Breathe into your Belly

Breathing is typically not an action most people think about on a daily process.

For most people, breathing is an action that happens on its own like blinking the eyes.  Who has the time to think about something you don’t have to think about?  On top of not thinking about breathing, most don’t pay too much attention to their posture.  When sitting for a while, our shoulders tend to roll forward and our lower back begins to round.  Spending majority of the day in this position can lead to back, shoulder, and neck pain.  This posture also fosters poor breathing.  The forward shoulder position leads to muscle tightness which causes our ribcage to elevate leading to chest dominate breathing.  The pec major attaches from the front of the shoulder to the rib cage and the scalenes attach from the neck to the ribcage.  When these two muscles become overactive, they cause a forward rounding of the shoulders.  In addition, the trapezius muscles in the upper back (the shrugging muscles) become tight, further contributing to this position.  

Along with the above mentioned muscle tightness, there is muscle weakness, primarily in the abdomen.  Weak abdominal muscles can cause a hollowing out of the midsection leading to low back pain and further promotion of chest breathing. Chest breathing continues to promote the poor posture by keeping the tight muscles tight and keeping the unused abdominal muscle weak.

Belly breathing, on the other hand, utilizes the diaphragm which is the major muscle that should be used in breathing.  Shifting the focus of breathing down towards the belly (or, more accurately the diaphragm) has several benefits:

  • Assists in promoting better posture
  • Can alleviate neck and back pain
  • Promotes relaxation

Belly breathing allows the pec major, scalenes, and trapezius muscles to decrease their contribution to breathing, thus, allowing them to relax.   This relaxation contributes to decreased tightness of these muscles that may be causing pain in the upper back.  Focusing the breathing to the belly will help engage the under-utilized abdominal muscles and can also help alleviate pain felt in the lower back.  Finally, belly breathing contributes to a more relaxed physical and mental state.  Chest breathing is quick and involves many breaths per minute promoting an excited body.  Belly breathing is slower and more controlled and leads to an overall calming and more focused body and mind.  

Learning to “belly breathe” will improve posture, alleviate pain, and promote relaxation.


Article by Drew Emanuelson, a licensed personal trainer and exercise rehab specialist at Fusion Gym. He received his B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.