Nothing is more important to our health and well-being than how we breathe, and also probably nothing we take more for granted.
Breathing is an autonomic function of the nervous system. When we stop breathing, we stop living. The brain receives a message that the body is low on oxygen. That message goes to the diaphragm and tells the diaphragm to do its job.
Ideally, when the brain gets the message that the diaphragm needs to go to work, we exhale the air that is being held. The diaphragm then ascends into the ribcage, emptying the stale air in the lungs, which allows a more full breath to be taken in.
But If the diaphragm is weak from lack of activity or trauma, its capacity is limited, and we resort to our accessory breathing muscles, which are in our chest and upper neck. We are not able to truly get a good breath.
I learned this physiological explanation of what happens when we breathe from my teacher Carl Stough, who developed his understanding of breathing after decades of practice with trauma survivors, asthmatics, and people with emphysema.
Carl began his work as a voice teacher. He corrected some of the misunderstandings that are commonly taught around the efficacy of breathwork and created the term “breathing coordination.”
In my practice with Carl Stough, I learned the movement of the diaphragm is a little like the movement of an octopus, in terms of its fluidity and responsiveness. There’s nothing else in our body quite like it. It’s an almost magical mechanism. However, the diaphragm cannot function maximally when the body is in extreme tension and restriction.
In my own practice, I also witness how stress, including the demands of work and too much time spent on our phones and computers, can result in a weakened coordination of breathing. My practice has taught me that, in order to assert our desire for a more responsive breath, we need to slow down our hectic pace of life.
What’s one thing you might do to allow more room for your breath?