Set yourself free!

Tight pants, tight abs and poor posture
Your lungs don’t breath on their own, they are reliant on a symphony of muscles to inflate and deflate them. As you inhale, certain muscles expand the space for the lungs to inflate; the belly and lower ribs expand, creating a suction of air into the lungs as they expand. When you exhale, that space shrinks to expel the air, deflating the lungs. Your lungs will inflate only to the size of its vessel: the rib cage. When the muscles involved are restricted, the space of the vessel/ribs is compromised and therefore the breath limited.

When we breath, an orchestra of muscles are at work in the chest, neck, back and abdomen. Of this orchestra, your  diaphragm is the most important player. If the diaphragm is tight, your breath is restricted. Anything that restricts the movement of the diaphragm limits your ability to inhale fully. Tight clothes, a belt, a slumped posture or tight abdominals will all limit your diaphragms ability to move, and therefore your ability to breathe.

This is a good reminder not to slump in your forward bends. When your posture is slumped, your spine rounds backward and your front ribs dig back and compress the diaphragm. Our emotions can play a role too, as fear and anxiety leads to gripping of the stomach and diaphragm. Gym exercises such as sit-ups or crunches are a recipe for restricted breath. Since our nervous system is a 2-way communication system, any tension in our abdominals from sit ups can lead to fear and anxiety.

Tight, short abs can also contribute to chronic neck pain and headaches. When the upper abs are restricted in breathing, we compensate by using the neck, shoulder and upper chest muscles to force air in to the upper chest. This can lead to over use of the sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius muscles (front and back of the neck – see pic above). Neck strain and chronic neck tension follow, resulting in headaches and neck ache. So be weary of tight abs!

Yoga can set your breath free from the effects of tightness around your breathing muscles, and relieve the symptoms of fear and anxiety. Don’t get me wrong – strong abdominals are essential for a healthy back, but only if they are strong AND long. Yoga promotes a balance of both by ensuring your abdominals are stretched and long as well as strong and supporting. The practice of yoga also includes pranayama, or breath control. In this practice, the breathing muscles are prepared and stretch gently before practicing ancient breathing techniques. Learn more at my next pranayama workshop on 2 June 2019 – more infohere. 

In summary; opt for looser clothes, be conscious not to slump in forward bends, become aware of how you respond to stress (release grip on abdomens), and don’t do abdominal strengthening without stretching them too. Free up your diaphragm, do yoga!

Below are a two poses you can try to stretch out your breathing muscles: Ustrasana on left and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana on right (beginner friendly).

This information was summarised from an article written by Julie Gudmestad called “Anatomy of a Yogi. Take a Deep Breath.”