Wellness Embodied Blog

The diaphragm not only plays a role in breathing but also has many roles affecting the health of the body. It is important for posture, stability and for proper organ function. It is also of crucial importance in circulation and clearance. The diaphragm should not be seen as an individual muscle, but as part of a body system.

It is important to note that the way we breath corresponds to the way we feel. If you have experimented with your breath at all, you may have noticed that if you breathe quickly your heart rate will go up. Conversely if you slow your breathing, particularly the exhale, you can bring your heart rate down. This reflects changes in our nervous system. In very simplistic terms, the sympathetic nervous system is the accelerator, and the parasympathetic is the brake. How fast we breathe, where we breathe, and how we breathe is important as it influences our nervous system. Apical breathing (high in the chest) is sympathetic, diaphragmatic breathing (low in the belly) is parasympathetic. Breathing through the mouth will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, and breathing through the nose will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. In most situations we want to be in a parasympathetic state as it promotes recovery, restoration and relaxation.

The diaphragm is a very important as it has the dual role of respiration and stabilisation. As the diaphragm moves, intra-abdominal pressure, a stabilising force for the spine, changes. This is the reason that people will generally hold their breath as they lift something heavy. They are essentially using the pressure in the abdomen to squeeze back against the spine to provide reinforcement. The diaphragm, like any other muscle, will get weak if it isn’t used properly. And as many people are habitual chest breathers the diaphragm can be not only weak, but also tight as without constant movement, the diaphragm becomes restricted.

If you don’t position it correctly, it is not efficient. The stabilising component of the diaphragm is completely dependent on position. Begin thinking about your abdominal region as a chamber. The pelvic floor is the base, the diaphragm the top, and the walls made up of the spine, obliques and abdominals. This chamber greatly contributes to your spinal stability, and also allows for a true ‘full’ breath. You should feel this chamber expand, bottom to top with a deep inspiration.

So think about how you breathe, where you breathe, how fast you breathe and the position of your ribcage to your pelvis. Take control of your respiration to influence your nervous system, your spinal stability and the overall health of your bodily systems.

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