Supporting the Muscles of Respiration

Breathing 101

Each and every day you draw a breath without thinking. Sleeping or awake, your body is unconsciously keeping your muscles of respiration working to bring oxygen in and release carbon dioxide as waste. This process is controlled by the most primitive part of our nervous system.

Despite the fact that the process is involuntary, many of us do not use our muscles of respiration to their full potential. Lack of exercise and poor posture all contribute to improper breathing techniques. The diaphragm becomes shortened and less efficient. The accessory muscles of breathing are used more and overworked. This stress on the body can lead to more than just shortness of breath. The digestive, lymphatic and nervous systems can also be effected by shallow breathing.

Deep abdominal breathing is the optimal breathing pattern for the body. In deep abdominal breathing, the breath brings the diaphragm down as the muscles of the abdominal wall expand. The rib cage is allowed to expand passively, rather than the result of the action of the accessory muscles of breathing. This action of the expansion of the abdominal wall and diaphragm helps to massage internal organs, pump the deeper vessels of the lymphatic system and provide ample space and mobility of vessels of the digestive, cardiovascular and nervous systems. It also means increased lung capacity and more oxygen to the cells in the body.

Muscles of Respiration

Diaphragm: The main muscle of passive (resting) respiration. This bells shaped muscle is used to raise and lower the ribs to activate the lungs.

Internal and External Intercostal Muscles: These tiny muscles between the rib cage help to raise and lower the ribs, increasing and decreasing pressure in the thoracic region.

Scalenes: These small muscles (usually a group of 4) help to lift the upper ribs and sternum.

Sternocleidomastoid: This muscle that connects the sternum and clavicle to the mastoid process works with the scalene muscles to raise the ribs and sternum.

Pectoralis Minor: Underneath Pectoralis Major on the front, top of the rib cage, this group of small muscles helps to raise the upper ribs.

Rhomboids: Located on the back between the shoulder blades, this muscle helps to pull back the shoulder blades to provide space for respiration in the upper regions.

 Abdominal Wall (Rectus Abdominus, Transverse Abdominus, and Internal and  External Obliques): These muscles of the abdomen help to expand and contract the belly during deep abdominal breathing.

Quadratus Lumborum: This muscle can impede deep abdominal breathing and the movement of the rib cage when it is shortened.

Practicing Deep Abdominal Breathing

If is simple to begin a practice of retraining the body to perform deep abdominal breathing. First lie on your back in a comfortable position. Next, place one hand on the belly at approximately the navel. Focus your breathing so that you are able to use it to raise and lower your hand. Feel the difference as you use your diaphragm muscle to take breathes, rather than shallow, shoulder breathing. You may find that this process relaxes you. You may need to spend about 15 minutes doing this each day for a week or more before this process becomes more second nature.

How Can Massage Help

Massage therapy can assist you in the process towards promoting deep abdominal breathing. Massage can help to open the body through the shoulder, chest and diaphragm. Your therapist may use myofascial release, trigger point therapy and/or Swedish massage techniques to facilitate this opening. It will take a series of weekly sessions in order to see real results, as the body has spent a long time with inefficient breath.



Muscles of Respiration: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine:

Accessory Muscles of Breathing I and II: Bahnda Yoga:






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s