Exercise and the Diaphragm

Good breathing is for your overall health and wellbeing. Your breath affects all of your vital systems, right down to the cellular level. Poor breathing patterns affect not only the physical body, but can lead to anxiety/depression, insomnia and reduced concentration.

One of the main reasons for poor breathing in otherwise healthy people is an overly tight diaphragm.  The diaphragm is the body’s main breathing muscle and sits under the ribs and is attached to the lower ribs and spine.  There are myofascial connections into the lower trunk and even thighs.

Poor posture (especially rounded spinal posture and “tucking” the tailbone), limited movement (particularly spinal movement), a weak core and excess weight all adversely affect the diaphragm.

The diaphragm isn’t typically talked about in the context of your core. But located right at the centre of your trunk, it connects to many of your body’s stabilisers. Working in close relationship with the deep abdominals, the pelvic floor, and the multifidus muscles in the lower back, the diaphragm has a dual role of both stabilising AND supporting breathing. 

Problems for many people start when the diaphragm starts losing elasticity and strength.  When this starts compensatory patterns start to develop in other areas.  For example typically the front thighs, lower back and neck muscles may start gripping and the front chest tighten and depress.

OVER TIME A WEAK OVERLY TIGHT DIAPHRAGM WILL LEAD TO POOR MOVEMENT PATTERNS AND POSSIBLY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHRONIC INJURIES.

 Ways to Stretch and Strengthen the Diaphragm

  • Find your Diaphragm

Running the fingers under the ribs trace the course of your diaphragm right to the spine at the rear of the body.

Next lie face down with your solar plexus/lower ribs on a small folded towel.  Feel the inhalations pressing into the towel.

  • Don’t “Tuck Your Tailbone”

When sitting, walking or exercising don’t tuck the tailbone and rotate the pelvis backwards.  Let the tailbone naturally lift when bending forward or backward.

  • Backbend

Add some backbends to your daily activity list.

IMPORTANT POINTS –

  1. Remember backbends involve LENGTHENING THE FRONT BODY NOT COMPRESSING THE SPINE.
  2. When you backbend LET GO OF YOUR CORE!
  3. Lift the kidney area up and forwards.
  4. Have the legs wide enough apart to allow the sacrum to tilt – experiment with what your ideal leg distance is.
  5. Try “entering” the backbend on an exhalation – this stretches the muscle more!
  • Straw Breathing

This Yoga technique is brilliant toning all the breathing muscles including the diaphragm.

Lie comfortably on your back with a support under your head or sit upright. Allow your shoulders to fall back and your chest to open. Holding a straw between your lips (or pursing the lips), inhale through your nose and exhale through the straw/puckered lips. Breathing out like this will naturally extend the exhalation.

After a few cycles, you can start to notice if a natural pause occurs after the out breath. You may wish to slightly backbend at this point to add an extra stretch – but let the bend go into the lumbar. Keep your breathing as easy as possible.

Stay for 3 minutes or more.

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