Anatomy of your Breath

     by Sonia Palecek

Surely you had anatomy at school and had to learn all these names (hey, anyone had to do it in Latin?) but have you ever fully experienced the parts which make your breath happen – day in day out?

Respiratory muscles which draw the air into the body can (like any other muscle) become short and tight, they can weaken and become distorted if asked on to take a job not meant for them to do.

In the human body the respiratory muscles are organized into two groups:

- Primary breathing muscles (essential for full breathing)
- Secondary breathing muscles.

The primary muscles are located lower in the torso and include: the diaphragm (responsible for 75% of effort), the intercostals in between the ribs and the abdominal muscles.

The secondary or accessory muscles of respiration are located higher up in the body (around the neck, shoulders, upper chest and back). They are smaller and more delicate than primary muscles and tire quickly and easily.

You will know if you are using secondary muscles for respiration more than the primary muscles as you will tend to accumulate tension in your neck and shoulders and between your shoulder blades in your upper back.

There may even be tension in the jaw, facial muscles, around the eyes. In the most extreme cases of bad breathing the sensation of having a heart attack can be felt!

No sports or deep tissue massage will relieve this chronic tension if the breathing does not change.

Being the main breathing muscle, the diaphragm deserves somewhat special attention. It is a parachute-like shaped muscle that sits in the chest and is enveloped by the ribcage. The diaphragm is the floor for the lungs and heart and the ceiling for the liver, stomach and spleen.

On inhalation diaphragm descends towards the pelvis allowing ribcage and therefore lungs to expand to let the air in.

On exhalation, the opposite happens, the diaphragm returns back up under the ribs pushing the air out.

The movement of the diaphragm massages the organs above and below it; as they get squeezed and released like sponges, whilst new blood, fluids and oxygen constantly refresh them.

Now, if your spine is stiff and rigid and so are your ribs, then the ability of your lungs to fully expand will be limited, which will affect your breath as well as your well-being.

Try this: sit tall, close your eyes and let your in-breath travel from the top of your head down the back of your spine all the way down into the tail.

Pause there, and then breath out alongside the front of your spine all the way up into the crown of your head.

Doesn’t this feel nice?

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