One of the things you will notice when you start to build up a more consistent yoga routine is how important breath work is and how much of a subconscious focus it needs.
As you know, oxygen is what provides fuel to your muscles, so the way this fuel is delivered is controlled by breathing, and this is why it is so important.
You want to make sure that you are putting effort into breathing the right way to ensure that you are fueling your muscles in the right way.
This is why you will so commonly find yoga teachers telling their students how they should be breathing.
In fact, one of the most common things you will hear a yoga teacher instruct you to do is to breathe into your belly, which is often more difficult than it sounds.
No two people are built the same, so make sure to keep this in mind when reading through these instructions.
In this guide we are going to give you information about what both belly breathing and chest breathing are so you can better understand what they are and how to approach each of them.
What Is Belly Breathing?
Now, before we go into exactly what belly breathing is and how it is used, as well as what the benefits are, we should focus on the terminology that is used to refer to belly breathing, and the type of breath work you are doing.
You will sometimes hear people refer to belly breathing as diaphragmatic breathing, or instead abdominal breathing.
Using any of these terms still refer to breathing you do which will move your belly, however, the term diaphragmatic breathing in particular is a little bit misleading.
This is because you use your diaphragm in all forms of breathing, but let’s not hyperfixate on that particular element too much.
That said, we do need to know what the diaphragm is, in case you are not aware already.
The diaphragm is a muscle that is found in your chest and your abdominal cavity.
When you are belly breathing you will be activating your diaphragm and its dome will descend down into your abdomen, and this will then push your belly forwards.
This is why it is also worth mentioning that belly breathing is a technique and it is not an area of storage.
Your lungs are located above the belly, so when you are practicing your belly breathing, the oxygen will not be going into this part of the body, instead you will be pushing the belly out through how you are engaging your diaphragm.
Singers in-training will frequently be reminded to breathe with their diaphragm, as it allows them to regulate their breathing, protect their vocal cords, and helps them achieve a fuller, louder sound.
While we yoga enthusiasts don’t have to worry about most of that, the breathing regulation part is extremely important to our craft.
The best way to identify a belly breathe is also the easiest, you will simply notice that your belly has bulged.
This can be pretty easily incorporated into your yoga, as well as any other mindful practices you engage in.
However, there are plenty of other circumstances where belly breathing can be useful.
For example, some people use belly breathing to get more oxygen into their lungs if they are feeling like they are short of breath.
This is useful if you suffer from anxiety, asthma, or a similar condition where being short of breath is common.
After the explanation on chest breathing we will go more into the different breathing practices you can do using belly breathing.
However, before going deeper into belly breathing, we need to understand what chest breathing is as well!
What Is Chest Breathing?
As opposed to the variety of terms that are used to describe belly breathing, chest breathing can also be referred to thoracic breathing.
Like the name of this style of breathing implies, it moves your rib cage, as opposed to your belly.
This type of breathing will be talking about the breaths done from the upper area of your lungs.
These are usually shorter, as well as quicker, as opposed to the longer and deeper belly breathing.
While belly breathing is occasionally called diaphragmatic breathing, this method still uses your diaphragm, however, the diaphragm will not be descending as far, because of this it is less noticeable.
Chest breathing is essentially shallow breathing since it will not be fully engaging your lungs.
Using chest breathing is perfect for certain situations, however, as you can tell from the description of each, belly breathing is the method that is preferred by yogis due to its deeper nature and because of this it aligns with a lot of yoga practices in a way that chest breathing does not.
So, while chest breathing is fine in a lot of circumstances, there are also some issues that are associated with chest breathing.
Firstly chest breathing can trigger muscle posturing, this should be avoided since it can often lead to pain and tension, as well as headaches on occasion.
Based on how chest breathing is shorter and quicker, it is actually a lot less efficient than using belly breathing and this makes it more labor intensive on your body.
The completion of exhalation is also difficult when you are chest breathing, this is why if you are chest breathing too much, you could end up being more breathless.
However, as we mentioned earlier, just because there are drawbacks to chest breathing, does not mean that you should always be belly breathing.
The particular way everyone does their breath work will depend on the person who is doing it, and they both have their place.
Now we know exactly what belly breathing and chest breathing are, let’s look deeper at their differences!
Key Differences Between Belly And Chest Breathing
So, now we understand why yoga teachers tend to instruct their students to try belly breathing instead of chest breathing, however, we still need to know in greater detail what differentiates these styles of breathing and how they can help us.
The main difference which is the most obvious difference when it comes to breathing is the strength of the breaths.
Chest breathing is a lot more shallow making the breaths short and quick, while if you are belly breathing, the breaths are slower and much deeper.
This means that your inhalations and exhalations take a lot longer, and they also deliver more oxygen to your bloodstream per breath.
Then a difference we touched upon in our explanation of each type of breath is the area of your lungs that they use.
When you are chest breathing, you are using your chest muscles to inflate your lungs, and this is done by pulling on the rib cage.
This makes the chest expand and then contract with every breath.
However, when you are belly breathing, you are using up the entirety of the lung’s capacity, and this pulls down on the abdominal cavity and then inflates the lungs.
One aspect we have not mentioned yet is the carbon dioxide release as well, the more air you are in taking when you are belly breathing it makes it so you are also able to exhale more carbon dioxide.
When you are chest breathing on the other hand, there is more of an imbalance of oxygen to carbon dioxide, and if you rely on this type of breathing too much, this is why you can end up suffering from something like hyperventilation.
While there are more minor differences we can use to differentiate belly breathing and chest breathing, these are the most significant examples that we think need to be highlighted.
So, what other methods can you use to tell if you are belly breathing or chest breathing?
How To Tell If You Are Belly Or Chest Breathing
Now you know the main differences between belly breathing and chest breathing, it is likely that you better understand why yoga instructors will ask you to belly breathe instead of chest breath.
However, in your daily life, chest breathing is just as common, and because of it, some people tend to practice chest breathing more often.
It is actually true that women tend to be more likely to chest breathe than men are, whereas men are more likely to be belly breathers.
The main reason for this is that the angles of men and women’s ribs are slightly different, and this is to help it when women want to cope better with their pregnancies.
The main way to tell if you are belly breathing or chest breathing is to look at your body like we mentioned earlier.
People will often lie on their back and leave their hands on their abdomen.
You will notice that if your hands are rising and falling naturally, you are belly breathing, but if your hand stays pretty still, then you are chest breathing.
While this is easier to do when you are lying down, you can still do it when you are standing or sitting.
All you need to do is focus on whether your belly is bulging when you are inhaling or if it is not.
You can also notice your ribs moving a bit if you are chest breathing more often instead.
If you are frustrated that you tend to chest breathe more than you do belly breaths, then the next section will aid you in learning how to belly breathe more naturally.
Practicing Belly Breathing
One of the best ways to engage with, and practice belly breathing is to take a more mindful approach to your breathing. This can have some real and positive consequences for your breath work.
The process of getting better at belly breathing is actually not as challenging as you might assume, and there are some simple steps you can take to learn how to belly breathe more often and use this to be more calm, balanced and relaxed.
The first thing to do is sit on a chair you find comfortable.
Then lay your hands on your belly. After this you want to close your mouth and then breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.
When you inhale you want to feel your belly filling with air and to grow.
Then very slowly and gently, aim to blow this air out through your lips in a pursed position in a similar way to how you blow bubbles.
Repeat this process breathing deep through your nose and slowly out your mouth.
It can be a little tricky to pick up on, but if you repeat this for between 5 to 10 minutes per session, you should be able to find this breathing pattern more natural, and this can make it more natural when you are practicing yoga as well.
If you want to make sure that you are belly breathing, just keeping your hand on your stomach is a great way to keep track of this!
Summary – Why Yoga Teachers Ask You To Breathe Into Your Belly
So, now you know everything you need to know about belly breathing, hopefully you can understand why this style of breathing is promoted so heavily by yoga instructors.
The main reason is that it will aid in releasing more oxygen into your bloodstream, and it also helps avoid issues like hyperventilation by improving the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your body.
It provides all the necessary muscles in your body with the fuel they need to pull off the often quite testing yoga poses (Also check out The Ultimate Guide To The 26 Bikram Yoga Poses), especially when holding them for extended periods.
When you nail your belly breathing, you’ll feel significantly looser, and more in sync with your yogi.
There are more obvious examples of why this is promoted by yoga instructors like how belly breathing just tends to be more relaxing as well as calming too.
You are also engaging your diaphragm in a way that is better for your body and reduces chances of muscle tension to