A pregnant woman with a hand on belly and hand on chest as if practicing 360 breathing.

Breathing is something that we do automatically, without even thinking about it.

Some of us even forget to do it from time to time.

No joke: An (admittedly unscientific) study suggests up to 80% of office works suffer from “email apnea” while engaged in intense intellectual tasks.

We actually slow down our breathing, in some cases holding our breath, without even noticing.

You probably know that the way you breathe can have a big impact on our physical and mental well-being.

There’s a big difference between how you feel when in engaged in shallow, upper chest breathing and deep, diaphragm-driven breathing.

Benefits Of Deep Breathing

Deep breathing techniques, like 360 degree breathing, can help to improve lung capacity, calm the nervous system, and promote great core and pelvic floor function.

These benefits become particularly valuable during and after pregnancy, when your growing babe throws wrench into your breathing dynamics.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at a specific breathing exercise, 360 degree breathing.

We’ll practice it, step-by-step, so you can see what it feels like to get a better inhale and a better exhale.

What Is 360 Breathing?

360 degree breathing is a deep breathing technique that involves using your breath to create expansion in your rib cage and abdomen.

During 360 breathing, your diaphragm runs the show. It contracts downward creating intra-abdominal pressure driving expansion through the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor.

Animated demonstration of piston breathing: Diaphragm, pelvic floor and transverse abdominals in motion
It can be broken down into three main components or phases: diaphragmatic breathing, rib cage expansion and back body expansion.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes known as belly breathing (but see the very important caveat below!!), involves breathing from the diaphragm, your main respiratory muscle located at the base of your rib cage.

Feel it: Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.

As you inhale, keep your shoulders down and visualize your diaphragm descending towards your pelvis.

You’ll feel your chest rise and your belly expand as the diaphragm contracts and draws air into the lungs.

As you exhale, you’ll feel your chest and belly relax towards the spine.

Rib Cage Expansion

As you inhale, your rib cage should expand in 360 degrees.

You should feel it expand side to side AND front to back. (Picture an umbrella opening.)

Feel it: Place your hands on your lower rib cage, thumbs wrapping around your back.

Inhale deeply and feel the breath expand your hands front-to-back and push your hands apart side-to-side.

Back Body Expansion

Back body expansion refers to the expansion of the breath into the back of the body, facilitating mobility in the back of the rib cage and posterior pelvic floor.

This can be achieved by focusing on the sensation of the breath moving through the back as you inhale.

Feel it: This is easiest to feel with some type of reference. If you’re lying on the ground, you can feel your back expand into the floor. Or, sitting up, you can loosely wrap a resistance band around your lower ribs and sense the band expanding around your back as you inhale.

Before we practice putting the diaphragm, the rib cage and the back body together- let’s make an important distinction: Let’s chat through the difference between a 360 Breath and a Belly Breath.

How Is 360 Breathing Different From Belly Breathing?

Belly breathing is a breathing strategy in which you focus on expanding the breath into the belly, causing the abdominal wall to rise as you inhale.

Done properly, belly breathing should be synonymous with diaphragmatic breathing and the rise of the stomach is driven by the downward contraction of the diaphragm on inhale.

The main difference between belly breathing and 360 degree breathing is that 360 breathing involves expanding the breath into a wider area of the body, while belly breathing is focused solely on expanding the breath into the belly.

A cropped image of a woman holding her pregnant belly.

Which Is Better? 360 Breathing or Belly Breathing?

360 breathing and belly breathing are both diaphragmatic breathing techniques that can improve the function of your deep core.

I don’t love assigning belly breathing, because too often people are so focused on the rise and fall of the belly and the diaphragmatic breath gets lost. It just becomes an exercise in bulging and contracting the abdominal muscles.

The 360 breath incorporates more sensory awareness and cueing of expansion in the rib cage, back body and belly.

360 breathing does a better job of counter-balancing common pregnancy postural and breathing compensations, addressing the root cause of rib flare and creating expansion through the lumbar spine.

How Do You Practice 360 Breathing?

If you’re able to lie on your back, I love to teach 360 breathing in a 90/90 back-lying position.

Set up near a wall, with the feet on the wall, knees and hips at 90 degrees.

Place a small pillow or towel roll under your head.

Relax your neck muscles. Relax your shoulders. Exhale completely to get the ribs closer to the floor.

Place your hands on the sides of your lower ribs, with thumbs wrapped around to the back.

1) Inhale, keeping shoulders down, and feel expansion into your hands.

2) As you inhale you should also feel your low back expand into the ground.

3) Exhale with a “Ha” sound (like you’re fogging a mirror), letting your exhale take twice as long as your inhale.

4) Your belly expands gently as you inhale, but the goal isn’t a giant belly breath.

You know you’ve achieved a great 360 breath if, on inhale, you feel your ribs expand, your back body expand into the floor and your belly gently rise.

Check out the video above for a full tutorial that covers common troubleshooting and variations:

If you’re pregnant and you’re not comfortable lying on the ground, check out this seated tutorial:

In the back-lying tutorial, the floor provides great feedback to find that back body expansion.

Seated on a stability ball, you can use a resistance band to elicit some of that same feedback.

What About The Pelvic Floor?

As you exhale, you should feel your deep abdominal muscles contract and your pelvic floor muscles lift.

In contrast to the Connection Breath, the pelvic floor isn’t the main focus of the 360 breathing exercise. In the Connection Breath, the focus is coordinating the breath with pelvic floor muscle contractions. Here the focus is expanding the breath into a wider area of the body.

If you can bring awareness of the pelvic floor muscles to your 360 breath, that’s fantastic. But use this exercise to really explore the rib cage and back body expansion.

How Often Should You Practice 360 Breathing?

Try practicing 5-6 breathes at a time, a few days a week.

I like using breathing exercises as part of the warm up and cool down for my workouts.

You could also do these before bed to help relax the nervous system and prepare for sleep.

360 Degree Breathing During And After Pregnancy

By expanding the breath throughout the entire abdomen, including the back, sides, and belly, 360 degree breathing engages the entire deep core and facilitates great core and pelvic floor function.

This becomes particularly valuable during pregnancy, when the growing baby can throw off your breathing dynamics, and postpartum, when you may be working to regain core strength and stability.

Breathing exercises should be a part of every pregnancy and postpartum fitness plan and the 360 breath is an important one to keep in frequent rotation. 

If you’re interested in strength-based exercise that puts core and pelvic floor function and breath at the forefront, reach out. I offer 1:1 personal training for folks who are pregnant and postpartum.

🖐🏼 Before you go: 

Do you include breathing exercises in your workouts? Do you even consider breathing an exercise?? Tell me in the comments below!

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Redmond, WA-based Seattle birth doula Laura Jawad, headshot

My mission is to make sure that having a baby is not a reason why you can’t do all the things.

Contact me with questions about exercise or pelvic health pertaining to pregnancy or postpartum. I offer customized, online pregnancy and postpartum personal training to folks locally (Seattle-area, Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland) and beyond.

Proud Certified Prenatal & Postnatal Coach, Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coach and Postnatal Fitnesses Specialist.

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