Do you know one of the most important muscles in your body?
Everyone needs to understand their diaphragms importance….. The importance of this in Pre and Postnatal women is huge, but in reality EVERYONE can benefit from some knowledge of this muscle of MAJOR importance in their body….. The diaphragm. Is yours activated? Can you feel it? 9 out of 10 of us will probably say no. Most of us don't breathe as we should. If you tend to have tension headaches, tight neck, shoulders, upper back, feel like you can't catch or take deep breaths, etc more than likely you definitely don’t. The good news is we can learn how to, and if you are pregnant or trying to get there, or even just had a baby and want to work on restrengthening that core then this is prime time for you to learn! But first lets understand it a little better.
What is the diaphragm?
Our diaphragm is basically one of our main if not the main respiratory muscle (with the external intercostals that help elevate ribs). It attaches at the bottom of the lungs and top of our core structure. It is vital in our breathing process because it acts to pull lungs down to allow the thoracic cavity to open up and fill with air.
The problem is most of us don't fully engage it with our breathing. When we don't do this other muscles can overcompensate (like our traps, chest, tva, etc) and cause imbalances/ tightness and make us feel like we cant catch our breath. This also weakens our diaphragm and over time it causes our overall core to be weaker since it acts to hold our core structure together. Without a strong core we can develop back aches, lordosis, poor respiratory and functional performance (breathing and moving with ease) it can also cause dreaded diasistis recti with pregnancy/ and or hernias. Our core is our FOUNDATION!
In pregnancy think of the extra weight you are holding onto, if you're not able to breathe properly that tension in your chest is going to lead elsewhere. You basically have a weight vest on so learning to breathe to get optimal oxygen consumption can help ease your pregnancy substantially!
The good news is we can learn to activate and use it the right way, BUT understand it wont happen overnight. We have to learn to breathe through it, not hold our stomachs/ core in. We're all good at sucking in, think about it, I am sure you can name a time or 100 that you have stared in the mirror and drawn your stomach in when you inhaled….. That does nothing for your diaphargm, it actually can make it weaker. We need to focus more on letting it expand when we inhale, then as we exhale our stomachs should look more flat as we push all the air out. Make sense?
So take a minute and breathe. Do you see it going in and out? Or do you see your chest go up and down. Most of us probably see our chest initially. Thats that overcompensating thing I mentioned before, those muscles taking over for the one that should be doing the work. This means we aren't getting as much air in our lungs and we aren't working our respiratory system to its potential and possibly causing stresses in other parts of our body (tight neck/ back pain/ hormonal imbalances, etc).
If you see that chest moving I want you to do this. Lay on your back and place one hand on your stomach with knees bent. Lay flat and breathe, lay there until you see that stomach rise with an inhale and flatten with an exhale. Go slow with it. Keep at it until its easy. Once you reach that point do it standing, keep repeating that over time until its easy or second nature rather. Once you get to that point progress to movement such as squats, bending over, running. Breathe through the movement, don't just keep that core engaged, but breathe through it!
Do this for as long as it takes to get second nature to you. I promise it will benefit you in more ways than you can count. It will relieve stress that we carry in our shoulders, our functional and cardio performance will improve. It can help fix your core if you have diastisis recti, and if you're pregnant help you sleep and move better along with potentially easier labor.
Stay consistent and just like with everything else the results will come if you do, and speak for themselves. :)