Anatomical photos to aid in diaphragmatic breathing
- From the article:
ANATOMICAL PHOTOS TO AID IN DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
The Diaphragmatic Breathing article on the SwamiJ.com website has
been revised to include several anatomical photos that help to
precisely show the location of the diaphragm.
Following are the written descriptions that go with the photos.
To see the photos, please click here and scroll down:
In loving service,
THE GREATEST DIFFICULTY IN
LEARNING DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
The biggest single problem in learning proper diaphragmatic breathing
is in knowing where the diaphragm is located. The pictures below
should help you find the diaphragm.
It is common to see both long-time students and teachers of hatha
yoga and diaphragmatic breathing actively moving the muscles in the
abdominal (belly), thoracic (chest), and clavicle (the horizontal
bones at the shoulders) regions and calling these muscle movements
diaphragmatic breathing. Belly breathing, chest breathing, and
shoulder breathing are simply not diaphragmatic breathing (people
often report shoulder or neck pains which come from using the neck
and shoulder muscles some 20,000 times a day in this way for which
they are not designed). One of the main problems with all forms of
breath training, whether for meditation or clinical reasons, seems to
be a misunderstanding of the precise location of the diaphragm. If
one does not know where to find the diaphragm, it is difficult to
train oneself or others in proper diaphragmatic breathing.
The greatest challenges in learning and teaching diaphragmatic
breathing are understanding the location of the diaphragm, and that
it is not the same as the abdomen or the chest.
It would be of tremendous benefit if the many teachers of hatha yoga
and yogic breathing, along with respiratory therapists, occupational
therapists, counselors, psychologists, physicians, and other
professionals would learn and teach proper diaphragmatic breathing.
It is of tremendous benefit not only to seekers of deep meditation
for spiritual awakening or Self-Realization, but also those only
wishing to "manage" their inner stress.
It is important to note that speaking of diaphragmatic breathing does
not negate the many balancing and invigorating practices, which can
be quite useful. Rather, proper diaphragmatic breathing forms a
foundation for those other practices.
See also the article on:
Breathing and Pranayama Practices
Figure 1: Locating the Diaphragm:
The horizontal purple area in the right-hand picture below (Figure 1)
is the location of the diaphragm. In the left-hand picture, it is the
horizontal red area.
On inhalation the diaphragm contracts and moves down, as the rib cage
(lower thoracic cage) expands slightly outward to the sides
(laterally). As the diaphragm moves down with inhalation, the lower
thoracic cage (chest) also moves forward, but only very slightly.
Upper chest does not move: The upper thoracic cage (chest) does NOT
move either upward or outward. With proper diaphragmatic breathing,
the upper thoracic cage (chest) remains motionless. Some will say
that the upper chest muscles move slightly, but this is not true;
such motion is an indication of insufficient training and practice.
Lower abdomen does not move: The lower abdomen also does NOT move
outward. Many people teach that the abdomen moves outward, but that
comes from abdominal breathing, NOT from proper diaphragmatic
On exhalation the diaphragm releases, and the lower thoracic cage
(chest) naturally comes inward from the sides and front. Once again,
there is no motion whatsoever in the upper thoracic cage (chest) or
the abdomen. With conscious, practiced diaphragmatic breathing, both
the upper chest and the abdomen are still. Along with practicing
steady, smooth breathing, without any pause between breaths, there
comes a natural quieting of the mind and the nervous system.
Figure 2: View from Right
The diaphragm is the large, oval-shaped object (item #20) at the
bottom of this photo (Figure 2). The view in this photo is from the
right side of the body. The right side of the rib cage, the right
lung and the pleura (lining of the lung) have been removed for this
Notice that the heart (#19) is resting on top of the diaphragm. This
is one of the visible ways we can easily see how diaphragmatic
breathing has such an intimate relation with the functioning of the
heart. It is also interesting to note that the right vagus nerve is
visible at the top of the photo (#13), as this nerve is critical in
physical relaxation of the autonomic nervous system.
Figure 3: View of Right Cutaway
This view (Figure 3) is of the right side of the body, with only a
portion of the right side having been removed. Part of the muscle
tissue of the diaphragm is visible at the left side of the picture
(#8) and another part of the diaphragm is visible at the right side
of the picture (#20).
Figure 4: View from Left
The diaphragm is quite visible (#23) in this left view of the body
(Figure 4). Notice the heart (#7, #10) immediately above the
diaphragm. The left lung would rest immediately on top of the
diaphragm, although it has been removed for this picture. It is clear
how the diaphragm pulling down on contraction would cause inhalation
by pulling the bottom of the lung downward. Exhalation would come by
the release of that contraction and the resulting return of the
diaphragm to a more upper, dome-like shape. The bottom of the lung
would then naturally rise, allowing exhalation.
Figure 5: Frontal View
The right side of the diaphragm (which is the left side of the photo;
#3 and #4) is shown in this picture (Figure 5). The heart is visible
positioned on top of the diaphragm (#2, #3, #10, #12, #13).
Notice the white inverted-v shaped bone (#5), which is the lower edge
of the rib cage, defining the lower part (costal margin) of the
thorax (chest). The rest of the rib cage has been removed for
viewing, as have the lungs (it may appear that lungs are in the
photo, but that is actually the back of the abdominal cavity). It is
especially important to notice how the diaphragm is in alignment with
the bottom of the rib cage, but actually is tucked nicely up into the
chest cavity. With inhalation, the diaphragm muscle contracts, and
pulls downward, which also draws the bottom of the lungs downward,
causing them to fill with air. When the contraction of the diaphragm
is released, the diaphragm naturally returns up into the thoracic
Figure 6: Frontal View without Heart and Lungs
In this view (Figure 6), the heart and lungs have been removed. The
dome shape of the diaphragm (#11, #12, #26) is quite clear in this
photo. As the muscle tissue of the diaphragm contracts, it draws
itself downward, which also pulls the bottom of the lungs downward,
causing inhalation. On relaxation of the diaphragm there is the a
natural exhalation, as the diaphragm returns to its more dome-like
Figure 7: Upper view of Diaphragm
The diaphragm (#7 and #8) is seen here (Figure 7) to completely fill
the chest cavity from left to right, and from front to back. The
upper chest has been removed just above the diaphragm. The view is
from above, looking downward at the diaphragm. Notice the striations
in the muscle tissue and how these would contract in such a way as to
expand the chest cavity slightly, allowing the diaphragm to gently
pull the bottom of the lungs downward, bringing air inward for
TWO KEYS TO DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
The two keys to proper diaphragmatic breathing are:
1) to receive proper training, and
2) to then practice every day.
To set aside a few minutes in the early morning and a few minutes in
the evening to sit quietly and do nothing but be mindful of breathing
diaphragmatically is a very useful thing to do. A few more times
during the day is even more beneficial.
Breathe smoothly and comfortably slowly, allowing no jerkiness, and
having no pauses between breaths. First, be aware of the motion of
the diaphragm, allowing the upper chest and the abdomen to be still.
Then, after a few minutes, bring your attention to the feel of the
air moving in the nostrils. It is the cognitive sense of touch.
Continue to breath smoothly and slowly, with no jerkiness or pauses.
Continue this for several more minutes. This practice can be done as
a complete breathing practice itself, or as a part of a complete
meditation practice, where the subtler meditation follows the
diaphragmatic breathing practice.