Breathing…Who Needs It?

Does it make sense that tightness anywhere around your lungs can restrict your breath? So…let’s talk about what’s around the lungs.

We can start at the obvious: your ribcage. And not just the front of the ribcage, but the ribs under the arms and along the back of the body, too. There are muscles in between each individual rib, and these muscles are part of breathing. Your ribs open and close like slatted blinds in a window with each breath you take.

Then there are muscles in your neck, chest, shoulders, and upper back. Some of these muscles assist with breathing and some may even be over-utilized and sore because of not-so-functional breathing. Tightness here can block the movement of your ribcage as you breathe.

And oh, your thoracic diaphragm, which is like a parachute that stretches across the inside of your low ribcage and bisects your torso. The heart and lungs above; the rest of the organs below.

Your thoracic diaphragm is your primary muscle of breathing. When you inhale it contracts and draws down towards your pelvis, smooshing and massaging your belly organs down and creating a vacuum in your chest. The vacuum results in air sucked into your lungs. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes back up towards your heart, which presses air out of your lungs. Close your eyes and imagine it on your next breath.

But wait, there’s more.

Your abdominals, all four layers of them, also impact your breathing. If you suck your belly in all the time, you stop your diaphragm from descending all the way down. Remember, your diaphragm descends down when you inhale. What would this result in? Less air in. This makes your breath shallower.

Your pelvic floor, which forms the base of your torso, is also an important part of the equation. You know the phrase “they’re anal” or “they’re a tight-ass”? The pelvic floor includes the muscles that support excretion, so you can imagine the tension held here by this imaginary anal tight-ass person makes their breath shallower than it otherwise could be, too.

It’s not just muscles, either.

Tightness and tension, “bulkiness” in the organs can also impact breathing. Have you ever been so full you can’t get a deep breath? Your stomach is right below your thoracic diaphragm, on your left side (the liver is on the right).  If the diaphragm can’t descend all the way because of hardness below it, the breath can’t get as deep.

Seeing as how we breathe every moment of our entire lives, this stuff is actually pretty important, in a mundane but also exciting way. Improving your breathing literally improves every single moment of your life. It’s one of those simple things that’s easy to overlook.

The more I’ve explored the mechanics of my own breathing, the more this mundane business has become super interesting. Working with my breathing drops me deep into the present moment, settling my busy mind on the rhythm of inhale and exhale. It’s a handy meditation tool.

This week I invite you to explore this with me, On Tuesday and Friday we’ll practice noticing our own breathing patterns and move our bodies in ways that help us find space to take deeper, relaxing breaths.

Deep breaths soothe souls, and goodness knows we could all use a little soothing this year.



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