Breathing and the Diaphragm
Do you love breathing? Not a lot of people think about it, but it’s essential for living. In the constant exercise of inhalation and exhalation, working 24 hours every day is your diaphragm: your new best friend.
In the centre of your body, the diaphragm separates the thorax (ribcage + contents) from the abdomen. To do this, the muscle has to attach from the cartilage at the bottom of your ribcage to insert to your lumbar (lower back) vertebrae, cutting transverse through your body. Like any muscle, the diaphragm:
- contracts – allowing your lungs to inhale, and
- relaxes – allowing your lungs to exhale
Okay, but what’s so special about it?
The diaphragm needs to allow for passage from the thorax through to the abdomen, so three openings provide a channel for the major blood vessels, nerves and the oesophagus. In addition to breathing, the diaphragm also functions to allow blood to pump to and from the heart and the lower half of your body.
What can I do for it?
Short, shallow breathing can cause the diaphragm to constrict, and over time, can shorten to decrease lung capacity. This is commonly seen in people with respiratory diseases or disorders but can also be found in people experiencing stress or anxiety. To help look after your diaphragm, all you need to do is breathe and count:
- count to 4: slow deep inhale through your nose
- count to 4: hold at the top of your inhale
- count to 4: exhale through your mouth, relax
If you find this too easy, practice counting to higher numbers during the exhale or inhale. You can practice this anywhere; stuck in traffic or waiting for a bus or making dinner. Get creative.
If it’s so good, why only have one?
Your body actually has a few diaphragms, allowing respiration and blood flow at multiple junctions including
- craniocervical (skull-neck)
- thoracic inlet (neck-upper back)
- pelvic diaphragm
These diaphragms mostly occur at places where your body is transitioning from one part to another (eg. from neck to upper back). Keeping your whole body active with regular exercises and stretching is an easy way to keep these transition points mobile which will help maintain fluid movement through your body.