Last week, I talked about the Yogic Complete Breath in Yoga Tune Up® Savasana and its affect on reducing anxiety.
In this section I am going to discuss proprioception, another major component of Yoga Tune Up®, and how it relates to the diaphragm and breathing patterns. The more information I absorb about the diaphragm, the less anxious and more investigative I become. It’s a slightly lopsided and unconventional muscle, which reminds me that I too am allowed to feel a little off center sometimes.
This essential breathing mechanism is a weird, asymmetric film nestled underneath the heart and blanketing the liver. Because of that, it is slightly angled, or as stated above, “lopsided.” The liver elevates it while the heart depresses it.
The diaphragm is a very difficult muscle to pull, as it is so well encompassed and attached. Its fibers attach at the central tendon, which then attaches to connective tissue around the lungs. This is why we are able to fill our lungs up like a vacuum. It also finds itself tethered to the inside of your lower six ribs, the first two or three of your lumbar vertebrae and part of the xiphoid process (that knobby end at the bottom of your sternum).
Proprioception refers to being aware of the body’s movement in space, but that awareness can also be used for movements inside of the body. Becoming aware of where things live within you, how they move, and what they feel like takes practice. Before we can be aware of what something feels like within us, we sometimes need to physically poke around a bit.
If you firm your fingers in around the inner edges of your bottom ribs, you can trace the diaphragm. It encompasses your thoracic cavity like a silk sheet protecting the lower body from the sun. It spreads across the front and back of the mid-spine, cutting you in two halves (top and bottom). You do not exist without it, and it does not exist without you.
So now we know that every breath is “diaphragmatic,” since each breath (deep and long to shallow and short) engages the diaphragm. The proof is in the pudding in poses such as Yoga Tune Up ® Standing Diaphragm-Based Backbend. This pose asks us to firm the ribs and punch in the Tubular Core as the sternum, cervical spine and upper thoracic spine arch into extension. The inhales here still flatten the diaphragm; just as exhales float it up. However, the focus is on the breath filling the chest more than the belly. Lengthening the spine in this way might feel like we shorten the breath. The fact is though, that while the diaphragm continues to party up and down, the ribs widen a bit more to expand lung capacity. This moves the diaphragm though we only feel the ribs move.
The same goes for all backbends: Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Baby Cobra, Danurasana (Bow Pose). We hold the lower body tight, slimming in the Tubular Core as the ribs widen, the chest lifts, and we obtain this “chest” feeling diaphragmatic breath.
We change the way we imagine the breath coming in more than we actually change the breath itself. Which is why when it comes to breathing issues that accompany anxiety, it’s important to remember that whether in Savasana, a backbend, prepping for a big presentation, nerve-wracking audition, or exhausting workshop, we are capable of breathing.