Deep Breathing Exercises for Improving Lung Capacity and Core Control

Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are easy to do and can be readily incorporated into your everyday life.

Read on now to learn:

  • How to do deep breathing exercises (video)
  • Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing exercises
  • Deep breathing exercises for your pelvic floor and your core
  • How many breathing exercises to practice

How to do Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises normalize breathing patterns so the diaphragm is used appropriately with the trunk muscles during regular breathing. Incorrect upper chest breathing is minimized and the upper abdominal muscles are relaxed during diaphragmatic breathing.

This deep breathing video shows you how to breath deeply using the correct technique for breathing exercises.

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Deep Breathing Exercise Technique

Starting Position

Start standing, sitting upright or lying down with your upper body slightly raised if possible.

  • Place one hand on your upper abdomen just below your sternum and the other hand at the side of your chest on the lower part of your rib cage.

Step 1

  • Feeling breathing exercisesBreathe in slowly and deeply so that you feel your belly rise under your hand and your rib cage expand sideways.
  • You may notice your lower rib cage move wide under your other hand – remember the focus is upon keeping the upper chest muscles relaxed and using the diaphragm to breathe.

Step 2

  • Breathe out by letting your rib cage fall back to resting.
  • You should feel a gentle rise and fall of your belly beneath your hand as you breath in and out.

Progressing Deep Breathing Exercises

  • When you have mastered diaphragmatic breathing exercises lying down, it is important to practice doing them sitting and standing upright.
  • Don’t forget the need for good upright posture in allowing you to do your breathing exercises effectively. Move around and walk with diaphragmatic breathing when you feel confident to do so.

What is Deep Breathing Exercise ?

Deep breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing, Yoga breathing or abdominal breathing. This is a breathing exercise and technique that promotes increased lung capacity and oxygenation using the diaphragm (main breathing muscle). The diaphragm is a dome–shaped muscle that sits under the lungs (see below).

Here’s how your diaphragm moves as you breathe:

Diaphragmatic movement

When you breathe in your diaphragm contracts and moves downwards into your abdomen. This downward movement creates a vacuum inside your chest causing air to enter and fill up your lungs.

Your diaphragm relaxes when you breathe out allowing air to passively leave your lungs.

Benefits of Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing can benefit your overall health by:

  • Improving lung capacity (amount of air entering the lungs)
  • Increasing circulating oxygen levels
  • Reducing fatigue with exercise
  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Improving core deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscle function

Deep Breathing Exercises and Core Muscles

The way you breathe affects the tone in your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

Your trunk is like a cylinder surrounded by muscles that should work together during breathing. The muscles surrounding your trunk cylinder include your diaphragm (top of the cylinder), your deep abdominal muscles wrapping around your trunk (the sides of the cylinder) and your pelvic floor muscles at the base of this cylinder.

During regular breathing your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles are also active to help maintain pressure in your trunk cylinder.

When you breathe in deeply during diaphragmatic breathing, the pressure inside your abdomen is increased so that your pelvic floor muscles need to contract even more strongly to maintain your continence.

Learning deep breathing technique and practicing breathing exercises can help the coordinated activity of your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. This is a vital first step in treating prolapse or incontinence problems in women and men.

How to Correct PosturePosture, Breathing and Pelvic Floor Problems

You will notice it’s difficult to fill your lungs and breathe deeply with slumped forward posture. This is because slumped posture compresses your abdominal contents so that your diaphragm can’t move downwards. This creates the need to use your upper chest muscles to help you breathe.

Slumped forward position and breathing with the upper chest muscles increase pressure on the pelvic floor.

When you are slumped forwards, your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles can’t work well to counteract this increased pressure. This is why correct posture is very important in helping your diaphragm, pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to work well together.

If you live with a prolapse, bladder control problems good upright posture, diaphragmatic breathing exercises along with regular pelvic floor exercises can help you optimise your pelvic floor training.

How Many Deep Breathing Exercises?

Start out doing the number of breathing exercises that feel comfortable for you.

  • Perform up to 3-4 deep breathing exercises in a row (beginners)
  • Try to build on this up to 4-5 deep breaths at a time 

Practice these breathing exercises at regular intervals throughout the course of your day when learning this technique.

Breathe slowly and deeply using your diaphragm to inhale and let the air passively leave your body, don’t force the air out of your lungs.

Sometimes deep breathing can make you feel a little out of breath when starting out, especially if you’re accustomed to breathing with your upper chest. If this happens stop, take a break and try again later when you feel recovered.

The ultimate goal is to promote a pattern of deep breathing and reduce upper chest breathing as you go about your daily life. Regular daily practice will help you achieve this goal.

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  1. Fluent, professional and relaxed, what a lovely lady.
    This site is a real discovery for me, easy, clear and enjoyable.
    I hope to explore every inch of it.
    Stranded in Kos Greece for the winter so plenty of time to read and practise.
    Started with basic daily yoga and looking for more exercises, for a healthier life.
    Many thanks, Jamie UK

    • Author: Michelle Kenway Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist says

      γειά σου Jamie! Well if you’re going to be stranded somewhere not a bad option… I’m so glad to be able to contribute to your life during your hiatus, all the best to you and thank you for visitng and commenting!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise on these pages. I’m sure there are many people gaining life-changing benefits from your generosity.
    In the past, school education included advice regarding posture and deportment (with supportive public health information TV ads advising how to sneeze and cough responsibly, the importance of teeth-cleaning and strapping babies securely in their prams!). However, that went by the board with the ‘advancement’ of new ‘freedoms’ allowing individuals to live unhealthily (thus providing economic support for unhealthy industries and their corresponding remedial industries) if they so chose to do..
    I believe it would be an advancement in society if all schools in the west would revert to dedicating the first 5-10 minutes of classroom or assembly time solely to practising correct posture and breathing. It would serve to establish the fact that each one of us has significant life-long responsibility for and control of our own basic health (genetics, physical abilities and environmental factors notwithstanding). No doubt I will be

    • Author: Michelle Kenway Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist says

      Just so true Yve, problem is there’s no money to be made in preventative medicine is there? That’s why we continue to persist in the (useless) downstream approach of waiting until problems happen and try to manage them rather than getting into schools, providing some decent proactive education which would actually save healthcare and society millions in the long run. It’s all just too sensible isn’t it and just so frustrating to witness!

  3. how many time to do deep breathing

  4. Hi Michelle. I am about to go into hospital this week for pelvic organ prolapse repair. Both anterior and posterior. I came across your website earlier this year and this thread today. Can I just clarify, when doing diaphragmatic breathing should I co tract my pelvic floor as I breath deeply in and the relax pelvic floor as I passively breath out? Many thanks for the work you do in sharing your knowledge. I am sure it will help my recovery and I have a much better understanding of what has happened to my body from your site and book.

    • Michelle Kenway Physiotherapist says

      Hi Yvette

      Re pelvic floor & breathing – no need to contract your pelvic floor unless you are doing pelvic floor exercises. I think sometimes women get the message that they need to brace their pelvic floor muscles all the time in which case they run the risk of over bracing. When exercising your pelvic floor then breathing should be normal regardless of whether you are contracting or relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. It’s worth mentioning that your surgeon will probably have guidelines for when to recommence pelvic floor exercises post op and its important to follow these guidelines too.

      All the best for your recovery

      • Thank you Michelle, I am so hopeful this will work, surgery and exercising. The bearing down feeling has become really distracting and I am hoping it is resolved. Trying to put things in place for the enforced rest is tricky isn’t it!

        • Hi Michelle

          4 days post op for TOT and anterior prolapse repair. Early days and hard not to worry. I seem to have been left with a little bladder irritation – so often going to the toilet but no incontinence! Yay! Hoping the bladder settles down soon.
          However, the bearing down feeling is still there! I am now wondering if that wasn’t the prolapse but some sort of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction? Have you ever heard of anything like this? Unless I am actively doing a pelvic floor squeeze and pull up, my pelvic floor feels like it is pushing down at rest, rather than just sitting up a bit.
          Any ideas? Is this just a case of really weak ligaments maybe? So frustrating as i thought that feeling would go. I think I am overdoing contracting my muscles down there to compensate.
          Any thoughts would be gratefully appreciated, sadly no guidelines regarding recommencing PFE were offered after surgery so I have started them up but not too ferociously!

  5. Hi Michelle! Thanks for the great article. I am trying to breathe more mindfully and also build up my core strength.
    What confuses me though is how to keep good tightened abdominal posture and also breathe freely and deep from the diaphragm at the same time. Is this in opposition to each other? Or is there a balance between? Any tips how to visualize tight abs and deep breathing postures at the same time?

    • Michelle Kenway Physiotherapist says

      Hi Rebecca

      This is a good question and I think it highlights the issues with keeping the abdominal posture tightened all the time.

      The abdominal postural muscles are just that; postural muscles in that they work gently and continuously for long periods of time. This is how they should be trained with gentle not strong activation if this makes sense. When the deep abs are contracted with appropriate strength/intensity then breathing is natural too. I think of just a really gentle indraw of the inner deep abs surrounding the lower abdomen and breathing into the diaphragm with these deep muscles gently activated.

      I hope this helps Rebecca

  6. Hi Michelle, your website is great! I also understood what is meant by diaphragmatic breathing. I’m living in Europe and having some sessions with a physiotherapist who makes me use a kind of whistle to breath (exhale) she says this exercise strengthens the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor. I have the feeling that nothing happens. It’s a French method called Winner Flow, I am a little skeptical. I prefer Kegel exercises.

  7. valerie Bastien says

    Excellent step-by-steps instructions. I use it when teaching singing :)


    • Michelle Kenway says

      That’s great Val, thanks for letting me know! Interesting, I occasionally receive emails form singers with pelvic floor problems and I wonder if it’s related to the diaphragm and associated downward pressure in singers when inhaling deeply where the pelvic floor may weaken if susceptible…

      Many thanks for your feedback

  8. Hi michelle,I have been trying the deep breathing , inhaling slowly through the nose ,but exhaling through the mouth very fast, and I am finding my lower rib cage very sore, almost tender,…..could this be from blowing the air out to fast? Carolyn

    • Michelle Kenway says

      Hi Carolyn

      Yes absolutely – with diaphragmatic breathing the lungs should be allowed to passively empty so that the air just naturally exits the lungs. By blowing out the air fast you are using respiratory muscles that need not be used with passive exhale. The correct idea is to use your muscles to expand your rib cage and inflate your lungs (so this does require your muscular effort) however exhale should be passive so that the lungs deflate slowly as the rib cage recoils back to resting position.

      Hope this clarifies this technique for you Carolyn

      • Hi Michelle, Thank you so much for the explanation, it does clarify the technique for me ……I will try again, with a much better understaning of what I’m supposed to be doing! Carolyn

        • Michelle Kenway says

          Great Carolyn, just let me know if you have any further problems at all with this breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is such a useful technique to know so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. It should feel comfortable although if you are accustomed to upper chest breathing you may feel a little short of breath when starting out with the technique so it can take a little time to perfect. Michelle

  9. A very informative answer. Thanks so much Michelle.

  10. Ruth Smith says

    Hi Michele – very informative and useful information – thank you very much.
    Trust you are keeping well.

  11. Hi Michelle, great information, I always look forward to your articles. In the event of having severe bronchitis plus asthma where coughing is constant when doing normal chest breathing (resulting in incontinence) – would diaphragm breathing assist in alleviating coughing? i.e would it mean that if one learnt to diaphragm breath really well, would it result in bypassing using the lungs excessively, or are the lungs still predominantly recruited while diaphragm breathing?

    • Michelle Kenway says

      Hi Wendy
      I am really glad you have mentioned this – chronic chest problems with coughing are such a huge problem for women when it comes to the pelvic floor. In answer to your question, no diaphragmatic breathing won’t bypass the lungs, it will actually make the lungs inflate more as the diaphragm moves down into the abdomen. This type of breathing is a technique Physiotherapists teach to assist patients with decreased ventilation to the lungs ie when the lungs aren’t filling up well e.g. with bronchitis, lung collapse or pneumonia. This is a different problem to that experienced with asthma however diaphragmatic breathing is often included in a range of breathing exercises for asthmatics. Diaphragmatic breathing it increases the air entry to the air sacs or alveoli at the base of the lungs and encourages them to open up. Sometimes with the first few breaths it can make you cough a little so if you do choose to try it, do so when well and best to work into it gradually with the first few breaths in and fill the lungs progressively. I would suggest seeing a chest physio to help learn specific breathing exercises for asthma as there are a number of beneficial techniques that can be learned for chest clearance and breathing during asthma attack.

      The big thing in terms of the pelvic floor with chronic bronchitis/asthma, is the impact of the cough (as well as the effect of fatigue on the pelvic floor muscles when you are unwell). Wendy do you try to use ‘The Knack’ to help manage your coughing – this is currently the best immediate technique to use before and during cough – it involves a precontraction of the pelvic floor before cough, and trying to maintain this contraction during coughing which is not easy in a coughing fit.This means practicing your short strong brisk pelvic floor lifts and lowers as well as your long pelvic floor muscle contractions as well.

      Hope this helps you a little Wendy

  12. I look forward for the emails i find the exersizes realey help

  13. Hi thank you for your help I just tried the breathing while reading and it does feel good. I have been doing Zomba class and balance and stretch class on Mondays for about 4weeks now, I am finding it good but will try to use your breathing with the stretch class, every bit seems to help.
    Thanks for all ideas.

    • Michelle Kenway says

      My pleasure Merran, yes the breathing should help you to relax and stretch well – and yes writing this article reminded me to breathe with my diaphragm too, as you say every bit helps!

  14. Hi Michelle
    Very helpful Michelle, I just tried it sitting at my desk (working very hard on a Friday afternoon) and was surprised at how much more I could breathe in, I did get a few funny looks, but that’s not unusual.
    Love your work

  15. Michelle Fraser says

    Hi Michelle,
    This is a wonderful way to start and finish an exercise class. We do this often in my group training sessions. I also watched a post on FB recently by a lady called Dr. Libby and she added a wonderful extra to this fantastic little exercise.
    Close your eyes as you breathe and either say out loud or to yourself these words, “I am calm” as you breathe in, and, “I am smiling”, as you breathe out.
    Wonderful and relaxing……..hope many people put this technique to use.
    Cheers Michelle Fraser.

  16. Michelle Kenway says

    Hi Marg,
    My pleassure – yes we can all benefit from this exercise to help us in one way or another that’s for sure

  17. Marg Nugent says

    Thanks again Michelle, another wonderful exercise we can all do at home, it sure relieves stress and certainly helps with reducing my insomnia.