Diaphragm Muscle

The Breath Connection

Regions of the brain such as the brainstem are highly evolved for survival, controlling complex functions such as respiration with speed and precision that is far beyond the comprehension of the conscious mind. Great instinctive power is stored in these regions of the brain. Hatha Yogic breathing techniques "yoke" or connect the conscious mind to the primal instinctive regions of the brainstem.

Athletes and martial arts practitioners access the breath's primal force by timing moments of exertion with forced exhalation. Yogis refine this by coordinating the rhythm of the breath with movements in the asanas, generally coupling inhalation with expansion and exhalation with deepening. Pranayama perfects this process.

Diaphragm Thorax And Abdomen Organs

Inhalation and Exhalation

The diaphragm is the prime mover for inhalation and exhalation. It is a thin half-dome shaped muscle that separates the thoracic abdominal cavities. Contracting the diaphragm expands the chest, creating a negative inspiratory pressure in the thorax, and drawing air into the lungs through the trachea. Contracting the diaphragm also gently massages the abdominal organs.

Unlike most other skeletal muscles, the diaphragm rhythmically contracts and relaxes under the control of the autonomic nervous system, via the phrenic nerve. We are unaware of the diaphragm, unless we consciously think about its function.

Yogic breathing techniques such as pranayama involve consciously contracting the diaphragm and controlling the breathing, thereby connecting the conscious and unconscious mind.

These images demonstrate the diaphragm contracting and relaxing. The lungs are elastic and expand when the diaphragm contracts during inhalation. Like a balloon the lungs passively empty during exhalation as the diaphragm relaxes.

Psoas Muscle And The Diaphragm Muscle
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Diaphragm Contracting And Relaxing

Ujayi Breath

When we breathe, the air passes through the nasal sinuses and pharynx into the trachea and on to the lungs, oxygenating the blood and removing carbon dioxide. The pharynx and nasal passages are lined with blood-rich mucosa. The nasal sinuses create turbulence, increasing the amount of air contacting the mucosa. This process warms the air before it passes into the lower parts of the respiratory tract.

The glottis is a muscular aperture below the pharynx and nasal passages. Opening and closing the glottis regulates the flow of air into the lower respiratory tract. Normally we controlthe opening and closing of the glottis unconsciously.

Yogic breathing techniques involve consciously regulating airflow through the glottis. For example, we seal the glottis when performing Nali so that the negative inspiratory pressure generated by contracting the diaphragm draws the abdominal contents upward instead of drawing breath into the trachea.

(See Scientific Keys, Volume II for details on Nali and Pranayama).

Breath Muscle

(See Scientific Keys, Volume II for details on Nali and Pranayama).

Consciously narrowing the opening of the glottis increases the turbulence of the air passing through the nasal and pharyngeal cavities. This action increases the transfer of heat to the air from the blood-rich mucosal lining, raising the temperature of the air above normal. Increasing air turbulence also creates an audible vibration similar to that of a flame leaping up from a fire. This process of increasing heat and creating vibration with the air is known as Ujayi breathing and is fundamental to the practice of Pranayama or "Breath of Fire."

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