You might have heard the terminology breathe into your belly or belly breathing. Have you ever stopped to think what does that actually mean? We aren’t actually breathing into our belly what we are doing is we are trying to activate our diaphragm our Dia……..what you might ask? I want to introduce you to your diaphragm – this is by far my most favourite muscle in the body. Its main job is help us to help us to breathe. It is located beneath your lungs and separates your chest cavity from your lower half known as the thoracic cavity.
As you take a breathe in the air is meant to travel downward into the lower lobes of our lungs and then our diaphragm contracts and moves about 2-3cm pulling the lungs downward allowing them to expand. Our ribs then move forward, outward and back to provide space for the lungs to expand and then our chest expands last – I like to refer to this as 3 dimensional breathing so this is what is meant to happen however due to the increased amount of time we spend sitting, poor posture and stress as humans we have become habitual chest breathers.
What happens in your body when you chest breathe?
When we constantly breathe through our chest our diaphragm becomes inactive and weak Chest breathing activates activates a sympathetic response in the body which is a stressor so when we are breathing only through our chest we are actually doing our health a disservice and breathing ourselves into a state of stress.
When we are only breathing through our chest we start to overwork our neck muscles known as the scalenes – these are only meant to be accessory breathing muscles but if we are constantly breathing through our chest these becomes the main muscles used which can lead to neck aches and headaches.
The diaphragm also has attachments deep in the lower back – When you only chest breathe you lose the lower back support that you get when you breathe diaphragmatically there is a relationship between lower back pain and dysfunctional breathing.
Our main thoracic duct runs through our diaphragm which is a part of our detoxification system – as our lymphatic system does not have circulation like our cardiovascular system it relies on movement to stimulate and allow toxins to be released from our body – so when the diaphragm is working properly it is assisting the lymphatic system to be able to do its job properly which means if we are only breathing through our chest then this job is not being performed which leads to a build up of toxins in our body.
The other most important thing to note is that when we are not utilising our diaphragm to its utmost potential and choosing the chest we are then not stimulating our Vagus Nerve – this is the main nerve that helps to stimulate our Parasympathetic nervous system (Rest and Digest system) if we continue to shallow breathe not using the diaphragm then this nerve loses its tone and strength and can lead to things like anxiety and depression.
The good news is that our bodies are innately built to breathe this way – if you think about young toddlers running around you can always see their abdomen moving – so all we need to do is remind our bodies how to perform this process.
Start by 10 minutes a day of lying down and breathing through your diaphragm inhaling to count of 5 and exhaling to a count of 5.
- Place your hands on either side of your body at your lower two ribs.
- I would like you to bring the air deep into your lungs.
- As you breathe in, feel your ribs expanding outward.
- As you breathe out, feel your ribs moving inward.
- Keeps your hands on your ribs to feel them expanding 3 dimensionally
- Breathe in to a count of 5
- Exhale to a count of 5.
Check out this You tube video of an MRI of the diaphragm during respiration https://youtu.be/rqk9PRIOMSY