For Every Breath We Take
“Each moment breath is nourishing millions of cells in our body. Listen to its language, interpret its words and enter into the mystery of life.” -Amit Ray
Elevating fitness, or rather wellness, to a higher level is only a breath away. Let us therefore explore the concept of fitness vs. wellness and the relationship of breathing well. The general understanding of fitness is more often than not related to a level of physical skill or performance prestige. This may be perceived as, or more directed toward, an outward and external experience. The focus is here on what is easy to conceptualize, muscular strength, shape and the way we look or perhaps the way we like to be perceived by others. This external euphoric state of fitness is short lived and not always carried over or consciously integrated in a pattern of daily living. The commitment to fitness is strongly driven by the need for motivation or inspiration. Commitment is the part where one falls off the bandwagon and where we need to look at the concept of the more sustainable approach to fitness which is wellness, the essential underpinning of fitness.
Wellness deals with the body as a whole. Therefore the focus is more directed internally. This will incorporate the visceral system, the digestive system, as well as the important emotional system. The significance of the synergy in function of these systems is support of a whole body homeostasis. When the synergy in function of these vital systems is not in balance the motivation or aspiration to fitness may lack stamina. Optimal wellness therefore incorporates fitness and together forms a true whole body concept in support of our overall health and is only a breath away.
To Breathe Or Not To Breathe
Wellness begins with the first movement in life, the innermost movement of the body, the breath. For the most part normal, quiet breathing is managed by the autonomic nervous system. This does not mean that we have no conscious control over the quality and optimal functioning of the respiratory system, the respiratory system that in itself plays a significant regulating and supporting role in the following functions of the body:
- Posture Control
- Circulation (lymphatic system)
- Muscular and Fascial tone
- Emotional buoyancy
As soon as we begin to appreciate the fact that the art of breathing is in itself a form of movement, it will unleash the potential of all related functions paving the road to whole body wellness and with that the sustainment of life.
The Basic Understanding Of The Inner Movements Of Normal Respiration
- Breathing is essentially the way we accumulate energy but it is the movement of breathing that should be felt and appreciated to the greater benefit of overall health
- The art of breathing is an interplay between the autonomic driven exchange of gases reinforced by conscious and unconscious muscular control
- This interplay is like a well choreographed dance in which the diaphragm is the principle dancer with the abdominal as the supportive company which shares the concept of space, tension, and pressure
The Diaphragm As The Principle Dancer
Diaphragm (anterior view) Central Tendon
The diaphragm is the primary muscle of respiration and is located within the thorax. It divides the thorax from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm represents a musculo-tendinous dome, which drapes down a bit more posterior than anterior. The apex is formed by an integrated structure called the central tendon. The central tendon is suspended through the mediastinum, which is a fascial support system of the uppermost thoracic cavity connecting and supporting the heart, lungs, trachea, thymus, and esophagus. The central tendon radiates bands of muscle fibers to the surfaces of the costal cartilages, the tips of the eleventh and twelfth ribs, and the costal arch. The posterior portion of this muscular dome design terminates into the diaphragmatic crura. A right side (slightly longer) and left side crus connect with the vertebral bodies as well as with the posterior Spoas fibers (part of the core structure) as well as a portion of the Quadratus Lumborum.
The Movement Of Inspiration
Upon inspiration the contraction of the diaphragmatic muscle fibers pull the central tendon down. This excursion is checked as soon as the mediastinum, as well as the connecting parietal pleura of the lungs, no longer yield on one side and on the other side the diaphragm is stopped by the resistance of the abdominal viscera. At this point the contraction of the muscular bands of the diaphragm elevates the ribs and are assisted by the levator costae and the external intercostals.
The Related Pressure Play
During inspiration and the descent of the diaphragm, the vertical diameter of the thorax increases. This lowers the pressure above the diaphragm (intra thoracic pressure) and the pressure becomes negative relative to the outside of the body as well as negative to the abdominal cavity below the diaphragm. This draws the air into the trachea and lungs and stimulates the venous return to the heart (the right atrium). The diaphragm is appropriately referred to as “the heart” of the venous system.
The Movement Of Expiration
During expiration the diaphragm recoils while the abdominal muscles, responsible for the containment of the abdominal content, contract in synergy to lift the internal organs and the central tendon.
The Role Of The Abdominals During Respiration
The abdominals are a respiratory expiratory accessory system. In the respiratory cycle they function as an antagonist to the diaphragm while being synergistic in the function of breathing.
The abdominal system:
The rectus abdominis, external obliques, and transverse abdominis together form a strong container to prevent the abdominal content from dropping anterior and inferior. This provides the stability that the central tendon needs to allow for the diaphragm to elevate the ribs (with weak abdominals the spine and the ribs lose the diaphragm as a support system). Upon the exhalation, all abdominal structures become active in narrowing the abdominal cylinder.
More Pressure Play
As discussed, during inspiration there is a decrease of inter-thoracic pressure. As the diaphragm descends the pressure in the abdominal cavity increases. This is referred to as Inter Abdominal Pressure (IAP). This IAP supports various important functions worth having a closer look at.
One: This pressurization itself functions as a unique and essential internal support system for the lumbar spine. During inhalation the IAP increases (similar to the act of a car’s airbag) and “un-lumbarizes” the lumbar spine while securing it. This also moves the sacral base into counter nutation.
Two: IAP not only initiates a myotatic reflex moment for the abdominals, but also coordinates a coactivation of the Core System – Multifidus, Transverse Abdominis, Pelvic Floor, and the Posterior Spoas fibers. The success of “Core Uptraining” or Core Coactivation is dependent on optimal IAP and timing of the breath, which also directs focus to this specific task.
Three: IAP plays an important role in the breathing movement of the spine and the sacrum referred to as the breathing wave. Upon inhalation a slight “flexion,” or straightening of, the lumbar and cervical lordosis happens (Unlumbarization), I like to refer to this as an “opening” of the entire posterior spine which in return promotes rib mobility on the spine. This breathing wave originates at the sacral base and this small movement contributes to the sacral venous pump. The breathing wave, as an indirect respiratory action, stimulates an essential ischio rectal fossa pump that is able to move large quantities of blood out of the pelvis toward the heart. The significance in the efficiency of IAP is dependent on optimal postural alignment paired with the necessary thoracic mobility for the diaphragm to function well.
Sacral Venous Plexus
Four: The respiratory cycle contributes to posture control in both phases. During the phase of inhalation the lumbar spine and pelvis are “co-stabilized” thru IAP and during the phase of exhalation stability is augmented by the activated abdominal structures. The diaphragm is a respiratory muscle involved with the postural function as the abdominals are postural structures with an accessory respiratory function.
The Diaphragm And It’s Other Relationships
The respiratory movement of the Diaphragm also motivates the functional efficiency of the following structures playing a major role in wellness from within.
The heart is carefully “double-bagged.” The double bag is called the pericardium. The outer layer of the pericardium surrounds the heart’s major blood vessels and is attached by ligaments to the spinal column, diaphragm, and other parts of the body. The inner layer is attached to the heart muscle and is separated from the outer layer by fluid.
Each lung may be divided into three active compartments:
- The superior lobe
- The medial lobe
- The lower or inferior lobe
Similar to the heart, each lung is carefully suspended in a fluid-filled, continuous, double-walled bag. The inner bag is called the visceral pleura, and the outer bag is called the parietal pleura.
Through the fascial connection of the heart and the lungs to the central tendon of the diaphragm, every inhalation causes a gentle pull on theses structures, which are stimulated and massaged, with every breath we take provided the breathing movement is efficient and optimal.
The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is stimulated via intra-abdominal pressure upon exhalation in the inguinal area, via inhalation in the thoracic area.
The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor, or the pelvic diaphragm, functions as an important synergist of the respiratory diaphragm. For it’s reciprocal movement it is dependent on the postural alignment and on the quality movement of the respiratory diaphragm. During the inhalation phase the respiratory diaphragm contracts while the pelvic diaphragm “yields” or descends and expands laterally. During the exhalation phase the respiratory diaphragm “recoils” or ascends while the pelvic diaphragm follows and helps to lift the pelvic organs. This makes both of the diaphragms antagonist but synergistic in function.
Fringe Benefits: Emotional Buoyancy
The fringe benefits of optimal respiratory ability, mobility, and function is a constant recalibration of the parasympathetic nervous system, the passport to a healthy anti-inflammatory adrenal response. The parasympathetic nervous system opposes the fight or flight mode from where we often manage our life, fueled by adrenalin and cortisol. This situation may land us into a vicious cycle of improper breathing patterns, muscular and fascial stiffness, altered posture, and affecting our overall health. To start a new client or patient in a session or program, I have experienced the value of first “lifting” the client out of this vicious cycle that causes holding and compensation patterns inhibiting the learning ability often accompanied by limited focus. The way back on track to better overall health and ultimately fitness is to reintroduce the movement of breathing before beginning exercises that depend on the respiratory process. This involves facilitation of the movement of breathing as well as restoring the mobility of the ribs and the spine. For this I would like to share the following SmartSpine™ protocol that I have been using successfully for many years with my clients. I suggest starting with this protocol at the beginning of a Pilates or therapeutic movement session for the first two or three visits. In this protocol, the emphasis is on restoring the two essential components of the breath. One is facilitating the mobility of the ribs, intercostals, and diaphragm. The second is restoring the essential breathing wave of the spine.
Liberating The Breath
Breathing in the width, an opening of the back body (SmartSpine™)
- Restoring costal mobility of the thoracic spine
- Internal and external intercostal release
- Improving somatic and sensory awareness of the internal respiratory movement
Positioning, Prone: In prone position, place the SmartSpine™ across the lower part of the mid-back (thoracic). The gentle weight on the back directs the breath peripherally (away from the center of the spine) and out of the SmartSpine™ via the handles.
Activity/Movement: Directing and Feeling the Breath
- Inhale: Meet the weight and width of the SmartSpine™
- Exhale: Elevate/slide the backside of the deep abdominals in and up towards the SmartSpine™ in the back
Note: You may move the SmartSpine™ a few ribs down and repeat the breath cycle
Making Waves (SmartSpine™)
The breathing wave sacral mobility – cranio-sacral flow
- To restore the spinal and sacral respiratory motivated movement known as : The Sacral Wave – Interpelvic motion
- Cranio-sacral flow improvement
- Sacral plexus venous stimulation
- To rejuvenate the lumbar spine discs and joints by improving mobility and providing decompression
Positioning, Prone: In the same prone position as the previous exercise, place the SmartSpine™ lengthwise over the entire spine, from sacrum to the base of the head.
- Inhale: Into the entire length of the SmartSpine™
- Exhale: Slide the “backside” of the abdominals up towards the SmartSpine™ on your back
JUNE SMARTSPINE™ PROFESSIONAL TRAINING COURSE:
SmartCore Teach and Treat Professional Course
Thursday, June 23, 2016 – Sunday, June 26, 2016
Up Studio (formerly LBDC), Long Beach, CA