• Welcome to Phoenix Rising!

    Created in 2008, Phoenix Rising is the largest and oldest forum dedicated to furthering the understanding of and finding treatments for complex chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia (FM), long COVID, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), and allied diseases.

    To register, simply click the Register button at the top right.

Why Sucking In Your Stomach Harms Your Health by Steven Weiniger, DC


senior member
Concord, NH
Do you suck in your stomach? Or maybe the better question is, do you know anyone who doesnt?

Many people mistakenly believe that holding their stomach muscles tight not only makes them look more trim and fit, but also helps them stand straight and tall. But sucking in your stomach muscles makes it impossible to breathe correctly which in turn prevents you from having good posture. Poor posture leads to a host of other problems, including a sore neck and shoulder muscles, poor balance, arthritis and injuries. Indirectly, the shallow breathing that results from such a stance also can lead to anxiety and even lowered self-esteem.

I discussed all this with Steven Weiniger, DC, a chiropractor in Atlanta , former delegate to the White House Conference on Aging and author of the book Stand Taller -- Live Longer. According to Dr. Weiniger, better posture leads to better health all around. By learning to breathe deeply "into our bellies," we can resolve many common health complaints. Though that sounds like simple advice, many people find it to be quite a challenge!

If you dont think this describes you, think again. Dr. Weiniger told me that most people believe that they are breathing correctly, but in reality, they are not. So here is a three-step program to get you on your way to stronger posture and better health.

Step 1: Picture This!

Before we get to proper breathing, you first need a realistic idea about the current state of your posture.

Heres an easy way to evaluate your posture: Have someone take full-length pictures of you standing, facing front and facing sideways... and dont try to stand "right" for this photo session. You may be quite surprised by what your photos reveal. For example, many people lean to one side, a common problem that creates asymmetry and misalignment in the body.

What to look for: On the front view, draw a line from the center of your forehead to directly between your feet to see whether there is a difference from one side to the other. On the side view, look to see if your cheekbones are further forward than your chest, which indicates a forward head thrust. According to Dr. Weiniger, moving through your day with misaligned posture changes everything. When you do this, your nervous system adjusts and adapts to your bad-posture habits, so that your crooked body begins to feel symmetric and normal to you -- but it isnt.

Step 2: Fine-Tune Your Breathing

Now that you have a better idea of your true posture, we can move on to breathing. After years of holding in their tummies, many people have a tendency toward chest breathing. If youre not sure whether or not this describes you, Dr. Weiniger said that you can consider achy muscles in your neck and shoulders a good clue. He explained that chest breathing requires muscles in these areas to do work that they are not designed for, so its not all that surprising that theyre sore by the end of the day.

Some good ways to evaluate your own breathing: Dr. Weiniger suggests placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as you breathe to see which moves more, belly or chest -- thats your default breathing mode. Your goal is to have belly breathing be your natural style. Another approach is to ask someone else to watch you breathe and report on what he/she sees. Ask someone to observe your breathing while you are lying down to see whether your chest and/or belly moves out when you breathe in.

What belly breathing feels like: Try this to get familiar with the sensation of proper belly breathing. Lie on your stomach, cradle your forehead on your crossed arms and slowly breathe. This position locks the chest, thereby forcing breath into the abdomen -- note how this feels because this is what you want to learn to do naturally.

Step 3: Reprogram Your Posture

Now that you have learned about your posture and breathing tendencies... and you have experienced the sensation of belly breathing... Dr. Weiniger suggests the following exercises to help reprogram yourself to breathe deep into your belly throughout the day. He said that if you make it a point to spend a few minutes on these exercises several times during the day, belly breathing -- and stronger posture -- will become instinctive.

Breathing Technique Exercise: In a seated or standing position, pull your shoulders back to expand your chest (lifting it toward the ceiling, keeping your head level and shoulders down) while holding your back straight. Now breathe deeply into your belly -- place one hand on it to feel the subtle movement. Take five breaths as slowly as you can. With practice, you will eventually begin to breathe this way without having to think about it.

Breathing Focus Exercise: A good way to learn how it feels when your belly expands with your breath is to use a long scarf or stretchy resistance exercise band (such as Thera-Band, available at sporting-goods stores and online). Grasp the ends of the scarf or band, elbows bent at your sides, and wrap it around your waist tightly enough so that it squeezes just a bit. Now take five breaths, consciously, pushing your belly out with each breath.

Breathing for Alignment and Balance: Using your best posture, stand on one leg and raise the other so that it barely touches or is slightly off the ground. Take five deep, controlled breaths while striving to remain still. Observe how your body must readjust to maintain control of your balance, realigning and shifting your center of gravity with each breath. This is not easy to do -- you may find yourself flailing to stay upright, especially if your posture is off-center. If so, try placing a finger on a wall for support, but touch the wall only as much as is necessary. Now repeat with the other leg off the floor. Doing "balance breathing" two or three times a day helps improve balance and alignment, and over a few weeks, most people find that they can balance with greater stability.

So if you feel like your stomach sticks out, consider doing sit-ups to strengthen your abdominal muscles... or perhaps think about losing weight, because sucking it in isnt the solution. Instead, changing your posture in the ways Dr. Weiniger describes will create better health overall. You will be more stable, which will lead to a more youthful bearing, and less likely to take a tumble -- all that simply by learning how to breathe from your belly!


Steven Weiniger, DC, a chiropractor in private practice in Atlanta and author of Stand Taller -- Live Longer (BodyZone). He has served on the White House Conference on Aging.