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The importance of your diaphragm

In preparation for our 4 part breathing workshop commencing Feb 12, we thought we’d dip our (and your) toes into some of the important pieces involved in the movement and the practice of breathing. 

 

For today, we are going to highlight the important role of the diaphragm. 

 

The diaphragm is a thin muscle that sits like a net at the bottom of your ribcage. 

It’s key responsibility is to help the function of the lungs, facilitating breath. 

 

When the diaphragm contracts, it pulls down and out allowing air to move into your now expanding lungs. When the muscle relaxes it draws back up pushing air out of the lungs (check Boyle's Law for those physics fans). 

 

What is of concern in the modern world of health and fitness, is how little the diaphragm is trained or even considered. 

 

Breathing is the first piece of the puzzle in our movement journey. 

Breathing requires muscle contraction and relaxation (of the diaphragm and the intercostals). It is one of the first things we do as soon as we leave the womb. 

 

Fast forward to where you are right now, and think how many times have you considered your breath and the muscles that generate it?

 

Well, if you have back pain, a “beer gut”, if you struggle with stress and anxiety or have sleep issues we’d suggest reading on because your breath directly affects all of these issues and more. 

 

To help you wrap your head around what it feels like to breathe using your diaphragm and intercostals, we are going to give you a few examples. 

 

First of all, think about males (you might be one of them) that have a “beer gut” that is hard and sticks out. You’ve probably wondered why is it so hard? 

Well there is a good chance that the abdominals of that individual are almost constantly braced (stiff) particularly when movement is generated. 

It’s often associated with higher nonfunctional mass (fat). 

There is a good chance that the diaphragm is stuck in the contracted/down phase (guts out) – and they probably struggle to exhale maximally (draw the belly in toward the spine).  

What is important to understand here, is that if you are stuck on your exhale, you’re probably going to be inefficient in the way you rest and recover as the exhale is directly linked with a parasympathetic nervous state. 

 

Additionally, your ability to contract your abdominals and move your spine with ease will be compromised. The movement pattern instead becomes stiff and braced, with not much freedom when it comes to flexion, extension and rotation of the spine (there goes your golf swing). 

 

Bounce to the other end of the spectrum and think of the social pressure that females, particularly young females, place on themselves regarding their waist. 

 

A stomach that is drawn in all the time, maintaining a certain ”small waist”  appearance compromises the diaphragm on the opposite end of the spectrum to their “beer gut” counterparts. 

 

What does this cause? 

 

Well, drawing your belly in and taking a deep inhale (thanks for trying this whilst you read it) takes your breath to your chest and your ribcage – not allowing for a maximal inhale, or exhale. 

 

Again this puts your nervous system in a compromised position as you end up chest breathing/panting even when you are resting. Short gasp like inhales happen when you get a fright. Imagine if you’re breathing like that 24/7… Yes, highly strung and stressed out is typically associated. 

 

So, what can you do about it? 

The most important thing is to create a “map” of your diaphragm in your brain. The aim is to connect your conscious mind to the muscles that help you breath and thus the act of breathing itself. 

 

A simple yet effective way to feel the respiratory generating muscles is to try aerobic exercise with a taped mouth. Breathing through your nose means less air in at any one time resulting in longer breaths. You’ll feel the diaphragm (and intercostal muscles) work overtime to generate effective breathing. 

 

Practice cat cow and other body driven breathing drills. As simple as attending a yoga class or jumping on your hands and knees and moving your spine with your breath. We’re about to share a post on how this looks so keep your eyes on our Instagram feed for some ideas. 

 

Be more conscious of your breath during exercise and in rest periods between working sets. 

Taking the time to do 5 full body breaths between sets will help you “feel” your body and the way it moves which will make moving it feel a lot smoother. So simple, but genuinely effective. 

 

It’s simple stuff. If you want more detail, grab a ticket to our breathing workshop coming up in Feb. Four consecutive Friday evenings where you can learn how to tap into the superpowers of the respiratory system and your body. 

 

#teamSOF