Belly vs Chest Breathing: What’s the difference?

Belly vs Chest Breathing: What’s the difference?


We’ve all been in a yoga class and the teacher has instructed us to breathe in filling the belly first and then the chest.  Ever wondered what the reason behind this is?  Today we’re breaking down the benefits of deep belly breathing, how it affects our body, and our mind! Let's start by taking a deep full inhale in, and exhale it out...



Deep belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing is a fuller, better way of breathing and nourishing our body with oxygen.  When we breathe only filling the chest, the breath is restricted.  Shallow chest breathing only fills the top half of the lungs, so the lower half of the lungs doesn’t get the same level of oxygen.  The lack of air can make us feel more anxious and stressed.  Deep belly breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure and helps us to feel calm and relaxed.  


How does it affect our body?


When we are stressed or anxious, which Is a lot of the time, the body goes into fight or flight mode.  Affecting our nervous system, our body starts to react as if it was in danger.  This can be a great way to protect ourselves from actual danger.  But in modern life our stress response can be triggered by everyday things like a problem at work, traffic or busy places.  But our body doesn’t know the difference.  This stress response can cause the heart beat to quicken and the breath to become shallower and faster.  Which in turn can make us feel more anxious and stressed and enter a vicious circle.


Stop and breathe. Stop and notice your breath now. Is the belly rising and expanding or is the chest the only part moving? Does the breath feel restricted? Fast? Slow?  Take a few moments and see what you notice.


Deep Belly Breathing


Focusing on the breath helps us to become aware of what our body is actually doing.  If you noticed you were breathing only through the lungs, let's take a look at how to take a few more deep and mindful breaths.

  1. Sit quietly, gently seal the mouth and breathe through the nose.  Take a few moments here with your own breath, allowing it to flow naturally.
  2. Take a full deep inhale in through the nose, then open the mouth, exhale and sigh all the air away.
  3. On your next breath in, focus on filling up through the belly first.  Allow the belly to rise, then the chest and the lungs to expand.  As you breathe out, just let the breath release through the nose.  Soften the chest and allow the navel to draw back in towards the spine.  Take a few rounds of this deep breathing really focusing on moving the belly.  You can place one hand over the diaphragm here to help bring awareness into that area.
  4. Focus on the feeling of relaxation and notice a sense of calm wash over the body.  Take note of any changes you feel within the mind or body compared to the start of the practice.
  5. Allow the breath to return back to normal seeing if any more space and depth has been created within the breath.  Practice this breathwork regularly, especially in times of stress and anxiety.
Written by Donna Edwards

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