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  • Writer's pictureMy Osteo Charlotte

Get a relaxed diaphragm

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

New year rhyming with new resolutions, many of us think deeply to: subscribe in a gym, quit smoking, start a diet and sometimes even the 3 at the same time.

Just past January the pressure is already optimal. While panting we wonder how to face the end of the year…

However 2017 is the year of the fire rooster! We could start by picking a few tips from this singer animal who manages his breathing and diaphragm like a soprano.

Inhale… Exhale…


The diaphragm is a cupola-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. It is inserted on the internal surface of the sternum, the ribs and the lumbar spine.

It is the main muscle of breathing: it contracts during breathing in by pushing down (allowing air to enter the lungs) and relaxes during breathing out (expulsion of air).

Breathing normally involves 3 parts of the body: the abdominal region, the thoracic region and the clavicular region. However contraction of the diaphragm can be altered by various factors such as chronic stress, anxiety, cold, respiratory disorders (asthma, chronic bronchitis ...) poor posture or bad practice of a sport.

These factors can lead to a blocked diaphragm that limits abdominal’s implication in the breathing process. Thus the chest muscles compensate  by pulling the upper part of the body (visible especially with smokers). This is called paradoxical breathing or reverse breathing.

This reverse breathing may lead to the following symptoms: air lack’ sentation, sensation of knot in the belly/throat, constipation, reflux, back or rib pain.


A good use of the diaphragm will promote:

  • Intestinal transit: the diaphragm works like a plunger mechanism and its contractions massage the abdominal viscera

  • Venous return and lymphatic circulation

  • Stress reduction, emotions’ management

  • Sleep: thanks to breathing exercises performed at bedtime


Even if diaphragm’s contractions are part of a reflex process, it is possible to vonluntarily modify its contractions. (Hopefully as it is contracting up to 20,000 times a day):

  • Be attentive to your posture

  • Avoid tight bras

  • Avoid sucking in your gut: leave your belly button in peace!

  • Exercise of diaphragmatic breathing aka "baby belly"

In the first realizations this exercise can be considered uncomfortable and difficult. However diaphragmatic breathing is a natural process. With time the body will get used to it.

1. Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest

2. Breath slowly through the nose (another option: inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth)

3. When inhaling: start inflating your abdomen by pushing down your diaphragm (be careful not to move the upper part of the body) = ABDOMINAL BREATHING PHASE

4. Once the abdomen is inflated, keep breathing in until you reach an expansion of the thorax = THORACIC AND CLAVICULAR BREATHING PHASE (the upper part of the body moves)

5. When exhaling: the upper part of the body relaxes first then the diaphragm goes back up and the gut sucks in

6. Control your rhythm by breathing in and out at the same speed (start with 4 seconds)

Repeat the exercise every day, 5 to 10 minutes

For more information do not hesitate to contact me.

Charlotte Mernier

Osteopath Marylebone



My Osteo Charlotte
My Osteo Charlotte
Jul 16, 2018

Hi Kelly,

Thanks a lot for your interest in our article!

I will check the references you quoted :)

Have a lovely day


Unknown member
May 15, 2018

Thank you for the great tips on diaphragm health! I would also add that diaphragmatic mobility can influence headaches, by regulating the pressure balance between the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Excessive intra-abdominal pressure can potentially be transmitted into the venous sinus system, causing intracranial hypertension (Nedelmann, Kaps & Müller-Forell, 2009). Osteopathic treatment can help with diaphragmatic mobility, promoting vascualrisation (Rivers et al 2009), and generally with migraines and other headaches (Cerritelli, F. et al., 2017). Do you find in your practice that giving patients with migraines the exercises outlined in your article helps reduce headache frequency?

Cerritelli, F. et al. (2017) ‘Osteopathy for primary headache patients: a systematic review’, Journal of Pain Research, 10, pp. 601–611. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S130501.


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