"Stand tall with your feet parallel. Now move the tops of the thighs in, back, and apart. Then let the fleshy part of the buttocks drape downwards as the lower belly rises. Keeping the back body full, kidneys full, now move the head of the armbones back and lift the heart. Lengthen through the crown, and don't forget to breathe."
Whew! No wonder I would often get tired from teaching; there were so many instructions given! And that was just in one pose! In the last year I have been exploring and questioning everything, including which instructions to give and how many cues. All last week I talked about the three diaphragms of the body and simply invited the students to line them up. When we lined up the three diaphragms- voila! The students were standing tall with their breath and with great sensitivity and awareness.
"Diaphragm" is a Greek word that means wall or partition. It is a fence or something that encloses. Mostly everyone is familiar with their diaphragm, their primary muscle of respiration. The diaphragm lives below the lungs and heart and above the abdomen. Leslie Kaminoff writes in his book "Yoga Anatomy" that the diaphragm "is the floor of the thoracic and the roof of the abdominal cavity."
The seminal book "Trail Guide to the Body" describes the complicated way the diaphragm originates and inserts. It originates in the inner surface of the lower six ribs, the inside of the xiphoid process (right at the bottom of your sternum) and the upper two or three lumbar vertebrae. Where does it insert? It converges in its own central tendon, which in turn is attached to the fascia that surrounds the lungs (called the pleura), the fascia which surrounds the heart (the pericardium) and fascia which surrounds the abdominal organs (the peritoneum). Leslie Kaminoff writes that the "diaphragm is the principal muscle that causes three-dimensional shape change in the thoracic and abdominal cavities." (p.7)
But there are two other main diaphragm: the vocal diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm. The vocal diaphragm lives below your tongue and above your windpipe (from another great book Doug Keller's "Refining The Breath."). You feel the vocal diaphragm when you engage your ujjayi breathing. The pelvic diaphragm is the diamond shape, muscular hammock situated between your sitting bones, pubis and tailbone. Whenever you inhale the diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm moved down on the inhale and then lift up on the exhale. The vocal diaphragm reverses this: it moves slightly up on an inhale and down on an exhale.
The diaphragms have been described by many as dome-like, parachutes, as drum heads that are attuned to each other's rhythms. I like Annie Brook's description of them in the book "Exploring Body-Mind Centering:"
"I like to think of them as being like heads of a drum. When they are functional they can move, stretch, vibrate and respond."
I have been having fun exploring lining them up as I stand, sit, go upside down, invert, twist, and rest in Savasana. I enjoy contemplating how these three structures are -I believe- the only horizontal muscles in the body, which in turns invites me to poetically line them up with the earth and the horizon, giving my body a greater sense of support. I have noticed that when I stand as I often do, with a hyper-lordotic lumbar spine, the diaphragm pops forward and both the pelvic and vocal diaphragm move back. Conversely when people stand -as most people do- with their feet turned out and their lower backs flattened, the opposite happens: the diaphragm moves back and the pelvic and vocal diaphragm move forward. I have also noticed with my scoliosis and torques how one side of the diaphragms can be more forward than another. The three diaphragms have become yet another helpful map for me to find myself in space and help me come back home, not just physically but energetically and always with the breath. I pause, line up and listening to the internal drumming of my life force.