What are the two most important muscles in your body?
The heart, which pumps 120,000 times per day and respiratory diaphragm, which contracts 22,000 times per day.
The respiratory diaphragm is your primary breathing muscle. When it contracts, it pulls air into your lungs. The oxygen from the air in your lungs is transferred to your blood. The heart pumps the blood throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all your cells. Without either of these two muscles, you could not live for more than a few minutes.
Did you know that the heart sits on top of the respiratory diaphragm and is in direct contact with it?
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle, situated across the lower rib cage. It separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The heart is situated in your chest cavity and sits between the lungs and on top of your diaphragm. The heart rides the up and down motion of the diaphragm (see diagram).
On the left, diaphragm has contracted, breathing in.
On the right, the diaphragm has relaxed, breathing out.
The video, from the Stough Institute, demonstrates the diaphragm and ribcage in action. Remember, breathing in the diaghragm contracts, moves downward and the lower ribs expand.
Click the play button to see the diaphragm in action.
When you breathe in, with normal and proper function, you are contracting your diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts, its center (the top of the dome) moves downward. Your lower rib cage expands and your belly moves forward to make room for your stomach, liver and intestines, as they are pushed down. When you breathe out the diaphragm is relaxing. The top of the dome moves upward and your belly moves back in, as your abdominal organs follow the diaphragm upwards. The out and in movement of your belly is why diaphragmatic breathing is often called belly breathing.
Troubled breathcan be a pain in the neck.
Many people develop the habit of shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is a common response to stress. When you fall into the habit of shallow breathing you are using neck, chest and shoulder muscles to breathe, and the diaphragm is no longer the primary breathing muscle. You breathe in more than 20,000 times per day. Imagine how much extra work (stress) that is for your neck, chest and shoulder muscles, considering your diaphragm is designed and intended to do the bulk of this work. Many people who suffer from chronic neck and/or shoulder pain, do so, at least in part, because they are breathing incorrectly.
Shallow breathing can develop from accumulation of stresses of daily living and following injury or illness.
Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) exercises are extremely valuable because they train you to use your diaphragm primarily, which helps the neck and shoulder muscles relax. In fact, diaphragmatic breathing is a key component in a great many relaxation and meditation methodologies.
Re-establishing a normal breathing pattern, or improving your diaphragmatic breathing, is vital to your health because;
It provides proper oxygenation of your body’s cells.
It allows you to use your lungs to their fullest extent.
The wave-like motion imparted by the diaphragm massages and mobilizes your thoracic and abdominal organs –22,000 times per day!
Diaphragmatic breathing is a useful stress reduction tool.