Diaphragmatic Breathing

Author: Phil Gawlak, NASM-CPT, FNS, CES, GFS

There are two patterns of breathing we humans perform; Chest (Thoracic) and Diaphragmatic(stomach breathing). Chest breathing is a sign of muscle imbalance and leads to poor performance, recovery and sleep quality. To find out which pattern you use to breathe, try this simple test: place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach and take a deep breath. If your chest expands and your shoulders raise, then you are chest breathing; and if your belly expands, then you are using your diaphragm correctly.

The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs. When the diaphragm contracts, in conjunction with the intercostal muscles (muscles between and around the ribs), it lowers the pressure in the thoracic cavity, drawing air into the lungs. When exhaling, the diaphragm relaxes along with the intercostal muscles, allowing air to leave. Air may be forced out by increasing abdominal pressure using the abdominal muscles. Your abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give you more power to empty your lungs. The diaphragm also has an important role in stabilizing the core. It forms the top of the core “box,” working with the abdominal, low back, and pelvic floor muscles to stabilize the spine for movement.

Breathing and posture share an important link. There are a series of body posture syndromes identified by Dr. Vladimir Janda, known as Janda’s Crossed Syndromes. The syndrome that ties directly to breathing dysfunction is known as upper crossed syndrome; tight traps, shrugged shoulders, rounded back, forward head and a caved-in chest are primary indicators of this syndrome.

Lymphatic drainage is also among the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing. More than half of all lymph nodes in the human body are located just under the diaphragm; stomach breathing stimulates the cleansing of the lymph nodes by creating a negative pressure pulling the lymph through the lymphatic system. Chest breathing can cause lymphatic stagnation in the stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver, kidneys, large and small colon, and other organs.

Diaphragmatic breathing offers many healthy benefits to us, including and certainly not limited to: better sleep, gas exchange, waste elimination, movement, athletic performance and calmness. Make better breathing a part of your health and wellness goal; you will be rewarded many times over for your efforts.

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