Your diaphragm is the primary muscle of respiration; it contracts like any other muscle and can be controlled voluntarily. It is important for your diaphragm to maintain tonicity, so that it can properly contract and move down on the inhale and then return to its resting shape with ease on the exhale. This ensures proper lung inflation and ongoing visceral massage.
In this yoga practice we will focus on increasing the muscle tone of your diaphragm by:
Building awareness of diaphragmatic movement. We will try to envision the movement of the diaphragm and facilitate it with the flare-out action of the ribcage on the inhale and solar plexus lifting action on the exhale.
Practicing progressive abdominal contraction (“zip up” action) with pelvic floor lift in specific postures that require spinal stabilization,
Working on increasing the range of motion of the diaphragm by gradually lengthening all four parts of the breath (inhale, hold after inhale, exhale and hold after exhale) both during movement and during pranayama practice,
Releasing stiffness in the ribcage and thoracic spine to facilitate easier rib cage expansion and promote better posture.
A note of caution – please remember that your diaphragm connects your thoracic and abdominal cavities, with your heart sitting just above it and your digestive system right below. As you begin to expand the movement of your diaphragm, you will be venturing deeper into those territories, which means that this work might bring certain stuff up for you, both on the level of emotions and the level of processing and digestion. It might not be wise to begin this kind of work if you are going through a serious emotional upheaval or dealing with ongoing digestive distress. You might want to let things settle down first or begin very slowly and carefully.
In general, never force your breath or hold it beyond your capacity, always engage your muscles gently (more like a hugging action), and stay aware of your body’s feedback during the practice. Remember – this kind of work is subtle and delicate; we cannot muscle our way into it. Please give it a try and let me know what you think!