Tutorial #3316

Diaphragmatic Breathing

15 min - Tutorial


What is considered "good breathing?" In this tutorial, Tom McCook explains what diaphragmatic breathing is and how you can achieve this in your practice. He teaches the anatomy of the diaphragm on a model and in your own body as well as offering exercises where you can see how it helps your movement.
What You'll Need: Mat

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Jan 21, 2018
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Hi everybody, I'm Tom McCook. Back here at Pilates Anytime. Very happy to be here with Candice and Ruth. And our lesson today is gonna be on breathing. And we all breathe roughly 15 to 20 thousand times a day.

So it's a good idea to know how that works. So what is good breathing? And the answer to that is diaphragmatic breathing. So, okay, where is the diaphragm? So the diaphragm is a circular muscle that's inside the ribcage that I'm gonna show you in a moment that separates your upper organs, your heart and your lungs, from your lower organs.

So what does it do, what does it do? What the diaphragm does, it's main function, is to increase negative pressure so your lungs can fill. And that takes the diaphragm down, giving room for the lungs to fill and spread. So let me show you where that is. So, and then we'll touch it on our own body.

So we have our trusty ball here to mirror what the diaphragm kinda looks like. The diaphragm is a circular muscle that covers the whole inside of the ribcage and attaches to your xyphoid process, the inner borders of your ribs. And then all the way down it has these two cords that come down to L1 and L2 called the crura. And it goes all the way down to there and it separates your heart and your lungs like I mentioned up above. Your heart and your lungs are actually attached with fascial attachments, so they're compelled by the diaphragm when you breathe.

So good breathing actually does thousands of things for our health so we wanna know how that works so the we can use our attention to notice if we're using it well. So we're just gonna touch where the attachments are. And I'm gonna show you. So that's basically what I said. I'm gonna move this guy out of the way and we'll touch it with our own, with our hands.

Hello, you guys. So we're gonna start by touching where our diaphragm's attached. So let's start with the point at the bottom of our sternum or xyphoid process. And now just go around the underside of your ribs. And just imagine there's this circular muscle that goes all around the inside.

And then, in the back, just you're gonna picture it 'cause you can't touch it, that it goes all the way around to the front of your spine at about the level of a little bit below your belly button. Just imagine that. Now, if you put your fingers just below the sternum, and cough, you'll feel it. (coughing) So that's your diaphragm contracting, and lifting as you exhale. It's actually stretching.

So, it increases negative pressure. So, how does it move? Good idea to know how does it move. Let's just put our hand on our abdomen for a moment, and take a deep breath. (breathing) And what you might notice when you breath and your belly moves, normally.

You want that to happen. But it can be counter-intuitive to think oh, if my belly is moving, maybe my diaphragm is stretching. Actually not so. The diaphragm actually is a circular muscle that has a tendon and attachment in the middle, that when the fibers contract, it pulls toward the middle and it flattens and pushes down where the organs and the belly wall have to move. Does that make sense?

So let's image that. So let's take your upper hand and have that represent your diaphragm, and your lower hand will be on your belly, and as you breath in, see the dome of the diaphragm flattening and going down as you feel your belly move towards your down hand. Then on the exhale, just exhale and feel the belly comes in and the diaphragm domes back up. Let's do that a few times. You're inhaling as a the diaphragm goes down, the belly moves.

Then you're exhaling and it's coming up. (breathing) we'll just do that two more times. (breathing) And one. (breathing) Now hold your belly in and breathe. No really, breathe.

(laughing) What you might notice is that your breathing is a little bit inhibited. So, let's just expand our thought around that. If your belly's moving while your diaphragm is contracting, while your diaphragm is shortening, your abdominal wall is lengthening. That means that your diaphragm and your abdominal wall are antagonists. They're doing the opposite thing at the same time.

So just fell that. So let's breathe in, feel the abdominal lengthen in image your diaphragm is contracting. Then on the exhale, the abdominal wall is contracting, the diaphragm is stretching. And let's do that two more times. (breathing) And then it's contracting.

Diaphragm is stretching, abdominal wall is contracting. One more. (breathing) So that brings into play, okay, we're told a lot, I've taught this myself, when we're teaching people to move, to turn on their core. So let's just see what happens with just that general notion of turning on our core. So, let's activate our abdominal wall.

Activate it, make it tight, and turn. Now let it go and turn. You might notice you have a lot more range when you don't preactivate the muscles that are designed for movement. So we want to really back that up a little bit and think okay, I wanna still use my deeper core muscles, but I don't want to inhibit movement by over turning on muscles that are designed for movement. The abdominal wall is more a moving muscle.

Your deeper core is for support of the spine. But it should come in and out based on what you're doing. So let's just come into now stretching our diaphragm. So what we talked about earlier is the diaphragm fibers contract and push down and then they stretch when you exhale. So we're gonna enhance that with the movement.

So we're gonna bend our knees a little bit, and I'd like you to put your left hand on the right side of your ribs, and take your right arm up overhead. Now, visualize, underneath your hand, underneath your ribcage is your diaphragm fibers that are deeper than your abdominal wall that you're touching, and they're gonna stretch while your exhaling and side bending. So take a breath, diaphragm's contracting. Now, on the exhale, visualize it stretching as you side bend towards the downside arm. Now, let the inhale and the diaphragm contracting bring you back up.

Then again, on the exhale, it slides apart. And then it slides together to bring you up. So now your attention is more on what's going on inside, even though your abdominal wall is lengthening also. The side body. And you're bringing it back up.

Now, the next one, we're gonna go over and hold it. We'll exhale over. Now hold it on the inhale, so now you're contracting your diaphragm in the stretch. On the exhale, let yourself go a little further. (breathing) And again, breathe in.

Feel it contracting on the inside. Exhale go a little further. (breathing) Now, let the inhale and fibers sliding together bring you back up. And then relax the arm. Take a moment.

You might notice that shoulder feels a little more relaxed and that whole side might be affected in a fluid way where there's more opening on the side that we just did. So, let's do side two. So, put it on the left side of the body, right hand, bend the knees. Take the left arm up overhead. Now visualize underneath your hand, underneath your obliques, deep to your rib cage is your diaphragm, so take a breath.

Now on the exhale, side bend. (breathing) Diaphragm is stretching. Let the inhale and a contracting bring you back up. And again, exhale over. Now you're combining the inner and outer body, working together for a bigger effect.

Inhale up. Exhale over. (breathing) Let it slide together to bring you up. And you might notice it's easier to relax the shoulder. One more time go over, now we'll stay over.

Now breathe where your hand is in an image, the diaphragm fibers are contracting. On the exhale, let yourself go a little deeper and see them stretching and doming up a little more. And again, breathe in, see it's contracting. Exhale go a little further. (breathing) One more time, inhale.

Exhale go a little further. Now let a long inhale and contraction bring you back up. Ah. That feels kinda lovely, huh? Very nice.

Now, we're come onto our belly to do a diaphragm strengthening exercise. So you'll come on to your abdomen with your hands like this, with your forehead resting on your hands. So you guys, come on down onto the mat. Now, as you're on your abdomen, your forehead resting on your hands, like we mentioned, when you breathe in diaphragmatically, the belly has to move. And what you're gonna do is imagine as your diaphragm goes down that you're gonna breathe your abdominal wall into the floor.

And breathe and just feel it. When you breathe your abdominal wall into the floor, your lower back moves away from the floor. And just feel that. Feel how the abdominal wall moves into the floor and the lower back moves away from the floor. So now you're using the floor for resistance to strengthen your diaphragm.

And it also makes your lower back feel really nice. And what you can think about while you're doing this is if you feel your chest move first, that's telling you your breathing's shallow and high. So what you wanna feel is the lower back movement and the abdominal movement is the first thing you feel. This is also a great way to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. Makes you very internally relaxed.

Great way for your stress to come lie on your belly and breathe for one to three minutes. Super useful. Now follow the exhale a little further in and imagine as you fully exhale that the abdominal wall draws in because the diaphragm is coming up. So you can go a little further to other end of the breath where you stretch the diaphragm a little more on the exhale phase. So you breathing in the belly, you're expanding into the floor.

On the exhale phase, go all the way to the end and feel the abdominal wall draw away from the floor. Imagine it's following in and towards the diaphragm going up and just do that one more breath like that. Again, I recommend one to three to five minutes in your practice. Release tension, improve your breathing capacity. Really good for your lower back.

Very nice, you guys. Now from there, you're gonna come up onto your forearms for single leg kicks. And you can have your forearms like this. Now, what we're gonna do is you're gonna practice it with the idea of what's going on with your breathing. So what you'll do is you'll inhale through your mouth, or inhale through your nose, excuse me, and on the exhale, with a sniffing breath, you'll kick (breathing), exhale through the mouth, but focus on the belly going in and just image that the diaphragm is going up as you do that.

So take an inhale to repair, and then exhale through the mouth with a pulse. (breathing) Inhale. (breathing) And start to feel that you're getting that awareness of the breath, the abdominal wall, and maybe a new image of the diaphragm stretching up into the body on the exhale phase. Beautiful you guys, that's it. Just do a couple more, each side.

So you start to see the abdominal wall, the back of the legs, the diaphragm are working together. One more, each side. And last one. Very nice, and then when you're ready, help yourself onto all fours. We'll just do a simple cat stretch with the same idea.

And now, on the exhale phase, as you follow your belly and you start to round your back, image the diaphragm is coming up into the body which will help you round the spine a little more. And now, as you inhale, reverse the curve. Roll the pelvis over your legs, breathe deep, and let the abdominal wall stretch. And exhale to curl. Feel that lift.

And just do that one more time. Nice little respite in your day. You could do these exercises just to make your body feel more fluid, let go of tension, increase your energy level. That's it, last one. And then from there, we'll help yourself up to standing.

So, we talked about how the diaphragm moves, how the belly is an antagonist, how you can stretch it and how you can include that as an image in your exercises that when you're exhaling is the appropriate time to draw the belly in. When you're inhaling, it's probably a better idea to let it stretch slightly. And for a finishing thought, think of, throughout your day, you can think, whenever I'm breathing, I'm increasing my energy. I hope you enjoyed, and look forward to seeing you more on Pilates Anytime. Thanks you guys. Thank you.


Tracy S
Really found Tom's lesson very descriptive and helpful
1 person likes this.
Very clear and visual explanation - thank you
Tom It was such a gift to finally meet you for the first time yesterday and waking up to this new video was like Christmas morning! :)
Maya A
3 people like this.
Well done, Tom. Great example of how using the Franklin Method can enhance awareness, breathing and Pilates exercises.
Another great video! Thanks Tom
Erin W
1 person likes this.
I'm so glad this was a featured video. Excellent breakdown for this nervy gal. Thank you Tom!
thank so much!!!!!!! anatomy biomechanics kinesiology breathing all loud and clear me right now!!!!!THANK YOU
Paola Maruca
As a recent graduated Franklin Method Level 1 Educator (soon going to Level 2), I love to hear Tom McCook speaking about one of my favorite subject. Thank you!!!!! Awesome as always.
1 person likes this.
Thank you Tom. Education is the key to better movement. So glad you are a leading the way.
Awesome and crystal clear cues, my lower back and rib-to-hip space feel so relaxed and worked out at once! This tutorial will be of great help with all of my clients. Thank you :)
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