In many cultures it is thought that breathing is the essence of life. In yoga for example, the breath also known as prana refers to the cosmic energy which is responsible for the body’s life. In other words, the better you breathe, the more energy you will have to keep your body healthy.
How can we maximize our breathing to reap the benefits of this life-essential process? Well, the most important muscle in respiration is the diaphragm, which suggests that using it to its full capacity is the best thing we can do for our breathing.
So, what exactly is the diaphragm? The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle separating the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. It attaches to the lower six ribs, the tip of the sternal bone (xiphoid process) and the upper two or three lumbar vertebrae.
As a person inhales, the diaphragm contracts and lowers down into the abdominal cavity; as a person exhales, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back upwards into the thoracic cavity. This up and down motion of the diaphragm produces pressure gradients between the thoracic and abdominal cavities. The thoracic cavity has a lower pressure than the abdomen, which suctions blood and lymph from the lower body towards the heart. So, the diaphragm not only is the main respiratory muscle but also forms a fluid pump assisting circulation and lymphatic drainage. Better circulation and lymphatic drainage will ensure good nutrition to all tissues and reduce stagnation of waste materials, improving overall health.
Diaphragmatic breathing is therefore very important. It also a good way to lower stress in your body and stimulate a relaxation response, which is triggered via the parasympathetic nervous system. In my practice as an osteopath, I see many of my patients come to me seeking relief from anxiety and stress-related ailments. I am never surprised when I discover that they haven’t been breathing properly via proper use of their diaphragm.
Especially in our culture, where it is attractive to have a flat, firm belly, many people suck in their stomachs, rather than using their body’s full capacity to breath, which includes a rising and falling belly – much like that of an infant.
As an osteopath, I am starting a diaphragm revolution, if you will, by teaching my patients, friends and colleagues this simple breathing exercise, which trains you to breath with your diaphragm (as you should), rather than your chest.
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. The hand on your abdomen has to rise higher than the one on your chest as you breathe in. Send your breath all the way down to your lower belly, below the waistline of your pants.
- Take a deep breath in for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Slowly exhale for a count of 8.
- Repeat this cycle for another 4 breaths.
- This exercise can be done at least twice a day.
Much like the ocean, our body is meant to have a steady and deep tide of air flow through us. Let us all scrap the ragged chest breathing we’ve developed in our fast-paced, stressful, and flat-stomach valuing society, and return to breathing as we did as newborns. Join the diaphragm revolution today and you will continually be amazed by the health benefits you discover – physical, mental, and emotional!
Love from your friendly neighbourhood osteopath,
Natalie is a UK trained, and qualified osteopathic manual therapist and cranio-sacral therapist. She has completed a 4 year full-time course in osteopathy at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine in London (U.K.) followed by additional courses in cranial osteopathy, pediatric osteopathy and animal osteopathy.