Paolo Assandri
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Here's why you should learn more about your breathe

"Breath is the force of life.
When breathing is calm, the mind is calm."

B.K.S. Iyengar

"Take a breath!" How many times have we heard this during a stressful situation. Yet, despite our good intentions, we often forget to pay attention to our breathing, forgetting that we have one of the most powerful (and side-effect-free) anti-anxiety tools at our disposal.

Breathing is a fundamental physiological function that goes beyond simply supplying the body with oxygen. Mindful and diaphragmatic breathing, in particular, have been shown to bring numerous benefits to psychophysical well-being.

But what is meant by Mindful Breathing and Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Mindful breathing is a practice that involves bringing attention and awareness to one's breath. It is a key element of meditation and mindfulness, and usually involves focusing on the natural rhythm of breathing, without attempting to control it, but rather observing it with attention and acceptance. This practice aims to bring the mind into the present moment and develop greater awareness of oneself and one's surroundings through the breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing, involves the active use of the diaphragm, a muscle located underneath the lungs, to facilitate deep and complete breathing. During diaphragmatic breathing, the abdomen expands during inhalation while the diaphragm contracts downwards, allowing the lungs to fully expand. This breathing technique promotes increased oxygen supply to the body and relaxation of the nervous system, helping to reduce stress and anxiety.

In summary, mindful breathing requires being present and aware of the breath without interfering with it, while diaphragmatic breathing is a specific technique that uses the movement of the diaphragm to promote deep, relaxing breathing. Both practices can be used to improve mental and physical well-being and reduce stress in daily life.

Benefits of Mindful and Diaphragmatic Breathing on the Nervous System

The practice of mindful breathing and diaphragmatic breathing can positively influence the nervous system, leading to a greater feeling of calm and relaxation. Here are some of the short-term benefits on mental health through the nervous system:

  1. Stress and anxiety reduction: Mindful breathing has been associated with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. A study by Tang et al. (2009) showed that the practice of mindful breathing can attenuate the stress response and reduce anxiety symptoms.
  2. Improved vagal tone: Diaphragmatic breathing can increase vagal tone, which means increased vagus nerve activity. The vagus nerve is crucial for regulating the autonomic nervous system and has beneficial effects on mental health. A study by Kim et al. (2018) found that diaphragmatic breathing can increase vagal tone and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  3. Increased mental clarity and concentration: The practice of mindful breathing can improve brain oxygenation, thereby increasing mental clarity and concentration. Research by Zaccaro et al. (2018) showed that short sessions of mindful breathing can improve cognitive performance and reduce mental fatigue.

Difference between Inspiration and Exhalation and their effects on the Nervous System

Breathing is a process consisting of two main phases: inhalation and exhalation. During inhalation, air is drawn into the lungs through the process of contraction of the respiratory muscles, mainly the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. During exhalation, air is expelled from the lungs through relaxation of the respiratory muscles.

It is important to note that exhalation plays a crucial role in the breathing process and in psychophysical well-being. While inhalation brings vital oxygen into the body, exhalation allows the elimination of carbon dioxide and other waste substances. In addition, deep and complete exhalation can promote relaxation and reduce stress, as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Making the exhalation time longer is crucial to induce a feeling of relaxation! So, exhale longer (and gently) if you want to relax.

In conclusion, here are two simple exercises that I invite you to try. Find a quiet place and give yourself the opportunity to practice these exercises daily: breathing needs training and practice!

1. Abdominal (Diaphragmatic) Breathing:

    • How to do it: Lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Inhaling slowly through your nose, make the air inflate your abdomen so that the hand on your abdomen rises (as if your abdomen were a balloon), while the hand on your chest remains still. Exhale slowly through your lips as if you were blowing out many candles on a cake, causing your abdomen to contract.
    • Beneficial effects: Diaphragmatic breathing improves oxygenation of the body, reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes general relaxation.

2. Square Breathing:

    • How to do it: Sitting in a comfortable position, inhale while slowly counting to 4. Hold the breath for the same count of 4. Exhale completely counting to 4. Hold your breath empty for the same count of 4. Repeat the cycle.
    • Beneficial effects: Square breathing helps balance the nervous system, increases awareness and promotes calmness and emotional stability.

Let me know what effect they have on you and...enjoy your breath!


  1. Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(12), 1849-1858.
  2. Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). Sudarshan kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part II-clinical applications and guidelines. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 11(4), 711-717.
  3. Kim, S., Kim, Y. W., & Lee, H. J. (2018). Effects of diaphragmatic breathing on mood and autonomic variables. Korean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 37(3), 532-541.
  4. Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., ... & Posner, M. I. (2009). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), 17152-17156.
  5. Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., ... & Gemignani, A. (2018). How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of Slow Breathing

Author: Paolo Assandri is a HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist and a UKCP Registered Full Clinical Psychotherapist. He is also a fully qualified Italian psychologist and psychotherapist (Ordine degli Psicologi del Piemonte). He lives and works in London offering counselling and psychotherapy.

This exercise is not intended to replace any kind of medical/psychological therapy. Its only purpose is to increase individual perception of well-being. If you need medical or psychological support, please contact a qualified health practitioner. Authors, producers, consultants involved in the production of this exercise are not responsible for any psychological or physical injury which could happen during or after completing the activity explained in this article.

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