Diaphragm Strengthening Exercises and Stretches
The diaphragm is not the only muscle involved in breathing; there are other accessory muscles. But for now let's look at how to strengthen the diaphragm. Here is a little routine incorporating Pilates and Yoga, as well as running experience. It will not only strengthen your diaphragm, but other muscles too.
Standing Chest Expansion
Or as my Pilates teacher might call it: 'The Singing Pavarotti'. Stand straight with feet together, heels and toes touching, and activate your glutes. On inhale lift your arms sideways parallel to the floor, hands shoulder height; on exhale close the arms touching the hands in front of you. Make sure inhales and exhales are slow and continuous. Don't let the body collapse. When you breathe in and out, it is only your arms that move. Keep your torso stable, and do not allow your chest to pop out or the back to bend.
Do the 10 sets of inhale and exhale. Then from the same start-up position, on inhale, lift your arms above your head hands facing each other. On exhale lower the arms next to your body, hands facing the floor. Do the ten sets of these too. If you find these exercises difficult you can try and do them on the lying floor, but same rules apply there too.
Standing Deep Breathing
Stand straight, with feet together - heels and toes touching. Interlace your knuckles and place the hands under your chin, keeping the elbows together and the thumbs touching the throat (1). On a slow inhale through the nose for a count of six, lift your elbows sideways and lower your chin into the knuckles (2). Pushing your elbows together and dropping the head back, exhale through mouth for a slow count of six (3). The elbows should stay above the shoulders and the knuckles together under the chin.
Do 10 sets of breaths, take a little break and do another 10. This breathing exercise teaches you to sustain your inhales and exhales, and to use your lungs to the maximum.
Wind Removing Pose
I like to do this compressing pose (digestive system) prior to the cobra.
Lying on the floor, bend the right knee towards the chest, and interlocking your fingers above the knee, pull it towards the right shoulder, avoiding the rib cage. Both shoulders should be relaxed on the floor, as well as the spine. Breathing deep and slow, hold this position for 20 seconds. Then change the leg and repeat the posture on the left side for 20 seconds.
Then bend both of your knees, wrap your arms around the legs just under the knees, each hand holding the opposite elbow. Ideally the tailbone and the back of the head should be touching the floor, and the shoulders should also be down. Knees should be touching, and you are trying to pull them to the chest. Tuck in your chin, gaze into the little diamond shape created by your forearms and knees. Hold this pose for 20 seconds too.
Written by Helena Laczko, Run and Become