Monday 9 October 2017

Let's hear it for the diaphragm

Okay, so I'm not talking about contraception, I'm talking about the sheet of muscles in the lower ribcage that we use to breathe.

Here it is (courtesy of 3D Yoga) in motion.

It's funny which muscles we're more aware of in our bodies.   We don't necessarily all leave school with a good understanding of anatomy and how our bodies function.   But if we're a singer or a musician we may be more likely to know about our diaphragm and how it moves as we breathe optimally.

If you work in the fitness industry, go to the gym or read fitness magazines then you may notice that the fitness world appears to be obsessed with certain muscles.   Many of these muscles are associated with body building and weights such as abs, pecs, traps, lats, biceps etc.  In contrast, the diaphragm has a relatively low public profile.  Few people go off to the gym because they want to get their diaphragm firing, stretching and strengthening.   But we should be!   We should be more aware of it!

Perhaps the diaphragm just needs some good PR to help boost our awareness?  Because without this baby, basic functions such as breathing, blood circulation and digestion would either not happen or would not work as well.

It's not going to sell magazines by being on the cover.  But its health should be high up there on our list of priorities. 

If you're not yet convinced, here are 6 reasons to be more aware of your diaphragm and to use it better.
  1. We need it to breathe well (basic stuff - this helps keep us alive - do our biceps do this?)   And when we breathe well we get other benefits too (see take a breather blog).
  2. It helps blood pump from and to the heart (again, hard to ignore, basic life-giving stuff).
  3. It keeps our ribcage mobile when it's active.  And a mobile upper back can take some of the strain out of the lower back.
  4. It is a big part of our core strength (see getting down to the core blog).  More good news for our lower back.
  5. It makes a big difference to our digestion (optimal breathing using the diaphragm helps to massage our digestive system improving how well we digest food).
  6. It helps to balance out pressures and forces through the abdomen - associated with hernias, organ prolapse and diastasis recti.

If you're convinced, you can get started by feeling under your lower ribs on the front of the body.  Push your fingers up and under the lowest ribs.   As you breathe in the diaphragm pushes your fingers out and away and as you breathe out it moves up and allows your fingers to move further up under the ribs.   You can leave your hands here and watch the video above again and see if you can get a sense of what you feel with the image on the screen.

To keep your diaphragm healthy, like any other muscle, we need to use it.   We can do this by gently aiming our breath down to the lower ribs on the sides and back of the ribcage.  Have a go and keep the effort relaxed and the exhales long.

 Here's to the diaphragm and all it does for us!