Meditation Tracker

Deep Breathing with a Breath Pillow

Deep Breathing with a Breath Pillow

Bill Ryan, PhD

Healthy breathing is both deep and full. How we breathe has a fundamental impact on the stress response—deeper, fuller breaths lead to a happier, calmer you. Deep breathing requires breathing diaphragmatically. How can we learn diaphragmatic breathing? With a little breath training.

Healthy breathing is both deep and full.

We are familiar with weight training for all kinds of muscles, but most of us have never thought about strengthening the main muscle we use for breathing, the diaphragm. It is located below the lungs. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts, the abdomen expands, and air flows into the lungs. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, the abdomen softens, and air flows out of the lungs. A strong diaphragm increases your capacity to manage stress and anxiety, and remain calm throughout your day.

The best tool for strengthening the diaphragm is a soft, lightly weighted object, like a breath pillow. Breath pillows range in weight from 3 pounds for beginners to 20 pounds for advanced practitioners. If you don’t have a breath pillow, you can fill a bag with 5 to 10 pounds of rice, beans, or playground sand—adjusting the weight according to your needs. The bag should be big enough to cover your torso from below the rib cage down to your belly button or just below. Most people start with 5 to 10 pounds, but you may have to experiment a bit to see what weight is best for you.

Here’s a simple 10-minute technique for strengthening your diaphragm:

1. Lie on your back and make yourself comfortable.

2. Place a thin blanket or pillow under your neck and head.

3. Relax and allow yourself to be supported by the floor.

4. Bring your awareness to your breathing and notice your breath flow in and out as the belly rises and falls.

5. After a few minutes, place the breath pillow over your belly, just below the rib cage and above the pubic bone.

6. The weight of the pillow will cause your breath to flow out more quickly; gently resist this pressure by slowing your exhalation to match the length of your inhalation.

7. Try to keep your attention on your breath—feel the breath pillow move up as you inhale, and back down as you exhale.

8. After about 5 minutes (or when you become tired), gently remove the pillow and lie there for a few more minutes breathing normally. Notice the breath. You may feel that your breathing is more effortless, and may notice that you feel more relaxed and at ease.

Practice this technique once a day or as often as you can for one month. Try adding more time or weight (not both at the same time) as you become more comfortable with this technique. As you go through your day, notice if you are breathing more comfortably and if you have more energy, resilience, and patience.

Practice Resources

Explore Rolf Sovik’s book on Moving Inward, or check out our breath pillow for breath training.

Breath Pillow

Enhance your breathing practice with this product, used in breath training practices for strengthening the diaphragm in order to support optimal diaphragmatic breathing.

Moving Inward: The Journey to Meditation

Rolf Sovik

This book will guide you through the various stages of the inward journey, and will deepen your understanding of this transformational practice whether you are a beginner or advanced meditator.

About the Author

Bill Ryan, PhD

Bill Ryan earned a PhD in exercise physiology from the University of Wisconsin and holds degrees in nursing and public health (epidemiology). In addition to being licensed as a registered nurse, Bill is certified as a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine and is a registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. He brings 30 years of teaching experience in higher education in exercise science, public health, and nursing, and over 40 years of meditation practice to his current position on the staff of the PureRejuv Wellness Center, where he provides biofeedback services.