If you look at both the above 3D image and this illustrated image of the diaphragm, you can see how the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm will impact the viscera of the belly (your guts) and the psoas muscles that reside behind the guts. In fact, tension in the psoas can restrict deep diaphragmatic breathing, and conversely, the inability to take a deep belly breath can inhibit hip function. Perhaps this is why some like to title the diaphragm as possibly the most important muscle in the body–I vote the heart, but I’m a born-lover. I contrast the 2 images above to underscore why if you hold tension in any one of 3 zones, diaphragm, psoas, or belly viscera (by way of the fascia casing around the organs) you can restrict range in one of the other zones.
There are a host of everyday behaviors and environments that can lead to tension around these areas. Slouchy prolonged sitting can lead to restricted shallow breathing behaviors and a shortened psoas muscles, you can find such behaviors at the work desk, watching TV, long car trips. Experiences that send the nervous system into high alert/attention may also engage tension in one of these zones. For these reasons, there is value in spending some time being clear on the range of diaphragmatic breathing available to you, feeling the movement of your diaphragm as it expands and contracts (the mapping), and also knowing a couple ways to stretch the diaphragm.
Carla plays a big role in my awareness of this concept and work. To map the diaphragm, Carla and I teamed up back in 2020 to create an introduction to breath work video, that aims to help you witness the breath, assess the state of tension in your abdominal area, and then your ability to soften/dissipate tension where you find it.
As the "motor muscle of breath, it can be automatic, forced, or controlled in its movement;" that makes it a rather unique motor muscle. The diaphragm also has both local and global effects on the functions of your body systems: directly it affects breath, but breath influences our body systems in ways we are only recently able to understand and explain. Breathing and breath practice can influence a host of shift in things like cortisol production, insulin production, O2 absorption in the blood, lymph system movement, cues to digestion--to name but a few of the systems influenced by the activity that can be impacted by your connection to your respiratory motor muscle, the diaphragm. Awareness of tension in these areas and your ability to move this tension is a tool you deserve!
Next month I will continue this segment with more stretches for each of the 3 zones, not only more for the diaphragm, but the psoas as it is influenced by the diaphragm and the fascia that surrounds the viscera of the belly.
To space and ease of breath~
If you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.