Breathing from your Diaphragm (and Cow-in-Labor Noises)

breathing from your diagphragm Kristi Joy Wilkins

Everything starts with the breath. Tweet that!  It’s not exciting, or sexy (wait–maybe it is! I’m always looking for the sexy in everything), but you can’t effectively lift, move, or live without proper breathing. Yes, you can lift, move, and live–just not optimally.

When you breathe shallowly from your chest, the pectorals and neck muscles tighten. This contributes to poor alignment of the neck and upper spine. Your internal organs don’t get the same gentle stimulation they would get when breathing from your diaphragm and they can start to adhere to each other.The internal organs can then even start to refer pain to the neck and shoulders.

Plus, your poor body isn’t getting properly oxygenated, so you’re going to feel sluggish and fatigued.

AND shallow breathing causes you to be even more anxious than you already are. You can’t control a lot of things in your life, but you CAN control your breathing.

With all of my big talk about divine feminine energy, and being barefoot and sensual, I figured I’d better actually do what I’m preaching. What better place to start, than with the most fundamental thing–the breath?

So, I’ve been paying more attention to my breath as I begin meditating (yet again), and during my mobility work. I realize how much I hold my breath (anxiety anyone?) and you probably do too.

I know you probably know that you’re supposed to breathe from your diaphragm (big belly breaths), but are you actually doing it?

Here’s a good way to find out (3 step sequence). Watch the video. I make some strange noises and it’s mildly entertaining.

Do this 3 step sequence after your training or even better on your rest days. Don’t do this right before heavy lifting or other intense training (like high intensity intervals).

Step 1 Practice breathing from your Diaphragm (sorry, but I almost can’t write that without laughing)

  • Lie on your belly. Make a diamond shape with your hands and rest your forehead on your hands. Start the first breath with forcefully exhaling all the air out of your lungs. Then, the inhale will happen automatically. You should feel your belly expand into the floor on the inhale. Your chest and neck should be relaxed.
  • Then try the same breathing from your diaphragm while lying on your back with your knees up, hands on your belly. Your hands should move up and down, you should also be able to feel your ribs expand side-to-side. Breathing is not just a front to back activity.
  • Then, try the exact same thing sitting cross-legged. Keep your hands on your belly and/or sides of your torso if this helps you feel what is going on. Your chest may expand slightly, but only after the belly and not as much as your belly.

Step 2 Diaphragm release massage (this can also help release the psoas and other abdominal muscles)

Since I just recently got over this terrible pneumonia (hacking-cough-so-I-couldn’t talk and fever-of-102-every-day-for-12-days-straight sickness, no please don’t feel sorry for me, yes it was awful, but I brought it on myself), my diaphragm has been all jacked up (technical term), so it needed some tough love.

This is what I did to improve my breathing, help release my thoracic spine, and generally make myself feel better.

Proceed with caution!

  • Use a small, soft ball (child’s ball or slightly deflated kick ball will work). Lie on your belly with the ball under your belly. Roll around on the ball finding the sorest points on your abdomen and hang out there until the tissue softens. Yes, you will feel like throwing up, and no, don’t eat a big meal before doing this.
  • Make sure to work all the tissues completely, from one side to the other ,and from pubic bone to breastbone.
  • It’s okay to take a break and come back to it later.
  • You can also do this manually while you lie on your back with knees up. Since only a small portion of the diaphragm is reachable, it can help to use your fingers to really get up under the ribcage.
  • You can try not to make cow-in-labor noises (what do cows in labor even sound like?), but good luck with that.
  • You can also find a talented and compassionate massage therapist to do this for you.
  • THIS WILL SUCK! Good Luck!!

Step 3 Opening the Thoracic Spine and the Abdomen

Now that you’ve released the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm, you can implement some stretching. Start with something gentle like leaning back over a foam roller.

  • Position the foam roller just above the bottom of your rib cage. Knees bent. Arms go overhead and aim to touch your head and finger tips to the floor. If you can’t touch your head to the floor, you can place pillows behind the foam roller, until you can release further without strain. Do not arch the lower back, all the arch should come from the upper and mid back (t-spine). Again, make sure that your are breathing from your diaphragm, slowly and evenly while you do this.  If you don’t have a foam roller (I highly recommend you get one), you can use 2 or 3 pillows or a large exercise ball to lean back over.

(To see the foam roller I recommend, as well as other must-have tools for home exercise and mobility, take a look at theTools I use.

  • If you are familiar with yoga or gymnastics back bends, by all means do a few of these (gently!). Full back bends have a wealth of benefits for the body. If you can’t do them now, it is definitely something you should work towards.
  • Hanging. This is an optional but highly beneficial step. If you have a pull up bar or can find another place to hang from, do it. Keep your shoulders packed in their sockets, moving down and away from your neck. Hanging and slowly breathing for a few breaths, will gently lengthen the muscles of the abdomen, psoas, and diaphragm.

Do the 3 step process today, and let me know how your breathing (and your anxiety) improves.

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