Belly Breathing diagram
Poses & Techniques

Belly Breathing: Reduce Anxiety and Stress with this Easy Breathing Technique

“Shallow breathing often accompanies stress, anxiety, and other psychological difficulties. This is typically a result of sympathetic over-arousal, commonly referred to as the “fight or flight response.” With practice, diaphragmatic breathing lead to a reversal of fight or flight, to a quieting response modulated by the parasympathetic nervous system.”

– Department of Veterans Affairs

Diaphragmatic Breathing a.k.a Belly Breathing

Breathing is probably something you haven’t thought much about. Why would you? It’s something that you’ve done naturally since the day you were born. That’s because breathing is part of our autonomic nervous system, or the involuntary nervous system. 

This system speeds up your breath when you’re in your ‘Fight or Flight’ stress response or slows it down when you’re in ‘Rest and Digest’. Either way, it’s a process we rarely give much thought to, even though it’s a major body function. As a result, most of our breathing is ‘chest breathing’ which is short and shallow breaths. 

While perfectly functional, this breath pattern doesn’t promote as much oxygen exchange or have the soothing properties as alternative breaths do. And there are a lot of benefits to be gained from conscious breath work and breathing exercises, especially for stroke survivors and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

They can help with cognitive functioning, reduce stress and anxiety, help manage pain, and even help you sleep better! 

Now that we know the benefits of breath work, let’s talk about some easy at home practices that are safe for stroke and TBIs.

An excellent first breath exercise is Diaphragmatic Breathing, more commonly known as belly breathing. This breath works by consciously engaging the diaphragm in a full and complete inhale and exhale, moving the breathing from your ‘chest’ to your ‘belly’. 

Belly Breathing is beneficial for everyone because it encourages full oxygen exchange, the trade of oxygen that you inhale for the carbon dioxide that you exhale. This full exchange slows the heartbeat, helping to calm the body and lower/stabilize blood pressure. It’s also been found to help with symptoms of pain, anxiety, panic, or even depression; all emotions and challenges that stroke survivors and individuals with TBIs may experience. 

The best part is of this practice is that it can be used whenever and wherever! So you can practice this breath before bed to relax or even when you’re out and need to feel more grounded and in control. 

Belly breathing is just one technique that is taught in our adaptive chair yoga class which is taught completely online. This class is catered specifically for individuals who have experienced a stroke or traumatic brain injury. To learn more about our online chair ygoa classes, click here!


Sources: Harvard Health; NHLBI: Body Controls Breathing; US Department of Veterans Affairs

How To: Belly Breathing

Let’s get started!


Get Comfortable 

We recommend practicing laying down in a comfortable position. Use a thin pillow or blanket to cushion your head. Rest one hand on your chest, around the sternum, and one on your belly. Close your eyes.

If you are practicing in public, try to find a seated position with your back flush against your chair. Bring one hand to your chest and one to your stomach. Let your eyes rest somewhere softly on the ground. 


Deep Inhale

Breath in slowly through your nose, letting the air pass through your chest and fill you belly. Your stomach should expand, your hand rising with the movement. The hand on your chest should remain still. 


Complete Exhale 

Purse your lips as you exhale, tightening your abdominal muscles and letting them fall inwards towards your spin. Your belly and hand should move to its original position.



Repeat this breathing pattern, letting your belly expand and contract as your chest remains still, for 5 to 10 minutes. You can practice this as needed or desired on a daily basis. 


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