If the diaphragm is constantly contracted due to stress, its myofascias will also be taut from constant contraction, which can negatively influence the psoas and quadratus lumborum QL, who share its fascia and attachment points.
Apart from the stresses of modern life triggering the stressful contraction fo the diaphragm, the muscle cannot fully relax if there is continuous tension from the iliopsoas, psoas, iliacus, quadratus lumborum, esophagus, and lungs which cross through it/share its fascia. In addition, peritoneal cavity organ disorders or adhesions (rampant due to high number of appendectomy, GB removals, hysterectomies, c-sections, bowel surgeries, estrogen dominance and endometrial growth etc) can pull on the diaphragm’s fascia further impeding relaxation.
So, what to do? The great news is the diaphragm is under both conscious and autonomic control… which is where Yoga Tune Up® comes in. YTU provides tools to relax this incredible muscle. Relaxation of the diaphragm helps to increase the dominance of parasympathetic nervous system due to its close relation to the phrenic nerve (and minimising the risks outlined in my previous article).
Relaxation can be as simple as mindful breath (counting a longer exhale than inhale). You’ve perhaps heard the expression “breathe a sigh of relief.” On every exhale we have the power to move from autonomic “lets fight” to parasympathetic nourish and relax, changing the course of our health in an instant! All it takes is a longer exhalation than inhale.
We can take it further with full yogic breath that explores the full depth of our lungs. A full breath also has the ability to deliver up to 7x more oxygen to the body, enhancing our endurance and athletic performance in addition to the benefits of down regulation.
I believe what we eat, think, do and how we move have a tremendous ability to impact our health. Our environment and the products we choose to use that we potentially ingest, inhale and/or absorb through our skin also have influence. These are choices we can make to positively influence our health!
Discussed below are breathing exercises and ways of moving that can positively influence the breath, diaphragm release and digestion, metabolism, hormone balance, endurance, flexibility, hip flexor and low spine health.
My favourite Yoga Tune Up® and Coregeous exercises are:
1. Sidewinder: on one side the obliques, tranversus abdominus, QL, iliopsoas, iliacus, psoas and rectus abdominus contract to bring upper body into lateral flexion whilst these muscles on the opposite side relax to enable the opposing contraction, bringing a great stretch.
2. Roll out thoracic, lumbar spine & QL with Yoga Tune Up Balls: use any size pair of therapy balls (in the tote or out) to roll up and down the length of the spine either on the floor, or leaning against the wall.
3. Coregeous Ball under thoracic spine: This prepares the body to enable ribcage to lift and expand, giving more space for the diaphragm to relax and spread into the ribcage space, transforming from a tight dome to soft pancake. To do it, simply place a Coregeous ball under your upper back, between your shoulder blades. Gently place the back of your head on the ground (filling the space with blanket or pillows if your chin is pointing up towards the ceiling, an indication of too much cervical extension).
Exploring fluid arm movements with breath, as well as spinal flexion and lateral flexion to gently massage muscles associated with lifting and expanding ribcage from an alternate angle (intercostals, serratus anterior, rhomboids, infraspinatus, levator scapulae, teres major/minor, lats, lower traps etc).
4. Gut Smash with the Coregeous ball: Lie face down in Savasna with the Coregeous ball on belly. Whilst the exhale can almost feel as though you are being punched in the guts, there is a magnificence when you find the courage to soften and surrender, which allows you to feel the diaphragm and the impact on the nervous system. Whether profound or one of simple relief, the benefits to being in touch with your breath and diaphragm are many.
For those who like to continue the exploration this can be repeated over the navel and then the pelvic funnel regions.
5. YTU Bridge Lifts: encourage full yogic breath on inhale and softening of belly on exhale in preparation for Bridge Lift with Uddiyana Bandha.
6. Bridge Lifts with Uddiyana Bandha: This can bring a profound stretch to the diaphragm and hence lungs, peritoneum and the all the organs and adhesions it brings for the ride. When you first start with this exercise, it is common to feel a strong line of pull from beneath the ribcage all the way through the abdomen and sometimes into the pelvis and hips.
In my opinion, Bridge Lifts with Uddiyana Bandha is one of the best exercises for maintaining healthy nervous, reproductive, digestive, hormone, metabolism and diaphragm function.
YTU helps you prociocept (assess and feel) your breath, and gives you the tools to change your breath and change your health in an instant!
“I can live without a biceps. I can live without the giant quadriceps on the front of my thigh. I can even live without the overworked chewing muscle called the masseter who does the most work for its size of any muscle in the body. But, I cannot — repeat, cannot — live without a diaphragm.”
Louis Jackson, Yoga Tune Up® Instructor
Enjoyed this article? Read Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Tune Up®: Match Made in Heaven
In recent months, I have become incredibly aware of how shitting my breathing has been for years. How little my diaphragm moves, poor circulation, poor digestion, pain in QL and chronic shortness in psoas, it is all starting to make sense. Clearly, I have a lot of work to do. The toughest part for me, is making time for my self-care fitness. It seems so intelligent to just do the work, but my poor gut function, low serotonin levels and chornic mental health struggles make it hard to make myself a priority. Anybody have any words of wisdom?
I made the conscious decision this morning that once my schoo year is done, my summer is going to be dedicated to making myself and reconnecting with all my blind spots, a major priority. The concept of blind spots hits home in a big way, and acknowledging my avoidance and procrastination is a part of this uncomfortable process. I hope to feel very differently in my body come September 2022. Wish me luck! These videos will certainly come in handy.
WOW I cannot believe how powerful and wonderful the gut smash with the Coregeous ball is – made me realise how I am and most everyone is neglecting the core and diaphragm in particular. The Bridge Lifts with Uddiyana Bandha is one of the best streach I have ever felt in my body, so relaxing after. Have been trying it on runners and they are amazed. Love all of the above exercises and how powerful they are.
Wow the diaphragm is so important and at the same time underestimated! You have to work it regularly to feel its importance.
This is a compact, effective sequence to get into the gut. I love how accessible it is to any level, and that it’s training the diaphragm from different angles with a variety of movements. I’m incorporating these into my daily embodiment routine.
I love these exercises that use the coregeous ball. The gut smash was so uncomfortable at first but now I love it. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks Lee for reminding me about ‘breathe a sigh of relief’.
It’s amazing to see how simple sidewinder helps to reset my body. Drawing more attention back to the core and linking it to my breath is my 2-5 minute reset button.
Really great post!! The power of the breath to transform body and mind is a beautiful thing and one that is attainable for anyone. Thank you for including a variety of movements, can’t wait to run through them all as a series.
It seems to me that the diaphragm is one of those under-embodied muscles. Grateful for this article to support the journey towards better diaphragmatic well being:)
Thank you for sharing. It’s an important reminder of yet another reason that a healthy diaphragm affects our overall health. I hadn’t considered the fascia relationship to the ql as connected to the diaphragm nor it’s connection to GI issues. I also have moved beyond simple deep exhales to complete yoga breath and it is a game changer!
Great article! I cannot believe how powerful the gut smash with the Coregeous ball is – that was eye opening for me about how much I had been neglecting my core and my diaphragm in particular.
Thank you for sharing, this is incredible information! There is so much that can affect our breath. I love how you explained that we can actually relax the diaphragm. I didn’t realize that stress and tension in the iliopsoas, psoas, iliacus, quadratus lumborum, esophagus, and lungs can trigger stressful contraction in the diaphragm which can cause a lot of harm in the body and its ability to turn on its relax response. I love the exercises with the coreageous balls, it relaxed my diaphragm and I was able to expand my breath and turn on my parasympathetic system easier. Bridge lifts with uddiyana is such a wonderful exercise, it feels so calming to my body and mind.
Great list of exercises for the diaphragm. I look forward to trying them out. Thanks for thoughrough explanation too. P
The gut smash with the ball looks amazing, I’m going to try that out once I get my hands on a squishy ball.
Wow so much information,love the ytu blog.
Really benefit from the article with all the clips in it I going to read it again and watch the clip’s . thanks for putting this together
This was amazing to read and to understand how everything is connected in our core. I am so looking forward to finding the next Core class and understanding more how this can help with my issues with c-section, removal of cysts. Thank you for explaining how its ok to have a release.
the role our breath plays in our everyday lives is pretty powerful, yet it is too often forgotten about. Thank you for this range of accessible breathing techniques and tips.
Thanks for bringing attention to how important the health of the diaphragm is to the health of our bodies overall. Dysfunctional breathing patterns are rampant. I wish everyone could understand how important the breath is. Great choice of YTU exercises to help!
I appreciated the videos, watched them all and took notes. Was just at the YTU (R) Anatomy module and this was a great refresher of the importance of the breath!
I am amazed at the various roles played by the diaphragm! I truly do need to explore and exercise it more as I believe over the years mine has gotten pretty ‘stuck’. I have no doubt YTU will help with that!
Love this article!
What an education! As I delve further into how our bodies work I am more and more blown away by it’s inner-workings. I had no idea of the significant work the diaphragm does. What a super star!
Great article ! thank you for mentioning the abdominal adhesions due to surgery scars.
The diaphragm helps to mobilize the ribs, lumbar spine and thoracic spine. The diaphragm attaches to the first, second and third lumbar vertebrae, the inner part of the lower six ribs as well as the back of the sternum at the xiphoid process. During inhalation as the diaphragm flattens to allow the lungs to fill with air, the diaphragm will “pull” slightly on each of those attachments, effectively giving you a gentle mobilization.These actions will be enhanced with the Courgeous ball massage with a lots explorations with the YTU techniques.
Looking forward to using my new courageous ball along with these exercises to strengthen and stretch my diaphragm. Thanks for a straightforward explanation of the importance of breath and what you can do to help support the breath in terms of work with the diaphragm.
Thanks for compiling this sequence of diaphragm releasing exercises. Also, for mentioning the effect that abdominal surgery scars can have on the body mechanics and breathing mechanics. I think we have more awareness of the need to followup after surgery to prevent scar tissue from adhering in unhealthy ways. Hopefully the YTU ball work will add to this movement!
When I first tried the coregeous ball on my belly, it literally felt like I had been punched or was about to throw up. But after breathing into it and relaxing, it did loosen up my diaphragm and help me breath better!
Awesome post! Thank you for including videos. I find that many of my massage clients are not aware of their shallow chest breathing or how it affects their neck and shoulder pain as well as anxiety levels. I appreciate that I now have this post to share with them as they explore their breath.
great article and sequence for breath awareness, thank you!
Excellent article. Thank you for attaching the videos and exercises!
I love the diaphragm its such a unique design. All of these videos are spectacular and has really changed the way I breath especially when I run. I used breath very shallow when running and I would get out of breath fast. After creating lots of room on in the thoracic spine and abdomen, stretching and toning the diaphragm I have learned to take deeper longer breaths no matter what speed I am running at I can stay out of panic mode which I never though was possible. I used to run track in high school and I wish I would have worked on breath then I loved to run long distance but never knew how to use my breath in the way that I do now.
Yes. It all starts with the diaphragm. It all starts with the breath.
So wonderful to have all these videos in one place. We forget that a tight or un relaxed diaphragm can negatively influence the psoas and QL
So wonderful to have all these videos in one place to practice with.
Thanks for the article Lee-Ann. It was very thorough with breath and multiple coregeous exercises.
So helpful in terms of having all of these videos in one place that all are related to freeing up and strengthening the diaphragm. It is such an important muscle which I have basically been ignoring until recently noticing that my breath was not as easy and full as it has been in the past. I notice a big difference in my lung capacity after doing these practices and feel lighter and stronger.
I was taught and have focused on the body as parts instead of looking at it as whole and integrated for many years. Reading through this article has brought to light many things in regards to down regulation, athletic performance limiters and how almost everything is connected to breathe. Great post, thank you.
It is amazing what a roll the diaphragm plays in the entire body. It is true that “everything is connected” in our body. The gut smash is one of my favorite. It helps me breathe deeper and find a place of surrender. This is especially helpful in relaxation and finding relief from anxiety. The fact that it helps psoas and QL is a bonus unwind from a long day of sitting.
Thank you for putting all of these amazing how-to videos in one place.
This article is right on target. I see the magic of breathing support in yoga poses every time I use them. Your tips will be helpful in expanding my bag of tricks.
I am fascinated by the diaphragm. I hadn’t yet considered how working the QL, Psoas, etc. would help to relax the diaphragm to bring more ease to the breath. We learned Sidebinder today and immediately after I felt that I had a greater breath capacity. Thank you for drawing this connection for me, I will take it into my at home practice.
I absolutely love the stretch I get from Bridge Lifts with Uddiyana — I can’t wait to try the progression to that pose that you suggested in this post. Thank you!
Babies breathe perfectly. By the time we grow up, most of us pick up new breathing habits like shallow breathing and holding our breaths. Breathing practices like yogic breathing, alternate nostril breathing and kapalabhati help to correct unhealthy breathing habits.
Interesting article. Thank you for posting the videos! I found them to be helpful.
Thank you for you blog and attaching soo many related videos. I enjoy watching Kelly Starrett and Jill Miller explain and demonstrate. I appreciate their humour and outstanding knowledge.
This article made me reflect on what my breath was like while practicing yoga tune up and my breathing in general. As a child I was diagnosed with asthma and then restrictive lung disease in my adult life. To this day I have breathing issues although I don’t know if it’s worse since I now I’ve almost completely refrained from cardio exercises. I know that my breathing isn’t steady though because sometimes I catch myself breathing irregularly. I am hoping to find of of these softer balls and attempt this method to see if it creates any normality for me.
I am currently in the Level 1 YTU training. I enjoyed learning the sidewinder move. I have no experience with the Coregeous ball, but am definitely going to check this out further.
Interesting how the diaphragm is connected to so many key components of our daily lives and our yoga practice: breathing, calming the nervous system, preventing lower back pain. I’m excited to see how practicing these exercises eases my anxiety and helps my lower back pain when these occur.
I found it interesting the changes that occurred while observing the breath during yoga tune up roll model method and tuning into the sensations after completing a session. For me the process had to be done slowly as my upper back and neck was already tender due to an injury. I began with a tenseness and sometimes felt moments of discomfort which resulted in a quickening clavicular breath. But as a result my breath also slowed down while taking my time and paying attention to the areas the balls rolled. After removing the balls it feels like everything falls into place and a sense of relaxation comes about with continued combination of slow abdominal and thoracic breathing.
After doing Coregeous ball work and pretty much all of the other awesome suggestions you gave, I could really feel that my breathing was better and I felt awesome. Then due to stress, my breathing became constricted and not only did I feel it right away, I made sure I did everything in my arsenal to fix it. It so didn’t feel right to be walking around with a noose around my rib cage that stopped me from taking a full breath.
The proprioception has been an amazing gift that I have received from my time with Yoga Tune Up and seeing my body from the inside out.
No breath, no life! I use long, deep and slow breath to release tensions in my body and for pain management. I am happy to learn that Bridge Lifts with Uddiyana Bandha can help maintaining healthy nervous, reproductive, digestive, hormone, metabolism and diaphragm function. Thanks for sharing!
I remember my very first yoga class: I did not like the smell of incense, I did not like that I would have to sit and move on a tiny mat directly on the floor, and I couldn’t get why the teacher made sure to repeat everything she was saying in a really strange sounding language. But that FREEDOM I felt after this first class. Right there, underneath the lungs – underneath the ribs. A mobility in the diaphragm that I hadn’t had in a long time, and that was so precious that I decided to go back to yoga the next day and then I never stopped practicing! Thank you for gathering all the YTU tricks in this blog post!
Appreciate the quick to the point explanation of importance of diaphragm health as well as simple sequence complete with anatomical reference.
Les exercices présentés sont vraiment intéressants. Ils procurent un bien être immédiat. Lors de l’immersion sur les abdominaux profonds, nous avons fait une multitudes de Uddiyana bandha. C’est incroyable de constater à quel point ces 4 jours on améliorés ma capacité respiratoire et mes performances lors de mes sorties de vélo. merci pour cet article.
I loved your piece: Change Your Breath, Change Your Health. It is amazing how when stress is upon us, quite often it is the breath that is inhibited and altered first! While I do many of these practices already – sidewinder, therapy ball work, bridge lifts with uddiyana (may absolute favorite for connecting to strength in the core and the gluts!). I have a courgeous ball, though the kids use it more for soccer around the house, and I need to start incorporating its use into my practice…tomorrow, I’ll give it a shot at softening the guts, tranquilizing the nervous system and feeling out the diaphragm. Thanks for all the core support and suggestions!
I loved every part of this article:) Thanks lee-ann. In my classes, I emphasize the power of breathing more than anything else. Foundation of any yoga class is your breath, no matter what type of yoga class you do, yin, restorative, vinyasa, etc. I always encourage my students to breathe, and not worry about how they look in their pose. As long as they are breathing, they are practising yoga. Our body has the ability to heal itself, as long as you give it the right tools : yoga, breath, nutrition.
I am amazed at how many people underestimate the power of breath. The label it hippy dippy or flowery. However the breath can awaken the brain, down regulate the nervous system, facilitate digestion, muscle movement, spine health and hormone balance.
Great article I enjoyed every part of it. If you can’t breathe you die. These yoga tune up exercises really work to open up the diaphragm.
Thanks for the information presented in a way that is immediately accessible.
Most people don’t know how to breath, this is a great article with useful exercises. The Coregeous ball is such an amazing tool- increasing breath awareness and strengthening all the respiratory muscles. It truly can be used by ALL!
This right here was a big part of why I just HAD to take the Level 1 YTU course, I am in awe of the transformation after using the coregeous ball with any of those exercises you listed above. Great read.
After my Core Immersion I learned the value of the Coregeous ball and have been using it several times a week this year and notice an incredible “fluid” quality to my breath. I love the exercises you laid out, and need to add the sidewinder into my weekly routine.
Great article, I really like all the examples of exercise that you listed. Until I started my level 1, I had no experience with Uddiyana Bandha. This is now one of my favorite exercises!!
Good discussion on use of diaphragm
Excellent article on how YTU can help reduce scars
Thank you for mentioning abdominal adhesions due to surgery scars. I have suspected that an abdominal scar could be a contributing factor to what seems to be abdominal weakness. But haven’t really contemplated the impact my little C-section scar may have on my breathing.