The other day I was chatting with a friend about the books we were currently reading. She was currently making her way through some novels and I shared that I’m making my way through a book on Trigger Points, rereading the manual from my Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Ball training, and a history of cadavers and dissection in the world. She claims I’m merely studying, but I would argue that the cadaver book, Stiff by Mary Roach is a bit of a novel and incredibly entertaining. :)

I have an insatiable quest for learning. I am bored to tears when I am not doing something that stretches me, in some way, both literally and figuratively. As you may know, I have a Therapy Ball workshop on January 27th and am very excited to present the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to our local yogi community beyond the 15-20 minutes we spend every Wednesday night. Not going to lie, but much of the reading I am currently doing is to prepare for the workshop so I can offer not only mind bending blissful relaxation, but also relevant context, with some interesting facts sprinkled in. J Here’s an interesting fact that I just read and will count as today’s “Did you know…

So, did you know… that the respiratory diaphragm, a large dome shaped muscle that sits at the bottom your rib cage and divides the thoracic cavity (where the lungs and heart sit) from the abdominal cavity (where your guts are) can be trained to help induce relaxation? Every time you take a deep breath, the diaphragm contracts and presses down into the abdominal cavity. This is why when you are in a deep state of relaxation, every breath makes your belly rise and fall. Well, it should make your belly rise and fall, but many of us are so stressed out, that we can’t even relax to the point where a belly breath would be a possibility. In this state, the breath is short and shallow. Don’t believe me? Remember the last time you were startled and how you took a quick, short gasp in and held it? For those who are in a chronic state of stress, this is the norm. Their body has become so accustomed to this teeny tiny breath that it knows no different.

Lucky for us, the diaphragm is a muscle just like any other and is completely malleable and changeable throughout our lives. The diaphragm is slightly different than other muscles in that it is activated by both voluntary and involuntary nerve impulses. You know this to be true because I’m 100% confident you are breathing right now without thinking about it. But as soon as you read that sentence, you became aware of your breath and are probably altering it in some way. Similar to other contractile tissue, the diaphragm has receptors in the belly of the muscle and tendons that are sending information to the brain every time the tissue contracts and relaxes. These sensory cells give the brain a snapshot of the tension on the tissue and the tissue’s texture at any moment in time.

How does this relate to yoga, you may ask?

Yogis tend to practice not only deep abdominal breathing but also control of the breath (pranayama anyone?). This focus on the breath helps to strengthen, stretch, and improve the brain’s awareness (proprioception) of the diaphragm. As a result, at any given time, your brain is more acutely aware of not only what your diaphragm is doing, but also the quality of the diaphragm itself. Just as you would practice any new skill, practice with the diaphragm, abdominal breathing, improves its function. Since abdominal breathing is the most relaxing of all breathing styles, it makes sense that a yogi who practices breathing is more adept at inducing total body relaxation through the breath. Pretty cool, huh?

So the next time you are laying in bed, exhausted from counting sheep but not close to actual sleep, try to induce your own state of bliss by focusing on your breath. With your hands on your stomach, feel the rise and fall of the belly with every breath.

Join me on January 27 at Yoga at the Village for a 2 hour total body tune up using the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to roll everything from head to toe, followed by the most relaxing conscious relaxation you will ever have. Breathe in….Bliss out!

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