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BREATHING AND MOVEMENT. Why is the diaphragm so important?

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

It is after all the muscle that helps our lungs fill up and empty. Of course we should be using this! But why are the majority not? Well, it is something that we lose over time, largely due to stress or illness.


If you look at babies and animals, their bellies are moving up and down when they breathe. We are all born breathing this way (unless there has been a traumatic arrival or medical problems that may affect this even before birth).


In the last article we spoke about the importance of the hip flexor muscles (#psoas) for movement. Being our primary movers, without them the body cannot move in any direction. Therefore, if we think in terms of survival, we would not survive as we could not fetch food, water or run away from danger. The same goes for breathing of course. Without oxygen, we cannot live even a matter of minutes. So of course this is the most important function for our bodies to perform, no matter what.


Much like movement, (when our primary mover isn't working, the body will compensate and use a different muscle or group of muscles to produce the movement) this happens with our breath. We are of course talking about the #diaphragm muscle. If it isn't working efficiently then the ribs and intercostal muscles between them, and the chest will work hard (even involving the shoulders and neck muscles to aid!) to help push air in and out. All the muscles in the upper back will help too, as our thoracic spine (upper back vertebra) ensure air moves in and out and we get some oxygen delivery around our bodies.


70% of oxygen is in the bottom half of our lungs. The diaphragm sits under the lungs and pushes them up and down to help air in and out, if we are using our chest and ribs instead, we are only using the top half of our lungs and something like 20-30% of the total available oxygen.


We know we need oxygen to live, but we need it to help recover from exercise/exertion quicker, to repair muscle and injury, help all cell life, oxidise our food to use it for energy, and it also calms our bodies and our minds.


When we breathe into our bellies using our diaphragm, not only are we being efficient, we are also allowing our minds and our bodies to relax. It is the only way we can bring ourselves into a full parasympathtic (relaxed) state within our bodies. We spend so much of our time in a stressed (sympathetic) state, ready for fight, flight or maybe freeze. Even though this process should only last up to 2 minutes. In today's world we struggle to come back to our relaxed and rested state, and we wonder why there is disease, and stress related illness for most people in our society.


Just spending 10 minutes a day (or 20 long slow deep belly breaths) practicing and working the diaphragm muscle and allowing the body and mind to relax could help you in ways you've never even imagined. In sports performance especially. Clearing the mind and allowing the body to fully relax and recover.


What is in the mind is in the body, and what is in the body is in the mind! We can't change one and not influence the other. And this can work for or against us of course!


By allowing our bodies to find this relaxed state, the body can recover from competition or training. Not to mention, that the diaphragm is linked by connective tissue to the hip flexors. This can therefore keep our primary mover functioning more efficiently, preventing compensations and injuries from overuse of other muscles.


This fascial link also extends up the body into the heart and up to the vocal cords. We often “lose our voice” when we are ill, stressed, or emotionally upset etc. Again, showing this link of mind and body connection.



So, most importantly for your sports, activities and day to day life, just remember to breathe (but make sure you are doing it with your diaphragm!).

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