the abdominal cavity to put pressure on the longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, which runs all the way downs from the brain stem and the spine.
  1. When pressed on, the vagus nerve quiets down and turns on the body’s relaxation system and regulates the parasympathetic nervous system (in contrast to the instant gratification nerve).

What happens when the vagus nerve gets quieted down:

  1. Blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration become lower.
  1. Lactate (which increases feelings of anxiety) gets cleansed from the blood.
  1. Alpha brain waves (calm and alert) are increased.
  1. The neurotransmitter serotonin is released, gets into the bloodstream and up to the brain in about 20–30 seconds. About 95 percent of this feel-good neurotransmitter is stored in the stomach lining and intestines (our gut).

No wonder breathing blocks reactivity and unhealthy emotions, helps you feel better, and think more clearly!

Thanks to Donald Altman, author of The Mindfulness Toolbook for these tools.