My two lungs are like two balloons contained in something like a lubricated and inflatable bag. No muscles are directly attached to my lungs themselves; the muscles connect to the containing bag.
A vacuum is created when the attached muscles pull the bag out. Because of the vacuum, the pressure inside the lungs drops, and the air is sucked in. Once my lungs get filled with air, the pressure equalizes.
From now on, when I refer to the ‘lungs,’ it will include the containing bag and the two lungs inside.
Three primary muscle systems are directly attached to the bag, containing my two lungs:
- Diaphragm muscle.
- Ribcage muscles.
- Chest muscles.
The diaphragm muscle
My diaphragm muscle is the locomotive of my breathing. Together with my heart, it drives life forward; the diaphragm leads, and the heart follows. It’s a relaxed, relatively slow-moving muscle. It has the shape of a para shoot or a dome when relaxed following an exhale. When inhaling, the diaphragm muscle is flexed, descends, and assumes the form of something like a flat pitta bread.
My diaphragm connects to my lowest ribs and supports the lungs from the bottom. It creates a definite division of my body into two parts. One part is over it, and the other is under it. Above the diaphragm, I have my heart and lungs, which are vital organs. Under my diaphragm, I have vital organs like my liver, kidneys, digesting organs, pancreas, and others.
My diaphragm is attached to my spine and is affected by my spine flexibility and mobility. In addition, a busy channel passes through my spine (and my diaphragm), including a network of nerves, a food pipe, and blood pipes.
The active part of my breathing occurs as I inhale, and my diaphragm muscle descends. My belly button moves away from my spine as my belly inflates. It assumes a watermelon shape as air fills my lungs. The passive part of my breathing is when I exhale, and my diaphragm muscle ascends. My belly deflates, and my belly button moves towards my spine. Air is then forced out of my lungs as my belly draws inwards.
All the way down to the bottom
When my diaphragm muscle is engaged correctly, the air gets to the bottom of my lungs, which allows me to:
- Spread the effort of Oxygen absorption over a more significant number of bubbles.
- Keep my lower bubbles active.
- Maintain lung elasticity.
- Exercise my diaphragm muscle.
Failing to use my diaphragm when breathing may lead to losing bubble-exchange functionality at the bottom part of my lungs. In addition, when the lungs are not pulled and pushed, they may become stiffer. Losing elasticity may lead to decreased lungs-performance.
When the diaphragm is active, moving up and down, its upper part has physical contact with my heart and my lungs. The lower part of the diaphragm has physical contact with the kidneys, liver, and digestive system organs. The up-and-down movement of the diaphragm gently presses on the organs mentioned as if massaging them. Swollen organs may restrict the diaphragm from moving freely and cause movement distortion.
It’s essential to have enough space in the stomach for the diaphragm to move freely. When inhaling and keeping an upright posture, the diaphragm moves down, pushing the organs into the lower part of the body. That allows the lungs to expand and the air to fall because of gravity. When exhaling, the diaphragm moves up and presses on the lungs from the bottom, assisting in emptying them. A straight spine allows deeper descending and higher ascending of the diaphragm.
Engaging the diaphragm in breathing makes it easier for the heart to pump blood and reduces blood pressure. When the diaphragm moves up and down at a wide amplitude, relaxing feedback signals are sent to my ‘breathing app.’ With every breath, my ‘breathing app’ gets an acknowledgment from my diaphragm that I’m not in a threatening situation. Furthermore, proper diaphragm movement relaxes the digestive system and improves assimilation and elimination.
Some waste products in the body have no active pumping system for clearing and cleaning. When the diaphragm moves up and down, it clears lymph waste, facilitating detoxification. When something goes wrong, and my body needs to expel by vomiting, my diaphragm muscle helps by pressing on the stomach cavity from within it.
As species, we haven’t fully completed our evolutionary erection from four to two legs. As a result, my body struggles to balance on two long ‘sticks’ (my legs). My diaphragm takes part in my body’s balancing efforts.
Diaphragm impact on heart rate
My heart and my breathing are inextricably linked. Inhaling is the active part of breathing, whereas exhaling is the more passive and effortless part. When I exhale, my diaphragm recoils as it moves up. The ascending diaphragm presses on my heart from the bottom, and the squeezing changes my heart’s filling pressure. As a balancing act, slowing down signals are sent via the Vagus nerve to my heart. Conversely, when inhaling, acceleration signals are sent via the Vagus nerve to my heart. The speeding up of my heartbeat supports my inhaling effort.
It may seem that my inhaling effort is insignificant. However, the energy used adds up since I inhale and exhale thousands of times daily. So what happens is that when I inhale, my heart beats a little bit faster than when I exhale. This balancing mechanism contributes to efficiency.
The way I trace my diaphragm 360⁰ degrees:
- I sit on a chair or stand up.
- Place my fingertips where the lowest ribs meet in front of my body.
- Trace my lower ribs downwards on each body side with my fingers.
- Continue until I get to the lowest point of my bottom ribs. That’s about half of my diaphragm’s circumference.
- Continue tracing the second half by following my ribs around until my fingers reach the spine at the back of my body.
The ribcage muscles
My ribcage muscles are a group of smaller muscles compared to the single diaphragm muscle. They function as small body ‘motors’ which move my ribcage and pull my lungs mainly from the sides. Between every rib, which is attached to my lungs, there are muscles. It’s a bit like piano keys, where the white keys are the ribs, and the black keys are the muscles. My ribs are meant to protect my lungs from mechanical shocks, but it is just as important that they are flexible and can move freely. The free movement depends on the elasticity of both my ribcage muscles and the ribs themselves.
My diaphragm becomes less dominant during intense physical activity, and the driving force of breathing passes on to my ribcage muscles. Like the diaphragm, proper ribcage inflation occurs by expanding the front, back, and sides in 360⁰ degrees, similar to the opening of an umbrella.
The way I Inflate my ribcage 360⁰ degrees:
- I sit on a chair or stand up.
- Start by placing my fingers on the ribcage ‘piano’ and feel both the ribs and the muscles between them.
- Place one palm on each side of my ribcage and then create a bit of resistance by slightly pressing from the sides.
- While I inhale, my palms move away from my spine, and when I exhale, towards my spine. There is an equal movement of my palms on both sides of my body.
- Then I place one palm at the front of my body, under my lowest ribs, and the back side of my other hand is on my back. I make sure that at least my finger knuckles are touching my back. Both palms are parallel to each other.
- While I inhale, my palms move away from my spine, and when I exhale, towards my spine.
The chest muscles
My chest muscles are attached to the top of my lungs. They are located above my nipple line, below my collarbone, and can pull and push my lungs from the top. Compared to my diaphragm and ribcage muscles, chest muscles are restricted and have less room to expand, but they can work intensively.
Chest muscles inflate 360 degrees, but since the inflation is more subtle, the all-around opening is more difficult to sense.
The way I sense my chest inflation:
- I sit on a chair or stand up.
- Start by placing the tips of my fingers on the two sides of my collarbone.
- Then I ‘step’ down from each collarbone, ensuring my fingers are perpendicular to my body.
- When I inhale, my fingers move away from my body; when I exhale, my fingers move back toward the body.
Secondary breathing muscles
I have a secondary ‘backup’ system of muscles to support my breathing during exertion: my neck, shoulders, and abdominal muscles. These auxiliary muscles were not meant to be involved in my breathing during rest. Engaging my secondary muscles without physical exertion may weaken my primary breathing muscles and get them out of sync. When I activate my secondary muscles out of sync with my primary breathing muscles, tension may build up in my neck, shoulders, or stomach.
The exclusive use of my primary breathing muscles while breathing results in relaxing feedback signals to my ‘breathing app.’ However, when I activate my secondary and primary breathing muscles during relaxation, signals change from relaxing to alerting.
My abdominal muscles are not involved directly in breathing; they help stabilize my body. One of the stomach muscle’s essential functions is to hold my soft inner organs in place and create a protective corset to shield my organs. These muscles also regulate the internal pressure in my stomach. Activating my abdominal muscles out of sync may restrict the movement of my diaphragm.