Breathing – how does it work? #1: The diaphragm

breathe‚Go Vocal‘ – the betahaus class has just kicked off and it has been an awesome & inspiring start. One of the first questions arising: How do we actually breathe?

And why do we need the diaphragm? And – by the way – Where, the f*** is the diaphragm?

Well, it reminds me immediatly of the amazing body we carry around every day of our life. Or better – the body that carries us around. As i put together some valid information about the diaphragm it just hit me, that almost none of us knows how we actually breathe. We know all about maths, dots, pixels, rules, words, or whatsever. But the most basic thing is an unknown area to most of us, maybe too close, too normal. Still, the closest things can be most extraordinary.

For example: Our diaphragm. Where in our body can we find it, how does it work and what do we actually need it for?

The diaphragm plays a vital role in our breathing process. It is the primary muscle used in the process of inhalation and is located kind of ‚underneath‘ our lungs:

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped ’sheet of muscle‘ connected to the lower ribs. The lungs are enclosed in the thoracic cavity by the rib cage (on the front, back, and sides) and the diaphragm is forming the floor of the thoracic cavity (Brusthöhle). It separates the abdominal cavity (Bauchhöhle) from the thoracic cavity. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and is drawn into the abdominal cavity until it is flat. At the same time, the intercostal muscles (Zwischenrippenmuskulatur) between the ribs spread out and widen the anterior rib cage. The thoracic cavity becomes deeper and larger, air is drawn into the lungs.

During exhalation, the rib cage drops to its resting position while the diaphragm relaxes into its dome-shaped position in the thorax. Air within the lungs is forced out of the body as the size of the thoracic cavity decreases. (T.Taylor, The inner body; K.Linklater, Free the natural voice)

The word diaphragm comes from the ancient greek word diáphragma which means ‚partition‘ – as it seperates thoracic from abdominal cavity (and you can see in the picture beneath).

Bildschirmfoto 2017-02-06 um 10.45.42

The diaphragm is primarily innervated by the phrenic nerve (phrenischer Nerv) which is formed from three of the cervical nerves (Nerven der Halswirbelsäule) (R. Drake et al., Gray’s Anatomy for students). This is one of the reasons why a tensed up neck and upper back is largely affecting our breathing system in the whole.

Vice versa: As we give loving attention to our diaphragm and focus on a natural and relaxed breathing rhythm we give other parts in our body (and mind) the opportunity to relax as well. Everything within us is connected on many levels.

To give a clearer impression on the way it moves within our body as we breathe in and out, its movement within the body can be pictured as following –

By the way: the diaphragm does not build a complete seperation within our body – there are a number of openings (larger and smaller) through which structures pass between the thorax and abdomen, the most important one for sure the one of the Aorta.

Digging deeper into the mysteries of our voice, more parts of our body are drawn to our attention:

  • How does the lung system actually really work?
  • How do our vocal cords look like?
  • Why do we need our tongue – except, of course, for kissing?

With this blog i am eager to light up at least some of the thrilling aspects of our body system to give a clearer understanding of the miracle we are walking around with everyday.

Love. Always.




Photo Credit: Chiara Cremaschi and Annette Wolff