If you don’t have a strong core, you can’t have healthy digestion.

 

BOOM.

 

It’s kinda obvious right? So obvious that you can easily miss it…

If you don’t have functional use of the abdomen, it is going to restrict digestion. It has to. Just by nature of being collapsed in the core or having too much restriction in the diaphragm you will have less space for the digestive organs and it will slow everything down.

 

Healthy core equals healthy digestion. But here is where the rubber meets the road. The relationship between the diaphragm and the transversus abdominus (the deepest abdominal muscle) is EVERYTHING.

 

In the pilates studio, I see a particular pattern all the time. People brace with their diaphragm to stabilize themselves which in turn means they aren’t using their deep abdominals and often not using their back stabilizers either. (This often turns into back pain…)

 

These clients are working REALLY hard to have core strength and often think they are doing exactly what they are supposed to. But it shouldn’t be that hard!!

 

When the diaphragm is doing the work for the transversus, those deepest abdominals, the diaphragm is effectively turning them off.

This is the really important point: 

An over-zealous diaphragm will TURN OFF your deepest abs. 

The diaphragm and the transversus abdominus are antagonist muscles! Each works when the other doesn’t. When the diaphragm is doing more work than it should it creates excessive pressure on a few key passageways, leading to three common symptoms:

 

Heartburn:

The esophagus runs right through the diaphragm. When the diaphragm is excessively tight it can literally squeeze the esophagus causing slowed digestion (food is literally restricted in reaching the stomach) leading to GERD, heartburn, IBS and constipation.

 

Cold Feet:

One of the biggest veins in the body has to pass right through the diaphragm, the Inferior Vena Cava. When pressure is put on the inferior vena cava it restricts circulation to the lower limbs and can lead to cold feet.

 

Hypertension:

The main artery in the body, the aorta also passes right through the diaphragm. If the diaphragm is constricted, it is going to put extra pressure on the aorta. If the passageway of the aorta is restricted it means the heart will have to beat harder to push blood through….potentially leading to aortic hypertension.

 

WOW, right? That is a lot of potential complications all from dysfunctional breathing.

 

What can you do?

 

As I’ve been playing with this more in the studio, I’m finding about a 50:50 chance that someone will be able to identify for themselves if they are holding tension in the diaphragm. But in reality about 99.9% of people do. If you can’t feel anything, I’d say still try this.

 

Here are two exercises you can do to stretch the diaphragm and engage the TVA.

 

 

Breathe in 4-point Kneeling:

 

With your hands and knees on the floor, knees and hips are at 90-degree angles, as are the shoulders. Using gravity to your advantage, breathe into your lungs and diaphragm and just fill up the space like a balloon. See if you can visualize filling up the space right along the edge of the bottom of your rib cage. Feel it stretch and expand. Try to take 5-10 deep breaths here and really stretch into the diaphragm.

 

 

Breathing with Feet Over a Ball

 

 

Lay down on the floor and place your legs over a thera-ball or even just on a couch or chair. Let your spine be in a neutral position leaving a little space under your low back for a ladybug to crawl through. Take a few breaths here and notice how you inhale and exhale. Do you hold tension anywhere? Is there a spot where you seem to work extra hard to push the air out? Do you feel anything low into your belly? Where is it easy to breathe into? Is there a place where you feel you just can’t breathe into?

 

Now take an inhale just as you have and then start your exhale below your belly button. Imagine squeezing out the last of the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube. That’s how you want to exhale. Don’t make it extra hard, just be aware of where you initiate the inhale versus the exhale. They should be in two very different places. The inhale starts higher, the exhale starts very low. Be careful not to force the exhale from the diaphragm (it’s very common and easy to do).

 

Take some time here, for most, this requires quite a bit of concentration because this is a whole new pattern for breathing. But, change this, and it can have a profound impact not only on your digestion, but on back pain, leg pain, shoulder pain, neck pain. Getting this relationship right, changes everything in your body.

 

Tell me, how did these exercises work for you? Did this make sense? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear if it worked or try and help you troubleshoot.

 

References:  

http://www.drdooleynoted.com/anatomy-angel-the-diaphragm-hiatuses/  (last accessed 11/1/17)