In my last blog I wrote about the psoas and the diaphragm, the connection between them and the impact our emotional state has on them both. Now I want to show you how you can use your breathing to bring your body and mind out of the fight or flight mode and return to a truly calm relaxed state.

Why activate your diaphragm

Why do we need to activate our diaphragm before we can effectively use it to breathe? Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, the stress or fear reflex can trigger poor posture as we draw forward into a hunched survival posture, closing in and shutting down. Also, our everyday lives lead us into this same posture as we round our shoulders, curve our spines and draw our bodies into rounded postures as we sit at our desk or in our cars for long periods.

The result of this rounded collapsed posture is that we cannot breathe with our diaphragm (and what we don’t use switches off) and our rib cage and sternum become glued down and therefore unable to expand when we breathe from our belly. Painful trigger points also develop in the soft tissues around your ribs and sternum.

So before we start trying to breathe with our diaphragm we activate it.

Activating your diaphragm

Diaphragm activation

Lie on your back in a quiet place with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Using your fingers begin massaging in an upside down Y shape, starting along the bottom edge of your ribcage about 10-15cm from your sternum and working up and down both sides of your sternum. Be sure to stay on the edge of your ribcage not under it.

Where the tissue feels like it is resisting or feels lumpy or sore, focus more on these areas. Yes it will be uncomfortable, painful even, but try to stick with it. Keep going for a couple of minutes.

Now for the breathing!

Now you have activated your diaphragm and the connection between your brain and diaphragm is made we need to use it!

Place your hand lightly on your stomach just below your naval. This is where you want to focus your breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Draw your breath into your belly, so your stomach expands/lifts then breath all the air back out again. Try to avoid movement in your upper chest and neck (this is where we tend to shallow breathe).

Continue for two minutes. Try closing your eyes to help you focus completely on your breathing.

This is what we call diaphragmatic breathing. We initially practice lying down, increasing to 10 minutes a day. Once you can belly breathe while lying down, try the same while sitting, then progress to standing, walking and while exercising. Integrate it into your day; belly breathe at your desk, in the bath, while watching television, walking the dog, watching your kid play footie! And especially practice belly breathing when you are starting to feel harried or stressed or nervous!

What are some of the benefits?

You will be able to draw oxygen down into the lower part of your lungs. You may feel dizzy or light headed initially as more oxygen gets to your brain!

Your mind may become quieter and clearer

Your stomach may gurgle due to the blood returning to the digestive system

You may become more present , becoming more aware of yourself and the world around you, possibly with increased sense of taste and smell (sometimes called mindfulness)

Your body will begin to relax, hopefully your mind too

You may find that you sleep better, moving to a deeper more relaxed sleep

A little experiment!

Try this. Before you activate your diaphragm and start your belly breathing, ask a partner to test your hamstring flexibility.

Lie on your back on the floor with legs straight. Ask your partner to lift your leg straight up until either they start to feel resistance or you do. You need to keep your leg completely relaxed and let your partner take the weight of your leg and do all the moving, otherwise you will not get a true picture of your hamstring flexibility. Keep your knees straight too. Ask them to make a note of how far your leg goes to, then repeat with the other leg.

After you have activated your diaphragm and done your belly breathing retest. What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your experience of activating and belly breathing and how you find it and what changes you notice.

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