My sister (left), Ann Howard, sang on the Art Linkletter Talent Scout Show on television in 1963! Nancy Wilson introduced her as one of the great upcoming young artists. My mother knit each sequin, one by one, to fit her perfect figure like a glove... Here's a funny short story about a high school chorus teacher I had in Laguna Beach, California (where I grew up). I was in 10th grade and raised my arm to ask the teacher if he was going to teach us how to use our diaphragms. His face went red and as he pointed to me, said in a very stern voice, “Kathryn Howard, OUT of this class, right now!” I ended up in the Principal's office, completely perplexed. The teacher was told that I had no clue what he was upset about, and that was the truth. He never believed it. My mother had to answer all my questions later, and that was how I found out about a little contraceptive device of molded rubber fitted over the cervix uteri to prevent pregnancy—the diaphragm! This is definitely not what I am referring to here. This muscular dome, which separates the lungs from the intestines—located between the thoracic and abdominal cavities—is composed of skeletal muscle and collagenous connective tissue and is the main muscle of breathing. Its contraction results in air being pushed into the lungs. Obviously, the diaphragm is a VERY important muscle!
There are three openings (in order from the top): the inferior vena cava (returns blood to heart), the esophagus (transmits food from mouth to stomach), and aorta (takes the blood from the heart to the legs). If there is undue pressure in the abdomen from an enlarged stomach (a common problem with a fat tummy), it can result in an enlarged opening through which the esophagus passes. This is called a hiatal hernia, which can create symptomatic problems of a chronic nature. Another result can be acid reflux into the esophagus (by the way, another condition that most chiropractors can fix quickly). If you suffer from one of these problems, call a chiropractor and ask if s/he knows how to release that area beneath the diaphragm with soft-tissue manipulation. My partner, Brian Logan, who is an incredible chiropractor, gets down on his knees and listens with his left ear as he pushes lightly on that area until he hears it release. There is always a sense of great relief for anyone who has this done. Brian says there is a gurgling release sound. Also important is to learn the Complete Yoga Breath and other breathing exercises that specifically strengthen the diaphragm and all of the stomach muscles (included throughout this Breath series). In Health for College Students by Cleveland P. Hickman (1958, Prentice-Hall, Inc.): “these muscles are so important to the general health of your body, that it might be said that as go these muscles, so goes the rest of your muscular system. They are so placed that when they are exercised most other muscles in your body are also exercised.” This might be just one more reason why Yoga is so good for you. Pilates also places great importance on strengthening the abdominal muscles. All of this helps the diaphragm to be strong, too.
A TRICK TO STRENGTHEN YOUR DIAPHRAGMThis is a repeat of the diaphragm-strengthening exercise in the Tips and Benefits section of this series. It's too powerful to not include here (just in case a singer or speaker is reading this page first and never gets to the other page). If you already read this, skip to Part 2. This is a little trick to strengthen this important muscle for speakers and singers. To make it even easier to experience your diaphragm, do the following exercise. (Note: Not to be performed by anyone with a serious respiratory problem without talking to their healthcare professionals first.)
- Stand or sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Look at yourself in a mirror. Keep your head straight and inhale as you would normally (later you will breathe the Complete Yoga Breath with this technique).
- After you have inhaled, hold your nose in the same way you would if you were diving into a pool. Donít allow any air to be released through your nose or mouth.
- Visualize where your diaphragm is just where your ribcage ends and pull it up into your chest (upward, not backward). Then push it down into your abdomen. Up and down again, and again. Continue to do this about 10 times, then relax your body completely and breathe slowly. This will exercise the largest muscle in your body to make it stronger and also make you more aware of it when you do the Yoga Breath. This might sound strange, but in reality this is what the diaphragm does. It moves down as you inhale, and moves up when you exhale.