Yoga, Meditation and Breathing

Yoga has many disciplines but in general, there are three main focuses of (exercise, breathing, and meditation.)  According to and the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, long-term yoga practitioners in the United States have reported musculoskeletal and mental health improvements, as well as reduced symptoms of asthma in asthmatics.

Regular yoga practice increases brain GABA* levels and has been shown to improve mood and anxiety more than some other metabolically matched exercises, such as walking.  (* GABA is an abbreviation for the main neurotransmitter in the central nervous system)

When the diaphragm muscle contracts, it pulls the bottom of the lungs downward, causing them to fill, while the ribs flare outward to the sides. The chest and abdominal muscles are not used in diaphragmatic breathing. Conscious diaphragmatic breathing is extremely relaxing to the autonomic nervous system and is essential preparation for deep meditation.

Diagram courtesy of University of Southern California School of Medicine.


The diaphragm is a huge muscle that rests horizontally across the base of the rib cage. Imagine an oval shaped dinner plate, turned upside down, and inside your lower rib cage. The diaphragm is connected in the front, along the sides of your lower ribs, and also along the back.

Diaphragmatic breathing 
is one of the most important 
foundation practices for meditation. 

On inhalation, the diaphragm muscle contracts, and pulls downward, such that the ribs flare out slightly, and pulls the bottom of the lungs downward to bring in air. On exhalation, this releases and the air goes out. With deep diaphragmatic breathing, the space just below the breast bone, at the upper abdomen pushes in slightly so as to exhale more completely.

When the diaphragm is used for breathing, there is little motion in the lower abdomen, and the chest remains still. However, we lead stress-filled lives, and learn bad breathing habits, using the abdomen and the chest. This creates further tension that leaves us in a vicious cycle of mental chatter driving bad breathing and physical tightness, and the bad breathing, in turn, causing trouble to the mind.

It is important to note that modern medicine has finally acknowledged what the yogis have known for thousands of years, that the breath is intimately connected to the autonomic nervous system and the mind. Even some hospitals and medical establishments are now willing to train people in breath regulation.

We need to consciously practice diaphragmatic breathing. This involves a retraining program, and while another person can teach us how to do it, it is actually a self-training program. Nobody can do the actual awareness and training for you.

The benefits of learning and practicing diaphragmatic breathing are immense.  The “science” behind a proper gas exchange in the alveoli to absorb oxygen and expel wastes (carbon monoxide) is described in greater detail elsewhere on this site.




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    • Studies show that proper breathing into the diaphragm and slowing one’s respiration rate (breaths-per-minute) is directly related to numerous physiological and psychological states of health. “Breathwork” is central to the discipline of Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong and most forms of meditation.  It helps to use a kitchen timer or other device to help “coach” as you learn new breathing habits and to remind you to practice. There is an inexpensive breathing reminder called The BreathMinder® that has a silent alarm, is easy to use, and is tiny enough to wear comfortably under clothing.  More information . . .

      Page last updated August 27, 2017