Of the ten structural integration massage sessions, the very first one is called the breathing session. This suggests the importance of breathing to all aspects of overall wellness. In this first session of structural integration massage therapy, we work with many of the muscles involved with breathing including the abdominals, the muscles of the chest, and even the diaphragm itself.
Our body’s system of breathing is intimately linked to our nervous system and to our cardiovascular system. It affects everything about how we feel. It’s so important to our health, and yet we often pay so little attention to it.
So let’s dig into the breathing system.
What muscles are involved in breathing?
The primary breathing muscle is called the diaphragm. This is the muscle that is primarily doing the “work” of breathing when we are in a relaxed state. You can see some nice images of the diaphragm muscle itself here.
Sometimes we need to put a little extra demand on the breathing system. Maybe we’re hiking up a steep hill or going for a run. In this case, the secondary breathing muscles kick in to help the diaphragm create more space on the inhale. The internal intercostal muscles are involved when the demand on the breathing system is higher as are the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck as well as a few others.
If you’re interested in more information on specifically what actually happens when we breathe, you can check out a good video on youtube HERE.
So now that we have an idea of what happens when we breathe, let’s do an exploration exercise to play with the experience of breathing a full breath.
- Find a place to sit. If your chair has a back, move forward so you are using your muscles to sit up in space, not leaning on the back of the chair. Sit with your sits bones firmly connected to your chair. Draw yourself up through the top of your head, so you feel you are sitting tall with your shoulders stacked over your hips.
- Now place your hands over your low belly and begin to breathe into your hands. Can you feel the belly expand on the inhale and relax towards the spine on the exhale? Take 5 breaths with your hands on your low belly.
- Now move your hands to the sides of your ribcage. Again begin to breathe into your hands. Can you feel the ribs expand into your hands on the inhale and relax on the exhale? Take 5 breaths with your hands on the sides of your ribcage.
- Now move your hands to your mid-back. Your hands are now on the back of your ribcage. Again begin to breathe into your hands. Can you feel the ribs expand into your hands on the inhale and relax on the exhale? Take 5 breaths with your hands on the back of your ribcage.
- Finally, move your hands one more time to the top of your chest, just below the collarbones. Again begin to breathe into your hands. Can you feel the ribs expand into your hands on the inhale and relax on the exhale? Take 5 breaths with your hands on the top of your chest.
What do you notice as you do this exercise? Are you aware of places where the breath feels constricted or less noticeable? Could you feel the ribcage expanding and contracting equally as you moved your hands?
As you remember from this past post on breathing, lots of things can get in the way of healthy breathing, from daily activities that shorten the breathing muscles to accidents to trauma. The first session of structural integration massage addresses exactly these things. The first session works on tissue through the whole abdominal area and chest, including the diaphragm itself, to support healthy breathing.
Are you interested in making more room to breathe in your life? Make a massage appointment!