Written by: Christina L. Ross PhD

If your breathing is in anyway restricted,

To that degree, so is your life

                                             – Michael Grant White1


According to Gray’s Anatomy: The diaphragm is a “thin, musculo-fibrous septum, consisting of muscular fibers externally, which rise from the circumference of the thoracic cavity and pass upward and inward to converge to a central tendon.” In short, this fibrous respiratory muscle is fan shaped and separates the thorax from the abdomen in the middle third of the human torso It functions as a pressure gauge for the lungs by way of contraction.

Respiration in humans begins by inhaling air through the nose and into the nasal cavities. From there the air travels through the pharynx, the larynx and into the trachea (windpipe). From the windpipe the respiratory system branches into a series of smaller and narrower tubes. The bronchi branch off the trachea and then subdivide into the bronchioles (see image). The exchange of gases (inhaling air and exhaling carbon dioxide) occurs in the alveoli, which are small sacs clustered around the ends of the smallest bronchioles (that look like clusters of grapes — see image).  Breathing is accomplished by changes in air pressure in the lungs. These changes are brought about by the contraction of the diaphragm muscle and the intercostals muscles, which lie between the ribs (see image).

Breathing works by making the rib cage bigger: the pleural layers slide over each other and the pressure in the lung is decreased, so air is sucked in. Exhaling does the reverse, the rib cage collapses, and air is expelled. Again, the main component acting here is the diaphragm. When the diaphragm contracts it flattens and increases the space above it. When it relaxes, the abdominal contents push it up again. These movements constitute breathing in the human body.

In Anodea Judith’s2 book, Wheels of Life, she describes the breath as it relates to the air element. She says, “Breath is one of the primary keys to opening the heart chakra. Air is the most quickly distributed element in the body. And, unlike food, which takes hours or even days to digest, each inhalation of air immediately enters the bloodstream.” Oxygen must be constantly supplied to each and every cell, or the cells quickly die. For this reason, the body has a thorough and elaborate transportation system to distribute oxygen throughout the entire body. This circulatory system is mastered by the heart and each breath nourishes and feeds the system. As Judith explains, “Aside from maintaining basic life functions, the breath is one of our most powerful tools for trans-formations: for burning up toxins, releasing stored emotions, changing body structure and changing consciousness.”

Without breath we could not speak, for air is the force behind our voice. We could not metabolize our food without oxygen, nor could our brain think without it. Judith continues, “Breathing is a grossly underestimated purifying energy. Unfortunately, the average person does not breathe very deeply. A normal pair of lungs can hold about 2 pints of air, while the average person breathes in about one pint or less per breath.”

The breath is also one of the few things in the body that comes under both voluntary and involuntary control. Involuntarily, the breath contracts when we are afraid — a carryover from survival instincts, when holding the breath helped us remain undetected by dangerous creatures. For this reason, we can combat fear by forcibly deepening our breath, thus easing tension in our whole body. By exercising the voluntary aspect of breathing and consciously trying to increase our breathing capacity, we can gradually make deep breathing a habit. The breath can actually change our body structure and once it’s changed the body craves an increased oxygen supply. This can be an evolutionary and healing- oriented process.

Because of the anatomical and physiological aspects of the diaphragm, it can be seen as the force behind the respiratory system. ln kind, the respiratory system, or breathing process, can be seen as the primary force or the heart or life.


respiratory system diagram



1 Michael Grant White is the author of “The Breathing Coach”. This quote was taken from his website www.breathing.com

2 Anodea Judith, PhD is a somatic therapist, counselor and yoga teacher. Her book Wheels of Life is a user’s guide to the Chakra System.



Christina Ross RPPip, April 28, 2003