Sunday, August 9, 2009

Re-discovering the “Extinct” Muscle – the Diaphragm

At a recent lunch ‘n’ learn on ergonomic wellness in the workplace I was reminded of the importance of diaphragmatic breathing. This muscle, crucial to the proper operation of our respiratory systems, is ironically becoming a less and less used organ. Stress and a lack of mobility to exercise are the main causes of its shelving.

The diaphragm, in very plain terms, powers our breathing. Therefore it is easy to see that as a result of stress, we subconsciously suppress our use of it. When we exercise strenuously, we don’t have a choice in using our diaphragms. This is part of the reason aerobic exercise is good for us. It forces us to work out the whole respiratory system.

People with under-utilised diaphragms will tend to be more prone to physical, mental and emotional illness over the lifespan as they partially disengage the design of an important function of the body; to inspire air with maximum efficiency to feed the cells with oxygen.

Using the diaphragm more and more often is simply a matter of discipline and exercise.

Focus on your breathing. As you inhale if it’s your chest that rises more than your belly, you’re under utilising your diaphragm. To engage the diaphragm (i.e. to breathe diaphragmatically) we need to ‘breathe with the belly.’ Simply focus on expanding your tummy more than your chest.

Most of us know that we can simulate the good effects of exercise for our respiratory systems, and hence our overall wellbeing, by simply engaging in deep breathing exercises.

If there is one thing we can do to help ourselves live a more ordered, relaxed life, it’s to get into the habit of daily deep breathing exercise, and breathe more with our abdomens moving out rather than simply our chests.

You can make a commitment right now. Write down: ‘I’ll focus on deep-breathing with the abdomen several times each day.’ Then start doing it one day at a time.

I’m sure you’ll note many positives are you begin and continue to grow this healthy habit.

Acknowledgement: Gerard J. Tortora & Sandra Reynolds Grabowski, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology – 9th Ed. (New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000), pp. 328-29, 791-94.

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