Using The Diaphragm To Promote Your Health With Effective Breathing

Sep 6, 2018 3:12:00 PM by Claire O'Connor | aortic stiffness, spinal stiffness, core mobility, breathing, diaphragm

Place one hand over your chest below your collar bone, and the other hand on your abdomen directly above your belly button. Now take a deep breath in. Which hand moved the most?

If you’re like most people, the answer to this question is the top hand, meaning you’re a “chest breather”. This is a less effective breathing technique than diaphragmatic breathing that expands the ribcage and lungs to a greater degree.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity containing the heart and lungs from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm attaches to the spine, cartilage of the lower rib cage, and the bottom of the sternum. It is the muscle primarily responsible for the action of breathing. Movement of the diaphragm is related to mobility of the spine and rib cage. Core Mobility promotes effective breathing, which is vital for maintaining health and longevity.

Diaphragm breathing diagram

Diaphragm during inhalation (left) and exhalation (right)

In addition to facilitating gas exchange in the body, diaphragmatic breathing supports two important physiological processes. The descension of the diaphragm during inhalation fosters microcirculation in the abdominal organs including the liver, kidneys, and spleen that promotes healthy organ functioning. The abdominal organs that inhabit the space directly underneath the dome of the diaphragm get compressed by the contraction of the diaphragm that reduces available space. This compression acts like a massage for the organ tissue, encouraging circulation in the organs that helps to prevent organ disease. The movement of the diaphragm also helps to create pressure changes in the thoracic cavity that translates into similar pressure changes in the spinal canal. This results in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid from the spine to the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid protects and nourishes the brain; constant circulation of cerebrospinal fluid supports healthy brain function and reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Diaphragm side view during breathing

Diaphragm during inhalation (left) and exhalation (right)

How to Breath Diaphragmatically:

  • Place your hands over your sides slightly above your waist so you can feel the bottom of your rib cage. Position your hands such that they’re straddling your sides with your thumbs around the back and the rest of your fingers around the front of your rib cage.
  • Think about breathing into your hands by expanding the bottom of your rib cage like an umbrella – pushing into the front, sides, and back of your hands that are wrapped around your sides.
  • Try not to raise the shoulders and chest, and instead think about expanding your belly and lower back.
  • Take deep, slow breaths. Inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds.

Practice diaphragmatic breathing regularly and reap the health benefits. Pay attention to your breathing especially during exercise and consider trying a new type of exercise that emphasizes breathing techniques like yoga or pilates. Promote your health on a breath-by-breath basis with the diaphragmatic breathing technique.

The Power of Core Mobility

Watch the video above for a closer look at diaphragmatic breathing and Core Mobility. You can use iHeart to assess your Core Mobility and monitor your internal age.

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Author: Claire O'Connor

Claire is a Kinesiology student currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Waterloo. Her experience in health research and her passion for health promotion, prevention, and rehabilitation give her an integrative outlook on health and wellness. As an aspiring health professional, Claire hopes to pursue a career in occupational or physical therapy.

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