Your Living Diaphragm
Your Diaphragm is one of the most important and under appreciated (and one might say underused) muscles in your body. It is absolutely instrumental for full, free breathing. When it’s weak and tight, you are not only restricted in your breath, but you’re breathing in a shallow way, and that can lead to a host of health issues.
At this point you’re breathing to survive and not thrive! This can lead to a nervous system response that moves you into a stress response and the tightening of many muscles.
To give you a quick sense of your diaphragm, it sits as a moveable dome and is the ‘floor’ of your heart and lungs, and the ‘ceiling’ for your abdominal organs and kidneys, and is connected to your ribs and spine. It’s deeply involved in the delivery of blood to all organs, and back to the lungs for re-oxygenation.
When we’re tense, we move into a fight or flight scenario which usually causes holding in the diaphragm. Our modern lifestyles stimulate frequent, and sometimes chronic holding in this area. In turn, that can set off a cortisol release response, shut down digestion, and cause a cascade of hormone reactions.
When the diaphragm is tense, it also pulls on the lungs, which can lead to shallow breathing and throw you into a stress response. Apart from the stresses of life, the diaphragm cannot fully relax if there is constant tension around the mid to lower spine, the hip flexor muscles and/or the shoulders and neck.
The GOOD NEWS is the diaphragm can become more relaxed, more moveable, and stronger.
A few tips:
* don’t hold your belly in! Some people have been doing this for so long, they don’t even realize they are doing it.
* are you a rib gripper?? This means you’re constantly tucking your front ribs in, creating a narrowing at the bottom of your rib cage, making it hard to take a full breath. (Think of the slouch position)
* try not to hang in to your waist area. Lift your your ribs away from your hip bones without lifting your shoulders. You’ll begin strengthening whole new intrinsic muscle groups!
* do side arcs and gentle twists from the rib cage everyday. It’s easy and only takes a minute.
* place your hands on your side ribs and practice breathing there. It’s gets easier with practice. Breathe in slowly and see if you feel the gentle horizontal movement. This breathing will increase your oxygen intake and ‘massage’ your vagus nerve – a key player in helping you relax and regulate.
When you take full, yogic breaths that explore the deepest parts of your lungs, that full breath has the ability to deliver 7x more oxygen to your cells. This can revitalize you, enhance your ability to down regulate, as well as enhance your exercise and athletic performance.
Warming Up Your Diaphragm:
Tap the bottom of your breastbone with your fingertips to heighten attention to the area, and then walk your fingers slowly across the front of your bottom ribs. Curve your fingers right under the last rib to bring awareness to the area where your diaphragm is connected. Consider how this roundish muscle moves right through your body and connects around back. Imagine how large your lungs are in back: they spread to 4 fingers above your waistline!
Another fun fact: your diaphragm can descend about 4 inches and spread out up to 5 inches!
Now take a deeper breath in and expand the lower ribs in all directions like an umbrella opening. Soften on the breath out and sense how your ribs and belly naturally return to toward the midline no need to contract anything on the exhale.
Lie on your side and explore back breathing. Practice breathing into the mid back to open the back lung area. The pressing out you feel into your back is the expanding lungs. Relax everything on the exhale. Keep the breathing deep but easy. Back breathing while resting on your side is a great way to calm anxiety or an over active mind.
Enjoy exploring your breath everyday, there are SO many benefits.