MIDL for Teachers

The Diaphragm & Mindful Diaphragm Breathing

As mentioned earlier in the articles on the stress response, one of the main factors that can affect a child's ability to settle, focus and their emotional stability is the correlation between the locking of the diaphragm, change in breathing patterns and lowering of C02 levels during stressful situations. 

If this stress response becomes habituated then because of its tightening and disengagement from the breathing process there can be a lowering of the range of movement of the diaphragm muscle itself. This shortening of its range of movement then means that within itself, the diaphragm muscle will not be able to move slowly enough to draw in enough air to sustain life. This then means a falling back on using stress-chest breathing and embedding the stress cycle.

In understanding how the diaphragm draws air into the lungs we need to understand that this is done by creating a vacuum.  The diaphragm is a dome like structure of muscle fibre that sits at the base of our rib cage. Its task is to contract downward into our belly to create a vacuum to draw air into our lungs and to return back again to expel the air. 

Our diaphragm needs to move slowly

Since a vacuum is needed to draw air into our lungs it can only happen while either the diaphragm is moving or our chest is moving. If our diaphragm muscle is weak and moves downwards too quickly, since air is being drawn in through the small holes within our nose and windpipe, the vacuum will be too short to fill our lungs with air. 

Also if the upwards movement of our diaphragm is too quick it will expel the air too fast and cause hyperventilation. Both these weaknesses lead to chest and mouth breathing becoming our natural breathing pattern.

On the other hand, when the stress response is not turned on our diaphragm engages within our belly and our breathing happens autonomously, triggered by our brain and can be experienced as the gentle movement of the diaphragm within our belly. This autonomous breathing has a calming effect and is a sign that there is no mental resistance within our mind. 

If our stress response has been turned on for a long period of time, then because of the weakening of our diaphragm due to hyperventilation and a developed habit of breathing from our chest, autonomous diaphragm breathing needs to be retrained to remove the hyperventilation and turn off the stress response. 

This training for re-engagement of autonomous breathing is part of the MIDL system. Through practicing it daily for a couple of weeks there is a noticeable change in breathing patterns and a settling of stress based symptoms.

This article was written by Stephen Procter, The Mindfulness Alliance Foundation. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference/link back to this website, thank you.