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