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Many of us are not in the habit of breathing deeply because the diaphragm muscle has become inhibited over time. The diaphragm is a sheet of internal skeletal muscle located in the middle of the torso which supports the lungs and heart in the thoracic cavity. It is attached by connective tissue (fascia) three dimensionally all around and through your body. It separates the upper from the lower abdominal cavity which contains the stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines, etc. The diaphragm plays a major role in respiration - when it contracts, the volume in the thoracic cavity increases, and air is drawn down into the lungs. If stress, trauma, injury, surgery or even postural compensations have caused this muscle to be tight or constricted, it affects the heart and lungs, as well as efficient digestion.

Here are 5 benefits for your heart when you practice deep breathing, and as you work on addressing postural imbalances with Bowenwork and Somatics exercises (by lifting and opening up the thoracic cavity):
1. Decreased heart rate.
2. Decreased cardiac output.
3. Reduced peripheral systolic blood pressure.
4. Regulation of the cardiovascular system by parasympathetic functions of the autonomic nervous system.
5. Regulation of the heartbeat by the ebb and flow of respiratory signs arrhythmia.
*From Somatics, by Thomas Hanna, PhD


1. Relaxed Breathing - Purpose: To become aware of your breathing.
Can be done seated or standing.
Put your hands on your abdomen just below the ribcage. This is the diaphragm connection in the front of your body.
Exhale - Feel your hands move inward from the movement of your diaphragm as your belly moves inward. If you don't feel that happening press into it gently with your hands to remind it of this motion.
Inhale - Your abdomen expands and your hands are pushed away from your body by its expansion.
The diaphragm is contracting and the abdominal wall relaxes, creating a vacuum. The lungs bring in air filling from the bottom to the top.
2. Abdominal Breathing - Purpose: To improve breathing mechanics.
Lie on the floor with knees bent, feet flat and head on a small pillow or folded towel.
Let the tummy muscles pull the ribs down as you breathe out.
Place one hand on your tummy, the other on our chest. You can support your elbows with pillows if this helps relax your arms. Breathe in, letting your tummy fill up like a balloon (approx. to the count of 4).
Your chest should expand a little at a the end of your inhale, neck and shoulders stay relaxed.
Breathe out, tummy falls and chest falls gently at the end of exhale, to the count of 4.
In a relaxed rhythm continue the breathing for 5 minutes.

3. Abdominal Breathing with Pelvic Rocking - Purpose: To engage the gentle movement of your pelvis and spine with your breathing.
As you breathe in, allow your lower back to lift slightly off the floor as though you are pressing your tailbone into the floor, while making room for your expanded tummy.
As you breathe out, tilt your pelvis, flattening your back toward the floor, tailbone pointing up toward the ceiling, which makes your tummy space smaller.
Concentrate on the gentle motion of the pelvis rocking upward and downward with your breathing.
NOTE: At first it may be challenging to get into a rhythm and experience the pleasure of your diaphragm and abdominal muscles expanding and contracting, and your whole body relaxing. That is why we need the feedback of placing our hands on our belly, chest, and even sides to increase awareness in those areas. The key is to quiet the accessory muscles of breathing (SCM and scalenes in the neck, which are overworked) and practice expanding the lower ribcage.

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Kathleen Siegel is a Licensed Massage Therapist.

Certified BOWENWORK Practitioner with the BOWENWORK Academy USA since 2008.

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