AWARENESS OF THE THORACIC DIAPHRAGM

The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration, thus, the most physiologically important muscle of the body.  In order to understand its significance it is imperative you understand its anatomy.  

The diaphragm is an anatomical landmark. It is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the abdomen (belly) from the thorax (chest).  Anatomically speaking, the diaphragm is actually two peripheral muscles (2 domes, not one) joined together with a central tendon made up of dense collagenous fibers, aka, fascia. 

ANATOMICAL LOCATION OF THE DIAPHRAGM:

  • The little finger-like structures of the diaphragm attach to L1 - L3 and the intervertebral discs of the lumbar spine.
  • The xiphoid process of sternum.
  • The inferior border, the diaphragm originates from the inner surface of ribs 7 - 12 and their cartilage attachments to the spine.
  • The fascia over the quadratus lumborum (QL).
  • The psoas muscles via the medial and lateral arcuate ligaments. 
  • The heart and lungs both have fascial connection to the diaphragm which allow these vital organs to move within the thoracic cavity.

There is an opening located within the fascia of the diaphragm that allows the esophagus, phrenic and vagus nerves, descending aorta and inferior vena cava to pass between the thoracic and abdominal cavities. 

BREATH AFFECTS MOVEMENT OF THE DIAPHRAGM

With inhalation the ribs expand front, sides, back, up and down with the diaphragms action.  The anterior rib cage elevates upward from the action of the intercostal muscles between the ribs.   This action of inhalation increases the thoracic cavity reducing intrathoracic pressure creating a suction that draws air into the lungs.  As the diaphragm relaxes, exhalation occurs allowing air to leave the lungs. The less air we take in, the less the diaphragm and intercostal muscles expand.  This can create a tightness of the diaphragm and/or ribcage affecting the mobility and function of our vital organs.  This minimizes the movement of our internal organs of the chest, abdomen and pelvis and prevents stimulation of the phrenic and vagus nerves.  Interestingly, 60% of the lungs are in the back body and 40% are in the front body. 

THE DIAPHRAGM’S ACTION

The diaphragm is a muscle like any other muscle in the body.  Like any other muscle… if we don't use it, we lose it! The lack of strength and tone of the diaphragm is an epidemic of the 21st century. We are living a more sedentary lifestyle, rarely partaking in activities like running, jumping, yelling and singing that exercise the diaphragm.  

The movement of the diaphragm is directly correlated with breath capacity. When the diaphragm is fit and functioning properly, it contracts to pull the central tendon down toward the abdominal cavity and brings the heart with it.  The 2 domes allow each lung to expand while moving the abdominal and pelvic organs up 3- 5 inches.  With adequate breathing the fascial attachment site at the heart moves 1 - 1 1/2 inches.  The diaphragm’s action can move our organs about 1/3 of a mile per day.  If the diaphragm experiences less demand, it loses its movement, strength and tone.  With regards to thorax, a fit and properly functioning diaphragm allows for even distribution of breath into both right and left lobes of the lungs creating balance between the front and back body.

THE BREATH

Breathing is innate. It is controlled by our brainstem. It is an action we just do.  It gives us life. It is not only vital to our survival but breathing relaxes the nervous system and has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, and the immune system.  It is one of our bodily functions we could not live without.  Yet we rarely, if ever, take the time to observe our breath in all its virtue.  Maybe that's our problem, we don't even acknowledge its quality and rhythm!  

Take a moment to evaluate your breath. 

  • Do you hold the breath in or out? 
  • Do you breathe shallowly? 
  • Are you pushing your belly out while breathing?  
  • Are you only expanding the chest while you breathe?
  • Are you expanding both the chest and belly when you breathe?

Remember, the shallower we breathe the less mobile the diaphragm is the more it loses strength and tone.  

DIAPHRAGM'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PELVIC BOWL

We cannot forget about the connection between the thoracic diaphragm and pelvic floor diaphragm (made up of your pelvic floor muscles).  Both these diaphragms work synergistically to keep our internal organs moving. When we breathe in and intra-abdominal pressure is increased it forces the abdominal and pelvic organs to put pressure on the pelvic diaphragm.  The pelvic bowl releases as we breathe in and contracts when we breathe out.  You can feel this relationship in the gravity line correction exercise with tucking the tailbone on your exhale, feeling the lift of the pelvic floor, and the release of pelvic floor when you released your tailbone back. Awareness of these muscles working together is important for the health of our heart and lungs as well as for our organs of digestion, absorption, elimination, reproduction, detoxification and immune function.

We recommend practicing this exercise daily. Maybe when you first wake up in the morning, sometime during the day, and/or when you lay down to go to sleep.

What you will learn:

  • How to activate your thoracic diaphragm by using your breath.
  • The relationship between your pelvic floor and your diaphragm.

What you will need:

  • Bare feet, no shoes, no socks
  • A comfortable place to lie down preferably a harder surface with yoga/exercise mat.

It might be a good idea to watch the video first and read the self- assessment questions before you practice the breathing exercises. Please be brutally honest when answering the THE THORACIC DIAPHRAGM SELF-ASSESSMENT QUESTIONNAIRE.

**PLEASE NOTE: THE THORACIC DIAPHRAGM LECTURE, EXERCISE VIDEO AND SELF-ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.  THEY ARE TO BE USED NOR INTENDED FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OR TREATMENT OF ANY MEDICAL CONDITIONS.**