Your diaphragm is a huge muscle that sits beneath your lungs, it looks a bit like a beautiful weeping willow sitting inside the ribcage. When we breathe in, air fills the lungs and flattens the diaphragm downwards. The picture below shows it’s position when we’re breathing out and the air is pushed out of the lungs.
What's it got to do with stress?
There is a direct link between the function of your diaphragm and the nervous system of your body: When we are in a stressful state we are living in our sympathetic nervous system; where our pupils dialate, our heart beats a little faster, adrenaline is released, and the body prepares for action with short shallow breaths. This quick shallow breathing means we only utilise the top of our lungs and we don’t get to use our diaphragm. The sympathetic nervous system should be reserved for life and death situations but stress has become so common and so too has this kind of breathing.
In contrast, when we breathe more deeply using the diaphragm it acts as a sort of tuner for the para-sympathetic nervous system, therefore we can use diaphragmatic breathing as a way of bringing the body back to a restful state. This restful state is not only a much nicer place to live but also a state where the body finds it easier to heal, repair and stay healthy.
Other benefits of better breathing
- Better Oxygen exchange = Less brain fog and more vitality everyday.
- Improved ribcage and thoracic spine mobility = less neck and shoulder tension!
- Better Digesiton = We digest our food much more efficiently when we’re in a restful state.
- Better mind body connection and sense of self embodiment.
- Lower/Stabalize Blood Pressure
- Start lying on your back on sitting upright on a chair or legs crossed:
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your breastbone.
- Take a breath in through your nose and expand your tummy (like Buddha’s belly), try to keep your breastbone still, and feel the expansion of your ribs and the softness across your shoulders.
- Breathe out through your mouth and feel your abdomen sink and your ribcage funnelling in and down.
- Repeat continuously for two minutes or longer.
- **To progress you can challenge the body by breathing in for a slow count of 4 and breathing out over 5/6 counts.
For a moment just forget about muscles, even your abdominals and pelvic floor (get out of your Pilates brain.) Just feel the breath moving into the depths of your belly, and flooding around your organs before allowing the breath to fall out of the body.
Note: It could take some practice to get your abdomen expanding as described above, remember you're retraining a muscle to contract and relax just like you do with your biceps, glutes or abdominals, so stick with it and enjoy all the benefits that come along with it. And just incase you're wondering, YES it does mean that you shouldn't be walking around holding your tummy in all the time!