If you’ve been around the yoga block a few times, you will no doubt have heard the instruction to ‘breathe into your belly’ – and that direction may have had you stumped. After all, your abdomen doesn’t have lungs (they’re housed up in your rib cage) – so how could you possibly breathe into your belly?
The answer lies in your diaphragm. The relaxed diaphragm is shaped like a dome that attaches to the inner surface of the lower six ribs, the lumbar vertebrae and the xyphoid process. It has a completely unique shape, location and function. The diaphragm separates the contents of your rib cage (lungs and heart) from the contents of your abdomen (organs). And while most other muscles exist to create movement across joints, the diaphragm’s job is to create breath.
When the diaphragm’s muscle fibers contract, it increases the volume of the thoracic cavity (area inside the rib cage). This creates a vacuum – and air rushes into the lungs to fill the empty space (that’s an inhalation).
The contracted diaphragm is pulled downward into the abdominal cavity, causing the belly to swell as it gently presses against your abdominal organs.
On exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, the lungs deflate and it ‘domes’ back up inside the rib cage. As it domes up, the pressure is off the organs and the belly softens and sinks back.
In belly breathing, you simply tune in to the continuous rise and fall of the belly, caused by the movement of the diaphragm. It’s demonstrated in the video clip below and also on the 10 Minute Quick Fix for Stress Relief.
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