Monday, October 09, 2006

Anatomy of a Breath

As you read this, your body is systematically and unconsciously bringing in one breath after another. This is a very rich and complex process. There is a anatomical symphony that is utilized to allow this to happen. A circular chain of events that are in perpetual momentum from the day you are born to the day you pass on.

Rather than write a exhausting essay on all that it takes to breathe, I thought it might be prudent and wise to simply discuss a few of the more critical anatomical players in breathing.

Also, with this Blog, it is my hope and intention to explore on a more regular basis the fascinating interplay of anatomy, structure, and form in Rolfing.

The Players

First off, I would like you to meet the one and only, "Diaphragm." Think of World Wrestling Federation here. The lights dim, smoke machine is turned on, fireworks explode, and walking down the runway comes..."The Diaphragm." Without this dome shaped muscle, ain't nothing going to breathe...
The diaphragm is a muscle that pulls down every time you breathe. Thus allowing the lungs to fill with air. Every time you breathe out, the diaphragm simply releases. Contract-breath in. Release-exhale. On and on it goes...

When the diaphragm contracts, it pulls on what is called the central tendon. The central tendon runs vertically from the nadir of the diaphragm down the front of the spine. This changes the volume in your chest, thus leading to the inflation of your lungs!

The lungs expand with every contraction of the diaphragm. The elastic tissue of the lungs is stretched.
With every release of the diaphragm, the lungs recede. The lung tissue begins to recoil.

Back to the World Wrestling Metaphor. Every big player also has a side kick. Well, on the outside of the breathing ring, but still integral to the working mechanisms of the Breath is "The Scalenes." Perhaps not as formidable as "The Diaphragm" but very important none the less.
The scalenes assist in helping lift the top ribs and the upper part of the thorax (in other words, your chest.)

In lifting the top ribs up, up and away, they are key players in allowing the ribcage to expand.

As you read this, see if you can feel the scalenes being utilized in each breath. Place your fingers on your scalenes. The diagram to your Left is the front of your neck.

Now, take a very full breath. At the apex of each breath, there will be a momentary shift in your scalenes. It's as if they momentarily shift downward, when in fact they are lifting your rib cage up. Try it out.

Well, that does it for the Anatomy 101 of a breath. In my latest newsletter I discuss ways in which you can explore and expand your perception of breathing. Feel free to contact me if you would like this newsletter.

One of the first and primary goals of Rolfing is to "Free the Breath." Freeing up the ribcage, releasing the diaphragm, as well as lengthening the scalenes are but two of many ways in which I help you re-discover what it feels like to truly Breathe...