And Breathe

When we were growing up the woman next door weighed twenty seven stone. Even by lardy modern standards this is an impressive weight for a five foot four woman. She was getting close to spherical.
In honesty, twenty seven stone was a high point. At times she went as low as twenty four stone. She was a compulsive eater, and found dieting in any meaningful way very challenging. Practically speaking this meant she broke furniture. On one occasion I watched her flop heavily down on our valuable-ish antique sofa and the caster explode from beneath her. She had trashed a number of chairs up around our street in the day to day round of seventies gossipy-housewife-coffee activities. As wood groaned and shattered she would brightly comment ‘well that wasn’t very well made’; shift to something more robust and reach for yet another biscuit.
She is still alive and in her eighties, where she should be long dead. This may in part be genetics. Indisputably, someone who maintains this kind of weight for much of their life and is still with us has a strong heart. She was, and is, an enormously good laugh with a huge spirit. Being around her was always a world away from the usual run of passive-aggressive, local mothers. She was exciting and unpredictable and lived a life rich with feeling.
Her real secret though is that she was an opera singer. She didn’t get into the top echelons because of having children, but she had an immense powerful voice and sang in a practice room next to our house which meant she was a regular feature of half of the upstairs in our childhood home. She really knew how to use her diaphragm working from deep in her body so that her voice could be heard clearly across an auditorium; or booming in our upstairs toilet.
Recently I’ve been working a great deal with breathing and Chinese medicine. The twenty-seven-stone-woman-next-door-alive-at-eighty-two is a clear example of the power of effective breathing.
The diaphragm used well will enhance the oxygenation of the blood. It will also through movement down into the abdomen move and massage the internal organs. The digestion system is assisted by this movement. The kidneys, which travel ten miles per day, are very closely connected to the raising and descent of the diaphragm the right kidney slipping behind the liver on a descending in breath. The movements of the uterus are affected by the diaphragm, particularly in giving birth.
The internal organs move around a great deal in the day to day. MRI imaging reveals a complex ever moving world of biological interaction of which most people are unaware. The pulsing movements of the diaphragm are a crucial part of this dynamic and one over which we as humans potentially have control.
Good free diaphragmatic movement means enhanced flow of blood, lymph and interstitial fluid. It takes some of the weight off the heart as a pump. It massages the spine, releasing the lower back and crossing over with the illiopsoas muscle to release back and sciatic pain. This relationship with the illiopsoas leads to a situation in which this combination of muscles links to and beneficially affects every organ in the body.
Good diaphragmatic movement is the cornerstone of health and well being affecting back pain, digestive issues, circulatory problems, kidney problems, releasing the adrenals, enhancing the immune system. It’s at least as important as not living on fast food or drinking and smoking too much and very, very few people are able to do it.
Can you breathe properly? An easy test of this is to take deep breath and really fill your lungs. Exhale and then do it again, and again. If the idea of keeping this up for five minutes seems dauntingly tiring, then you’re definitely not.
The trick is to get the diaphragm to descend rather than lift the rib cage which quite a number of people find challenging in much the same way as learning to ride a bicycle, learn to use windows, blow smoke rings or any other learning experience that ends with an ‘oh I get it’ moment. From there there are a number of approaches and schools of thought from yoga, meditation, tai ji, buteyko method. The commonality is moving the diaphragm fully down into the abdomen.
The only other issue from a body work point of view is the tendency for effective breathing to bring to mind uncomfortable emotions. You can feel the impact on your breathing of thinking about something that makes you emotionally uncomfortable. The body will suppress protracted emotional discomfort by shallow breathing. So emotional suppression will lock up the diaphragm and prevent you really being yourself.
Yes breathing well is emotionally healthy too.
It frees the spirit to sit around in kitchens breaking furniture, bitching and laughing, between singing in a way you could hear half way down the street. It’s that simple and you can’t really be as good as you could be without it. And breathe……