In last week’s post, I mentioned that the psoas shares attachments to the diaphragm, so I figured we might as well delve into the diaphragm next. Please note my extensive use of alliteration within this post, as alliteration is amazingly awesome.
I should start by saying, in this post I will be discussing the RESPIRATORY diaphragm, as there are a few different diaphragms in the body. The respiratory diaphragm, as the name implies, is related to respiration (aka breathing). It is your primary breathing muscle. Or at least it should be. For a variety of reasons we can end up constantly using accessory muscles like the neck and shoulder muscles for breathing. This can lead to chronic neck/shoulder tension, head-forward posture, and an amped up nervous system. But I digress. Man, this topic is hard to write about without octopusing off into a tangent!!
The diaphragm is a large, domed-shaped muscle that sits inside your ribcage – think of a parachute tucked up under your ribcage. This muscle separates your heart/lungs from the rest of viscera (liver, stomach, intestines, etc.). It forms a seal around your ribcage that enables the pressure changes that inflate and deflate the lungs with each breath. At rest (meaning the muscle is not contracted), the diaphragm is in parachute mode – domed up inside the chest. When you inhale, it actually flattens and moves DOWN, pulling air into the lungs, and pushing down on the viscera below. If you want to understand this concept better, you can watch this video (and learn how to make a working lung/diaphragm model yourself!).
We take about 23,000 breaths a day. With each breath, the diaphragm (which shares connections to the pericardium which contains the heart), massages the heart above it and the organs below it, keeping everything nice and mobile and moving stuff like blood and lymph through the body. So you can see why I say the diaphragm is delightful, dynamic, and dope! Such a helpful muscle!
But like any muscle, it can become dysfunctional due to misuse, disuse, overuse, and abuse (to borrow some language from Jill Miller). When this happens, your posture can be affected, breathing issues can arise (asthma, COPD), and your sympathetic nervous system (flight/flight/freeze) can become ramped up, causing anxiety and panic attacks.
But there is good news!! Even though this muscle seems inaccessible, all tucked up under the bony cage of our ribs, it can actually be treated with manual therapy. At the Center for Neurosomatic therapy, we learn how to work with the patient’s breath to get our thumbs up under the rib cage and treat this muscle. And, yes, that is as uncomfortable as it sounds. BUT, it is SUPER effective. Each time I’ve done this treatment, the patient notices IMMEDIATE improvements in his/her breath.
If you don’t have access to a neurosomatic therapist’s thumbs, you can do some self care on your own diaphragm. As with anything, Awareness is Step #1:
Take a moment, close your eyes, and see if you can tell where you feel your breath happening in your body……………………………………..
Done? Ok. Where did you feel it? Did you feel it up in your neck? Your shoulders? Did you feel your ribs expand? Did you feel your belly move at all?
If you feel all your breath up in your shoulders and neck, try focusing on pulling that breath down lower in the body. You can use the Yoga Tune Up® Coregeous ball to help. Check out the video here from one my Instagram Idols – the Movement Maestro.
I hope this helped you understand the darling, dependable, damn-brilliancy of the respiratory diaphragm. Give it some love today – we think we have it rough if we have to work 50 hours a week. It works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
Have a fabulous Sunday, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions!