Good breathing means to breathe fully and deeply. By contracting your diaphragm along with the muscles between your ribs, you can use the full capacity of your lungs. If you breathe correctly, you don’t need to strain or struggle. Your upper chest, breastbone and shoulders will barely move. Shallow breathing results from lifting up your ribs and shoulders to expand your lungs. This type of breathing results in less ventilation and fatigue. Stomach exercises to promote good breathing primarily involve strengthening your diaphragm.
Learning to Use the Abdomen
Engage in a basic abdominal breathing exercise to learn how to inhale and exhale properly. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place a towel under your head, pointing your chin toward your chest and elongating your neck. Rest your hands on your abdomen. Point your fingers toward your navel. Visualize directing your breath to your belly button. Inhale slowly through your nose. While drawing your breath to your navel, allow your abdomen to expand. Begin with a gentle breath. Slowly extend the duration of each inhalation and exhalation. Use your hands to check your upper chest for incorrect movement. Increase the pressure you put on your abdomen while simultaneously increasing the amount of air you take in. Place your hands on the obliques, or the sides of the abdominals. Use your breath to expand your obliques 10 times. Imagine that your stomach is a sausage-shaped balloon that inflates and deflates. Conclude the exercise by breathing deeply and expanding the front and sides of your abdomen.
Controlling the Abdomen
By using abdominal muscles to breathe, you automatically activate your diaphragm. Use a book or other heavy object to increase the difficulty of the basic abdominal breathing exercise. Begin in the same position, lying on the floor. Place a thick book on your abdomen. Inhale and exhale deeply and try to move the book with only your abdomen. Avoid any movement of your shoulders, chest or ribcage. Secure a measuring tape around your chest and repeat the exercise. Check the tape to see if your chest is also expanding. If it is, you’re breathing incorrectly.
Using Your Tongue and Abdomen to Direct Breath
Use your tongue to help direct your breath to the lower abdomen. Lie on your back, placing your arms 12 to 14 inches away from your body. Turn your palms down. Bend your knees and draw your feet close to your buttocks. Press the tip of the tongue against your lower front teeth. Count one and exhale. Blow a strong gust through your mouth and deflate the abdomen. Swing your knees up to your chest at the same time you exhale. Repeat the exhalation and knee-swing on count two. Return to start position. Press the tip of your tongue to the upper front teeth. Count one and inhale. Sniff strongly through your nose, inflate your lower abdomen and simultaneously swing your knees up to your chest. Repeat the sniff and knee-swing on count two. Return to start position with your feet flat on the floor. Repeat the exercise 10 times in a rocking motion, swinging your knees to your chest and alternating between inhalations and exhalations.
Adding a Weight to an Abdominal Breathing Exercise
By performing an abdominal brace with a weight, you can improve the coordination and strength of your diaphragm. When you exhale in this exercise, aim to keep the abdominal contraction without clenching your buttocks or moving your lower back. Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Place a half-rolled towel under your lower back. Lift a medicine ball until your arms are vertical to the floor. Inhale and slowly move the ball toward your head in an arching motion. When the ball almost touches the floor above your head, exhale with a strong gust through pursed lips. Slowly bring the ball back to start position, using the same arching motion.
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.