I found yoga 13 years ago on suggestion of a family physician who was tasked with helping me find a cure for a broken heart, a broken spirit and a broken body. We had long discussions about the human body with all its amazing physical capabilities. We also spoke about the human soul and spirituality.
I was reminded about this experience when Jill mentioned a clinical study that attempted to measure the weight of the human soul. Duncan MacDougall, a doctor from Massachusetts, conducted one of those studies in 1907. He concluded that a human soul weighed about 21 grams. This theory was later proved to be wrong yet some people still believe that a human soul weighs the mere 21 grams.
Personally I agree with one of the most spiritual and brilliant scientists of our time, Itzhak Bentov, who said: “We don’t have souls. But it’s just the other way around – the souls have us.” (Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness, Itzhak Bentov).
How does this relate to human muscles? Well, my doctor suggested I try yoga. He believed it would rescue all of me – body and soul.
I entered my first yoga class feeling skeptical. In about an hour I was laying on the floor in Savasana, weeping. For a person who does not cry much and never cries in front of other people, this was quite a shock. It was also liberating.
I started to practice yoga regularly. While experiencing many well-known benefits of a yoga practice, I had a freeing experience of conscious breathing. Ultimately, it did rescue me. I was no longer depressed. I was no longer 20 pounds underweight. I loved life with a newly discovered intensity.
However, until our recent Yoga Tune Up® teacher training, I never really thought of where my breath and the weeping came from; what parts of the ‘physical me’ worked with the ‘spiritual me’ to create that unforgettable experience. During the training, we discussed various topics, including the uniqueness of a human diaphragm – a life-sustaining muscle and the integral component of the practice.
Whether you believe in God, evolution or a combination of the two, you’ll most likely agree that a human body is a truly magical creation. I find the diaphragm to be absolutely magical. It keeps our bodies alive and enlivens the practice of yoga.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the thoracic and abdominal cavities. In other words, it separates the heart, lungs and ribs from the stomach, liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, small and large intestines, and the kidneys. The diaphragm’s muscle fibers attach (originate) at the inner surface of the lower six ribs, the upper two or three lumbar vertebrae, and the inner part of the xiphold process (very bottom of the chest bone). It inserts at the central tendon. When you breathe from your diaphragm, the diaphragm’s muscle fibers contract on the inhalation and pull the central tendon down. The central tendon pulls all the connective tissue it is attached to around the lungs and creates a vacuum in the upper thoracic cavity. This action pulls air into the lungs. On the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes. The central tendon is released and the lungs deflate.
The diaphragm and the way we choose to breathe affect our physical and mental well- being. Soft ligaments connect the diaphragm to our internal organs, affecting their function. Many of the fluid-pumping mechanisms are connected to the movement of the diaphragm as well. A healthy movement of the diaphragm benefits these pumping actions.
I’d like to point out another very important mind body yoga connection. The diaphragm is intimately connected with the star of Yoga Tune Up® – the psoas. Two diaphragm tendons extend down and connect to the spine alongside the psoas connection. The medial arcuate ligament (a tendinous fascia) passes through the diaphragm and arches over the psoas.
I experienced this connection first-hand, those 13 years ago. As I allowed the stress to get the best of my spirit, it started to affect my body. I had daily physical pain around my chest area. I could no longer hold food down and later I could barely walk.
Those days are long gone and they are never coming back, yet I am thankful for the experience as it encouraged me to explore many unique opportunities. One of them was the recent YTU teacher training. I am forever grateful and eager to learn more about the human body and the soul it lives in.
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thanks for sharing Lana. I love that you had a Doctor who was open minded enough to discuss spirituality and yoga with you. How refreshing 🙂
“I am forever grateful and eager to learn more about the human body and the soul it lives in.”
Love, love, loved this. Not only did this sufficiently describe the importance of a healthy functioning diaphragm, but it so beautifully connects this “life sustaining muscle” with the spirit, which comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath”. Just wonderful, thank you!
“We don’t have souls, the souls have us.” Love this quote! I have been exploring the breath much more in depth lately, and getting a better understanding of the role of the diaphragm is a huge component. The impact on the psoas is very cool!
Lana, I have been in the same place as you described and I too feel that the involuntary movement of the diaphragm is a constant reminder that we are alive, our bodies are infinitely wise and are always sending us subtle reminders of this fact
Since July of this year I have been on a journey of healing. I’ve been following the breadcrumbs on this path and have landed in the Level 1 Certification. I’m not clear on where I’m going to land but I’m confident I’m in the right place at the right time. Thanks so much for this post. It is most encouraging.
Thank you Lana!
It is part of my story also… A doctor that said: practice mindfulness activity! And hop…
I started yoga and meditation practice.
This connection with our divine self and the link with our physical breathing is so poetic and bring some lightness in the experience of living.
Many of us come to our first yoga class because there’s either pain, loss, stress, or “something missing.” Yoga teaches us we’re not broken or helpless, but instead empowers us to be expanded and more present. I appreciate what you’ve shared here about your own broken heart and how you turned that around with yoga. Thank you for the reminder that yoga is not just a physical practice; it is also a soul practice.
Thank you for sharing your healing journey. Yoga is magical, indeed, and I agree that our breath is the doorway in….so much pain – physical, emotional and spiritual – can be dissolved through breathing! Beautiful post.
What a wonderful article – thank you so much for sharing. On stressful days, I often find myself now reverting to deep breathing to help release some of the stress I am experiences. People always underestimate the power of breathing. I try to make it a habit to set aside time at both the beginning and end of my classes to encourage deep breathing with various breathing techniques.
I too, am a big fan of the diaphragm. Prior to YTU Level 1 training, I have been fascinated by learning movement patterns. Babies are superstars when it comes to diaphragmatic breathing, in fact the diaphragm ushers us into this world by providing us with our first gulp of oxygen and our first exclamation of sound, and diaphramatic breathing become our first movement pattern and our first experience with gaining strength. This post helped me gain a better anatomical understanding of how many body parts are structurally attached to the diaphragm, and how it can be so effective in helping babies gain the initial strength to start picking their giant heads up against gravity. The suggestion of the diaphragm being our spiritual link, and it’s location, makes me realize that when I put my hands together in “heart center” I am actually putting my hands together right over my diaphragm. I now have a new paradigm for what my center really means to me. Thank you, this is by far my favorite blog post to date, very enlightening.
The diaphragm is such a powerful and amazing muscle, yet it is so overlooked. Even when I was in college, we breezed right through it in my anatomy class and there was not much depth about everything it impacts in the body. This is something that definitely needs to change! Thanks for sharing your story and exposing others to this incredible muscle!
I knew the diaphragm had an effect on the psoas but it’s crazy to hear a first hand account of what it did for someone and what getting back into alignment can feel like!
Fascinating…. Over the years, I’ve been asked for explanations for the unexpected emotional release that occasionally happens for some. I will (embarrassingly) admit that I have given a somewhat generic answer– “Oh, we store many emotions in our bodies….” Reading about the diaphragm and its relationship to the psoas make things more clear. Great work!
The message in this post is so powerful. Our bodies are amazing creations, and most of us – even those of us who understand more than the average person about them – don’t really know all that there is to know. I find the breath-body-emotions connection particularly fascinating. Remembering to breathe big and deep and fully is so difficult when you’re feeling sad, or anxious, or depressed, or angry. But if you can remember, and make yourself take just one or two belly-filling, rib-expanding breaths, starting as slowly as you need to, the emotion can soften drastically, and maybe even melt away entirely. Can you imagine how peaceful the world would be if everyone breathed deeply all the time? Combine that power of the breath with a movement practice like yoga, and you’ve got a recipe for profound emotional change. The end-of-class weeping experience is one that I have had, too, and no matter how desperate the emotion that was released, after it was over and “out of my system,” life always seemed like a much better thing. Thank you for sharing your experience and the way that it changed you.
Very interesting article and very helpful thank you
I am currently completing my level 1certification and I am so excited to learn more about this connection: diaphragm to the human spirit and soul. I too find myself emotional and connected on the inside while in savasana…. and often I have no idea where it has come from! It creaps up on me, and I would like to discover a more mindful connection to it.
Thank you Lana for sharing your personal story. Many people never even think about how their diaphragm effects not only breath but emotional health. Using the Yoga Tune Up coregeous ball has really help me connect to my diaphragm and heal emotional trauma.
i love this story. It really is amazing how amazing the human body is. The construction is so complex but logical all at the same time. the more i learn about the diaphragm, the more surprised i am to learn about how much it influences the body. I know that breath and deep breathing it important but i just thought it was because of the extra oxygen it was adding to our system but i did not know how much the diaphram influences so many other muscles and body parts.
Yoga can be an excellent treatment for depression. I speak from experience when I say that it allows a corporal structure, a practice and a philosophy to enter the daily life of people who are paralyzed by loss or negative emotion. Differences in breathing patterns can definitely effect emotional states and levels of arousal. When people carry tension in their muscles, the release of that tension can be a liberating eruption of emotion. Endogenous chemicals like endorphines and oxytocin are the body’s way of telling our brain to keep making healthy choices. A heightened level of arousal, awareness and a feeling of being “in the zone,” can be acquired through yoga and other physical activities (“runner’s high” for example). Personally, I believe that the mind, body and spirit are connected. My spiritual connection with yoga and other physical activities lies in a continued appreciation for and stewarding of the gifts that God has given me in my body and mind. Studying those gifts, caring for them, appreciating them, and loving your neighbors by helping to teach others methods to heal themselves and appreciate those same gifts in themselves is a noble and spiritual endeavor, especially when keeping God in mind. There are some, though, that do not have a body capable of any sort of physical exercise, and who must use other gifts and methods to help their faith grow. God’s love for us can be found everywhere, and in many practices. Yoga is one example that has real potential.
Great read! I love the insightful curiosity of thinking about how ‘the physical me” works with the “spiritual me” to create breath. I agree the breath is a magical thing and I too am thankful also to yoga for helping me to experience the breath beyond just the mechanics. In our training today we watched the segment of Gil Hedley’s video showing the attachment of the diaphragm to the psoas – seeing this is always such a “whoa” moment as it exemplifies to me just how vast the connection of the breath is and brings me to the gushy place where you realize how truly amazing and whole the human experience is!
Thank you so much for sharing this very personal account of your life with us.
I love how, once you invite something in your life, it starts popping up around you.
As such, tomorrow will be the 6th day of my YTU lvl 1 course and I will be presenting Uddihyanna Bandha to the class and hope to have a few people experience what you mentioned, that spiritual connection and sense of well being you get when your diaphragm is happy 🙂
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Thank you for sharing this beautiful post, Lana! It’s so wonderful to hear anyone talk about that place where anatomy and mysticism collide and overlap. The diaphragm is totally it. It’s funny that I feel like I’ve never heard much about the diaphragm–or least not about really accessing and paying attention to the diaphragm–in most yoga classes until Jill’s. I’m so grateful to deepen my awareness of this muscle that’s so important to our breath and so to our emotional lives.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful journey. Our bodies are amazing holding centers for all of our emotions. The issues we hold in our tissues are profound. I find that we often do not realize we have stagnated until we try to move. I firmly believe that movement is medicine for all our bodies, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual!
Hi Lana What a wonderful story of your progress into yoga etc.
I love the connection of the psoas and the diaphragm. Conscious Inhales and exhales help me to centre and balance myself. I receive an emotional release from my breath. This is one great article that you have written and I will share with my friends.
Thank you for your sharing! It is beautiful to know that we are designed in such a perfect way, and that our limitations and sufferings most of the times are created within our own beliefs of limiting patterns and holding on to things.
In digestion, is amazing how important is to be calm and in our parasymp. system avoiding stress at the time of meals. I know understand better the anatomical part of the muscles…and the human side we all have.
I had one teacher that once told us that a guy that he saw wanted to loose weight. but he was not willing to quit her daily breaky at a fast food famous chain (M) – so he aid to him ‘ okay, but the only task i will ask you to do is slow down and breath, so when you grab your hamburger and fried through the drive-thru you stop the car and breathe, and eat slowly. –the man used to eat WHILE driving.– so he did so, and after 3-4 weeks he came back with tons of weight off and he was amazed so he asked how he felt, so the man answered him that he did slowed down, and in the mean time, he was able to REALLY taste the flavor ofwhat he was eating and ended up discusted with those hamburgers and fries, so he naturally switched to a healthier option!!!! —breathing takes us into our bodies BIG BIG TIME!! – Thank you for your post. and remind it to me as well!
I have to apply a huge physical struggle like straightening up my spinal, raise the chest and exaggerate my lordosis to be able to take a deep breath after so many failures and pains for usual inhales. I have a bloated stomach better to say sluggish belly muscles ( I am 53 kg) and final word I am suffering from tortured breathing. after reading so many articles for the last 4 years I believe my diaphragm’s connections might have fused with psoas connections or a problem in this area might be the reason.HAS anybody experiences this type of pain in this area? or any hint as what shall I do, I practised yoga but seems I did not have a good teacher to teach me more than physical asanas.
I also learned from Jill, the connection of the somatic nervous system as well as the sympathetic/autonomic connection within the diaphragm and the psoas. Love this useful piece of science to explain something many of us have experienced in Yoga and meditation but cannot always explain easily to the doubters or to the uninformed. As a PE instructor, using breathwork in a stress reduction class – it was important to the curriculum that I use western science to explain some of the relaxation the students experienced through various practices with which we experimented…. I have only previously explained sympathetic fight or flight and resulting biometric measures of the effects of controlled breathwork . This information of the connection of the nervous systems via these key muscles simply amazed me – and I continue to learn more from Jill each time I see her- or watch a video.
This is something I’ve never heard: “Soft ligaments connect the diaphragm to our internal organs, affecting their function”. Can you point me in the direction of an easy read on this! A side of the diaphragm’s dynamic persona which I’ve yet to explore. 🙂 My favorite muscle of all time.
[…] Spirit, yoga breathing | Tags: belly breathing, diaphragm, uddiyana bandha, yoga breathing The diaphragm is the muscle primarily responsible for respiration. It is a dome or umbrella-shaped sheet of […]
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Thank you for this! It is comforting to know that we all have our obstacles in life and they affect us both mentally & physically. I can relate a lot to your story and I agree, Yoga has changed my life in so many ways it is unreal. I am so thankful to have this spiritual practice and I can’t wait to continue to embrace what I learn each day. Thank you for your share.
I feel like I am reading about my own story. The doctor & his recommandation, the stress and emotions, the broken spirit and the broken body. I find that one of the biggest pain I encounter regularly (and every time I jogg/run) is the chest pain. It is situated right under the clavicle and it prevents me from taking long breaths. I can literally cup my fingers underneath the collarbone and can feel the tightness. Thank you for reminding that yoga DOES help and the reasons WHY it works.
I too started doing yoga to help deal with the stress in my life and my unhealthy relationship. In the last 5 years it has been my “temple” my place to go and look inside myself have that designated time to heal myself inside and out. Using the diaphragm or belly breath helps me quiet the noise in my head and find some peace. Instead of prescribing medicine, my doctor should have just told me to breathe! Thanks for this blog entry!
Yet another reminder that I need to be more cognizant about my breathing! I’m so glad that yoga has been so healing for you.
I enjoy reading the article and all the comments. It reminds me not to take my diaphragm (and my breathing) for granted. Thank you all.
I teach Pilates and Yoga. Breathing is an essential part of both practices. In class I teach breathing exercises specifically to help people release their diaphragm prior to doing core work, etc. And so wasn’t it a huge eye opener when on my first day of Yoga Tune Up teacher training, when I realized one of my blind spots, was my diaphragm. Throughout the day, as I continued to deeply breathe and allow my belly to soften and free my diaphragm, I began to clear out the gunk. With that, I felt nauseous, had a headache, was sad, angry, frustrated, you name it.
However, 10 days later, I am breathing better then I have in years! And I feel so much lighter, physically and emotionally!
So excited to see how great I will feel in 10 weeks, or 10 months, with continued practice of healing my diaphragm through breath and clearing out all the gunk.
I’m fascinated by the connection between the diaphragm and the spirit. Honestly I’m still not completely understanding it, but I’m motivated to explore Coregous to see what this is about. I understand Somatic emotional pain but have never truly experienced any profound release within my own body. Ive had lots of trauma and heart break, all kinds off human negative experiences but still waiting for this stored gunk to release. Ive practiced yoga regulary for years, its truly changed the person ive become for the better. Maybe my gunks already gone? Doubt it 😉 maybe more info a out this connection is the answe.
It’s amazing how the relaxation in yoga frees you to experience your emotions in a non-threatening way. It makes you feel human and allow you to “move on”
Dear Lana, Thank you for bringing attention to the connection between the diaphragm, the psoas and our emotions. Earlier this summer one of my yoga teachers talked about how when we are frightened our psoas muscles contract reflexively, drawing us into a fetal position to protect our viscera. I think that the connection between the psoas and the diaphragm is important to be aware of. It gives us a mechanism to counteract this reflex — one that I think may be activated all the time in my life of rushing around the city, driving in traffic… the things we all have to deal with day to day.
I am so happy that you found yoga! Thank you for reminding me about the connection that the psoas has with the diaphragm. My diaphragm needs a lot of work so it’s no wonder I lost sight of the connection. I’m a great exhaler. I could hold it out forever, but ask me to inhale and its shakey and hesitant. I totally get the emotional release from the breath. Any tips on how to hone my inhale? I’m coming to the point where this is a necessary (and brutally hard) part of my yoga practice that I need to address. It feels like its all connected to my fear of being overwhelmed and taking on too much (literally in my lungs lol)
Thank you for sharing your experience. I really liked the way you related the diaphragm to soul. I used to smoke heavily (2packs a day). I was coping with stress by smoking. I actually remember saying “I need to go outside and get some fresh air”, I would then proceed to smoke. Ironic?! It sure was. Breath work in my practice really helped me develop new stress management techniques and kick the smoking habit. During the “break up” phase, I would visualize my life force returning to me with each three part breath I took. It felt empowering and I felt like life was returning back to me. Many OM’s to all diaphragms!!!
Lana, thanks so much for this article. It really opened my eyes when I also first learned of how the breathing really does help us begin linking our spiritual and phycal body and mind. Well at first controlling our breath is the initial step. But until I put the anatomical and conceptual parts together, I just thought about concentrating on the breath and did not realize what it is I am trying to do. It is true that the more we become aware of these muscles, it’s easier ot analyze, target, and focus in on certain muscles. Now when I try to breathe, I do literally try to visualize my diagphragm moving. It helps me a lot with something that used to not be as tangible. Thanks again for sharing your experience!
I relate to how Yoga helped with the stress management, typically first thing I do now if anything “stressful” occurs is hit my mat do some light Yoga and meditate, and so far because of that I’ve had little to no stress at all no matter what’s going in, instead I have tools now and love them.