Where Is My Diaphragm? Yoga Anatomy
Your diaphragm is a very large but thin muscle and is the primary muscle for breathing. So where is this muscle that is the key to life and the key to your yoga practice? It is located between the thoracic cavity (where your heart and lungs are) and the abdominal cavity (where your internal organs such as your stomach and intestines are).
When the diaphragm contracts, it gets pulled down into the abdominal cavity. This creates space in the thoracic cavity and that space gets filled with air that is pulled in. The bigger the breath you take, the further your diaphragm will pull down. The more that your diaphragm pulls down, the more air you can pull into the thoracic cavity (or into the lungs).
Practice feeling for your diaphragm with your own hands. This will give you a better understanding of its movement. Sit down in a comfortable position. It may be best to sit in a simple chair for this exercise. On the front part of your body and out towards the sides, first locate your bottom ribs. You will feel the hard boniness of the ribs. Drop your fingers just below the bottom ribs and reach about one inch up and under the arch of your ribs. (Use very gently force as you feel up under the ribs in order to avoid injuring yourself.) Make sure your fingers are towards the outside of your ribs so that you are not trying to push into the rectus abdominis. Once your fingers are up under the arch of your ribs, lean forward gently and inhale and exhale with large but easy breaths. As you inhale, you may feel your diaphragm pushing down towards the abdominal cavity and into your fingers. Your fingers may be forced out from under the arch of your ribs. As you exhale, you will feel your diaphragm relax and move back up towards the thoracic cavity and your fingers may return back up under the arch of your ribs. The structure pushing your fingers away is your diaphragm. Repeat this exercise and visualise the large diaphragm inside of you that is pulling down with each inhale and releasing back up with each exhale. In your next yoga practice, do the same visualisation activity during various asanas. That is, as you focus on your breath throughout your practice, bring your attention to the movement of your diaphragm.
Trish Corley is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher and a licensed doctor of physical therapy.
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