Friday, July 20, 2012

The 4 Diaphragms

My recent look into the work of Leon Chaitow and the subsequent "dip" into respiratory mechanics resulted in an exponential growth in understanding (and appreciation) of the continuity of the human organism...more specifically, each and every action, however small, is intimately linked with the entire organism.  To be precise, it is literally impossible to "dissect" unique movements / functions / systemic actions out from the is quite frankly unrealistic to remain adhered to this simplistic idea. 
There are many different examples that can be brought forward and examined, however I think it would be more productive to choose an example that will resonate with the largest number of other words, something that can be understood immediately regardless of their "anatomical competence".  

In a previous post on respiratory mechanics I discussed the effects of dysfunctional breathing patterns on the brain.  This is also an example of the intimate relationship between structural distortion and systemic performance...however it relates to the brain, which remains a relatively "mystical" organ that we still do not completely understand.  This post is intended to demonstrate the pure mechanics of breathing and its relative complexity.  In addition, it becomes very clear that breathing isn't as simplistic as we like to think...or in some cases, not as simple as some people would like you to believe.  The reality is that respiration is a multi-faceted function that engages all of the architectural components (bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, fascia) of the body as well as the metabolic / systemic components (lungs, organs, brain).  This is best understood through the fundamental examination of the 4 diaphragms of the body.

The 4 Diaphragms:

1)  Cranial Diaphragm 
 It is well documented in Osteopathic studies that the central nervous system (CNS) has a certain "rhythmical motion" to it.  In other words, it has life and actually pulsates as a means to mobilze Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF).   This rhythmical movement is said to be intimately linked to cardiac rhythm and is profoundly affected by breathing patterns.  The cranial diaphragm is composed of differentiated connective tissues in the skull called the Falx Cerebrii and the Tentorum Cerebelli.

2) Cervical Diaphragm
The cervical diaphragm is composed of the tongue, the muscles of the hyoid bone, and scalene muscles.

3) Thoracic Diaphragm 
The most common and well-known diaphragm which separates the thoracic cage from the abdomen.

4) Pelvic Diaphragm
Found on the pelvic floor, it links the sacrum to the pelvis and is essentially a large "sheet" of specific muscles. 

In the above video, the 4 diaphragms work together in unison to contribute to the respiratory rythym which is fundamentally important for the proper function of the central nervous system, circulatory system, and critical metabolic / systemic functions.  This very informative video brings into focus the fundamental concept of fascial articulations as a valid consdieration as a true joint. The mechanical movement of the thoracic diaphragm mobilizes the abdominal viscera and therefore requires that the "disconnecting" lubricating physiological appearance of connective tissue is in place and healthy.

In addition, the mechanics of breathing require proper movement and passive excursion of the entire musculoskeletal system (elasticity of the ribcage, mobility of the sacrum between the iliac bones, division and segmentation of the clavicles from the first 3 ribs.  In addition, the impact of the thoracic diaphragm on the viscera stimulates and activates the pelvic diaphragm below.

The video essentially speaks for itself, therefore long paragraphs and a high "word count" isn't necessary.  However, I hope the overall message is relatively clear:  there is no possible way to disentangle the systemic from the architectural.  They are a symbiotic entity and therefore, by definition, depend on each other to ensure the homeostasis of the organism.  

I anticipate more informative posts as my look into respiratory mechanics continues and evolves...please stay tuned!



  1. Can breathing exercise in YOGA help children with CP?

    1. This is an intuitive question, but the proper response is much less so. The answer to this question is multi-layered and more complex...therefore it cannot be answered responsibly with a simple "yes or no". The reality with concepts such as Yoga (or specifically BREATHING exercises in Yoga) is that they are derived on the assumption that the respiratory structure (and therefore respiratory mechanics) are relatively "healthy". They do not take into consideration the deficit in thoracic volume, reduced elasticity in the thorax, weak abdominal drive, muscular weakness and dysfunction of the mouth and tongue, etc... Therefore, the question: "are breathing exercises helpful in a healthy individual"....yes they are. With a CP child, we need to remove this first incorrect assumption and explore the reality in a more broader light. If the child is classified as a Level 1 or Level 2 CP child (relatively mildly affected), then they are closer to what could be called "healthy" and therefore could benefit from some form of breathing exercises. However, when we get to Levels 3, 4, and 5...the structural restrictions render any "training benefits" unrealistic. In addition, breathing exercises have some fundamental pre-requisites: ability to respond to command, and the ability to complete specific exercises properly. If they child is non-verbal and/or has significant motor control challenges...breathing exercises become unproductive and unreliable.

      The relevance of the 4 Diaphragm post is to make the link between the structural and the systemic...meaning that the structural (architectural) performance needs to reach a critical point in order for the systemic competence to improve.

      I hope this answer makes some sense and resonates in some way. In summary, a multi-faceted and complex condition such as CP demands more expanded and specific questions. Therefore, the question should be better other words, significantly more information is needed: How old is the child? What Level are they? Are they verbal? Do they respond well to verbal command? Do they present significant structural deficit in the thorax? Do they demonstrate profound weakness in the abdomen? etc...

      It is important to remember that CP is manifest in a great many ways (spastic, athetoid, dystonic, paraplegic, hemiplegic, diplegic, etc...) therefore a "blanket" statement such as "yes, breathing exercises can help" is a grossly over-simplified answer.

      Again, I hope this has been insightful. Please feel free to inquire further if needed. Thanks for reading! Cheers.