Diaphragmatic Breathing

Most health gurus today promote the practice of diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing instead of costal or rib breathing. In this article we will examine this practice to see whether or not diaphragmatic breathing really is the correct way to breathe for optimal health.

A simple question to answer is this: when your doctor is listening to your breathing with a stethoscope, and asks you to breath in and out deeply, how do you breath? Do you breath with your belly or with your chest? Of course you would breathe primarily costally or with your chest expanding and contracting. If you would breath primarily diaphragmatically, with your abdomen expanding and contracting, you would only be using a fraction of your lung power.

Consider also an animal when it is panting. You will notice that it is not diaphragmatic breathing, but costal breathing since you can see its rib cage expanding and contracting with each breath.

The expert physical culturalist Edwin Checkley faced the same opposition to his method of costal breathing which he taught. In the revised edition of his book A Natural Method of Physical Training , Checkley addressed this matter in a seperate chapter titled "More About Breathing." In this chapter Checkley defends costal breathing which had given him such strength and vitality, and criticizes diaphragmatic breathing which he calls abdominal breathing. Below are some extracts from Checkley:

"The whole difficulty in the question of proper methods of breathing seems to me to rest on the failure to understand the essential defference between costal [with the ribs] and abdominal [diaphragmatic] breathing. A great deal that is conflicting and misleading has been written on this subject, both by those who are supposed to thoroughly understand the makeup of the human animal as well as by those who do not claim this exhaustive knowledge [the very same statement could be made of the situation today]. It is not in my province, neither have I any desire, to criticise individuals. I have neither the time nor the inclination for personal debates, but so long as my own vitality survives I shall not hesitate to attack systems of training, be they general or specific, that have not a basis in actual facts and natural reason.

The subject of costal breathing, to which I have referred in the chapter on "How to Breathe," seems to offer one of the most pressing questions of the hour; and its discussion would be particularly valuable, perhaps, to those who fancy themselves securely orthodox.

But before saying more of this, I must speak of an allusion often made by people who seem to pay more attention to developing their memories than to developing their power of reason; I mean their allusion to the being called a normal man and woman, by which is generally meant the primitive man and woman.

Now, this being who is held up for our guidance in physical matters as a sort of beacon which, if followed, will surely lead us poor civilized mortals into a state of serene health; who would make the materia medica obsolete and send into oblivion those who practice it; this being offers, I am afraid, no very promising guide to reasonable beings [such reasoning has also been employed in matters of diet where the ideal diet is touted as being that of a primitive man such as Neanderthal or some other such savage being]. Speaking of this primitive being whom we are told to look upon as a perfect physical type, Fritz Schultz in his work on "Fetichism" aptly remarks that he has no intelligence. Such beings exert themselves only so far as strict necessity requires. After the hunt comes unbroken repose. Feast and gluttony are regarded by all primitive savages as the acme of earthly felicity. Infanticide, foeticide, abortion, abandonment, sale and even eating of children are so common among them as to explode all the sentimental idyllic tirades that have ever been sung about the innocent life of the human animal in the state of nature. All of which goes to prove that education, especially that part of education in which the reasoning faculties are developed by observation, comparison and deduction is much the best factor in developing men and women to the highest possible point of physical as well as mental perfection.

I do not believe, then, in imitating the savage. From what I have observed of these so-called normal beings they are nothing more than what may be best described as raw material; and in that state they certainly are not models fit for us to follow, unless we wish to retrograde. In the undeveloped state of their intellectual powers, they know nothing of the forces of nature, and unless they do they cannot hope to develop themselves physically. In their condition they know no more of breathing so as to foster a healthy and long life, than they do of ethical philosophy. They breathe abdominally because they are lazy and ignorant, and do not know how and never have known how to breathe any other way.

This very condition is the trouble with a majority of the people whom we call civilized. As I have already suggested, nature no more teaches the human animal how to breathe, walk, stand, stoop and sit in a manner beneficial than may be suggested by the promptings of our sensations, than she teaches to read and write. One is as much a matter of education as the other."

Checkley goes on to point out that: "breathing costally, or without the action of the abdomen [the opposite of diaphragmatic breathing], is an educated method of breathing, and can be acquired only by an earnest and conscientious effort and a definite cooperation of the mind and body.

To breathe costally by a conscious effort of the nostrils and the muscles of the upper chest may require and does require a conscious restraint of a tendency to use the abdominal muscles. For the successful acquirement of this beneficial method of breathing the abdominal movement must be specifically resisted. The result is not only the strengthening of the lungs and chest, but the strengthening of the waist region."

In conclusion it should be stated again that diaphragmatic breathing (breathing with the abdomen), is not a beneficial method of breathing. It should be discontinued in favor of costal breathing which has the benefits of increasing lung power, strengthening the chest and shoulder muscles, and continuously exercising the waist region. Costal breathing is the basis of exercising without exercises.

Return from Diaphragmatic Breathing to The Breathing Protocol

Return from Diaphragmatic Breathing to The Ultimate Health Protocol