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Can DNS Breathing Techniques Cure Your Aches and Pains?

Did you know that the way you breathe may lead to pain and tightness in your body?

In fact, poor breathing habits can lead to all sorts of ailments, including headaches, neck pain and tightness, midback tightness, lower back compression, constipation, incontinence, pelvic floor pain, low back pain, and shoulder and hip impingement (from overuse and a lack of stability).

If breathing is not normalized, no other movement pattern can be.—Karel Lewit

But at Urban Wellness Clinic, there’s a solution: Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) breathing exercises.

Here’s the deal: DNS breathing exercises can help you breathe and move properly so that you don’t wind up with aches and pains caused by improper breathing. It can help people feel better and athletes perform at their highest level.

Wait, what’s Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization?

Let’s start here: What is DNS? It’s a rehabilitation approach developed by the Prague School of Manual Medicine & Rehabilitation to stimulate movement control centers in the brain, helping our bodies move the way they were meant to.

When we are born, our brains are pre-programmed to help our bodies learn movement, coordinating our muscles and joints. While we start out pretty defenseless, our bodies gain postural stability, core stabilization, and movement in our first few months and years.

Babies learn to breathe and stabilize their abdomen, allowing them to lift their heads and roll over. Unless a child has a developmental issue or is pushed to develop too quickly, he or she becomes pretty good at movement and coordination. If you’ve ever chased young children around Central Park or blocked them from climbing up to your countertops, you’ve witnessed this!

Babies do this by breathing down and wide with 360-degree expansion and then bracing their abdomen as they learn to move. You never see a baby pull their belly button to spine. You never see a baby retract or pull their shoulder blades together. And you never see a baby over-activate their gluteus medius. So why would we want to train the body to do this in our adult life?

The nervous system helps control human posture, movement, and gait, but as we age, muscles and joints can become destabilized—from injury or overuse—affecting function. That’s when movement becomes compromised. DNS exercises help “reset” the nervous system, identifying deficiencies in muscular and joint performance to eliminate pain, improve performance in sports, and minimize recurrence.

Check out DNS exercises we share with our clients.

Why You Need Good Belly Breathing

You need good belly breathing for functional stabilization. Good breathing leads to good mobility, preventing tight muscles and stuck joints.

A good belly breath will allow the ribs to remain stacked over the pelvis. The shoulder blades will stay down and wide on the ribs without winging out. The body won’t have the hour-glass shape caused by a weak central core. The spinal erectors, muscles that straighten and rotate the back, will balance intra-abdominal pressure. The result is good core stability and a calm nervous system.

belly breathing like babies

We use this belly breath as babies when we learn to roll over, activating the oblique slings—muscles that help us activate our backs. But there’s a catch: As we get older, we can forget how to breathe this way.

What Does Bad Belly Breathing Do to the Body?

I can’t emphasize this enough: Bad belly breathing can lead to a litany of problems. What we frequently see at Urban Wellness Clinic is “hourglass syndrome.” This is abnormal muscle tone distribution in the abdominal wall that can lead to creases in the waistline and a lower belly “pooch.”

We also see signs of incorrect stabilization, with shoulder blades that are hyper abducted or adducted, ie too far retracted or pulled together. This can lead to Upper-Crossed Syndrome, which according to Janda is when you have rounded shoulders and your head carried in front of your body and an abnormal curve in the neck and upper back. The tone of the muscles in an Upper-Crossed Syndrome will present as tight upper traps and pectoral muscles along with inhibited deep neck flexors and shoulder stabilizers.

Bad belly breathing can lead to problems with the feet and knees, including “knock knees” when the knees touch each other while the legs are straightened. Poor breathing habits can also lead to over-pronated feet. While this is the most stable positioning for the feet to create more support under the torso, it can also lead to bunions and cause incorrect stabilization of the midsection of the body, the chest, and the pelvis. This can lead to back pain.

Remember, the source of pain isn’t always in the location you’re feeling the pain. That’s where DNS belly breathing comes in.

DNS Belly Breathing Exercises

I tell my clients that a good belly breath is important for your health. But wait: the lungs aren’t in the belly! How does this work?

DNS breathing exercises help us return to the programming of our nervous system, leading us to relearn breathing patterns until they feel natural to us once again – like it did when we were babies.

Belly breathing is correct breathing, and it’s diaphragmatic breathing. When you breathe only in your lungs, this shallow breathing causes you to overuse your chest and shoulders while you take in air. This can trigger cortisol—the fight-or-flight hormone—to kick in. This can also cause neck pain, shoulder tightness, and headaches due to overuse of the neck muscles to lift the upper ribs to allow the breath to only come in through the upper chest.

Here’s the deal: belly breathing is 360-degree abdominal breathing that’s the way we breathed as babies. It involves expanding your ribcage laterally when you breathe. That’s hard to do without good core strength, because chest breathing causes us to overarch our low back on the inhale. But DNS breathing techniques can help reset these patterns.

To belly breathe, you need to activate the diaphragm, which happens on a subconscious level 25,000 times a day. On the inhale, the central tendon of the diaphragm (which is a thin strong aponeurosis) descends, spreading the lower ribs in all directions. In turn, your transverse Abdominus (TVA), paraspinal muscles, QL’s, and pelvic floor are put on an eccentric load to help maintain intra-abdominal pressure.

DNS Breathing Exercises

How can you use DNS breathing exercises to improve belly breathing? Start by thinking like a baby. We activate the diaphragm in DNS belly breathing, expanding the ribcage out laterally in positions like babies make:

Prone Crocodile Breathing
  • Lie face down with your head resting on the back of your hands.
  • Slowly breathe into your abdomen, towards the front of your ASIS or hip points, breathe your inhale wide. Lastly, breathe your low back towards the sky. This will cause your pelvis to posterior tilt naturally, or there will be a natural rocking of your tailbone down towards your heels.
  • On the exhale, let your belly relax.
  • If you want to take it to the next level, on your exhale keep your brace and your belly full.
6-month Supine Belly Breathing
  • Lie down on your back, knees up at 90 degrees and feet on a chair to help connect the low back to the floor.
  • Inhale and feel your belly move up, out, and wide expanding your abdomen in all directions. Your chest should not move upward toward the sky and your ribs should not flare upward.
  • If this is tricky to find, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth an inch behind your teeth: this helps activate a better diaphragmatic breath.
  • Another trick you can try is to reach one arm down toward your feet and cough, then do the other side. This will help relax the hemi-diaphragm and allow for a better, fuller diaphragmatic breath.
Beast to Bear Belly Breathing
  • Start with hands shoulder width, middle fingers parallel to one another, fingers spread.
  • Make sure to keep your index knuckle rooted down towards the floor, this helps activate serratus anterior, a shoulder protractor.
  • Knees are underneath your hips and feet, and slightly narrower than hips.
  • Take an inhale, breathe down into the lower abdomen, wide into the waistline, and into the low back. Keep this brace and lift the knees off the floor without changing the low back (i.e. don’t ab crunch.)
  • Keep your brace as you push your hips toward the sky and push the floor away with your hands without changing the shape of your back. This creates great upper and lower body integration, helping to keep the diaphragm parallel to the pelvic floor. Patients and clients with pelvic floor dysfunction, this is a great place to work this position and breathe in and out to create an eccentric expansion on the pelvic floor with the hips above the shoulders.
  • Return the knees to hovering an inch above the floor and press back again.
  • Knees stay bent when pressing the hips back. This is not a downdog where the knees go straight and there’s a potential to arch the back and overstretch the hamstrings. This is a place to work good core and shoulder stability, and mobility of the hips.
  • Check out this video for more details:


Start to notice how you’re breathing throughout the day. Do you take shallow breaths in your chest? Do your ribs expand when you take in a breath or do they stay in the same place? Do you have aches and pains you haven’t found the source for? We can help.

We can assess your breathing and teach you DNS breathing techniques! Contact us today about dynamic neuromuscular stabilization. Call us at 212-355-0445 or email us at We’re here for you!

Best in health,

Dr. Emily Kiberd