Diaphragm: Learn Your Muscles

The diaphragm is a muscle that lines the bottom of your rib cage and is essential to the respiration process. Without its help, you would feel short of breath and wouldn’t be able to project your voice.

Be advised though, before you go to learn more about this valuable muscle and Google “diaphragm,” there is another kind of diaphragm–and it doesn’t go in your rib cage. Make sure that you specify something like “diaphragm for breathing,” and you’ll avoid any conflicting information about what this is and where it goes.



Thanks to Yoga Anatomy for the image.

Think of the diaphragm as a parachute along the bottom of your rib cage. It has 3 points of origin. The sternal portion originates behind your xiphoid process. Your xiphoid process is the very bottom part of your sternum (breastbone). The costal portion originates on your lower 6 ribs and their costal cartilages. The lumbar portion originates on your upper 2 or 3 lumbar vertebrae.

The diaphragm inserts on itself via the central tendon, which is an oblong sheet. So, if your points of origin are all around the inside of your rib cage and part of your lumbar spine, the insertion must be on the muscle somewhere in the middle of your body cavity.


Let’s go back to thinking about the diaphragm being like a parachute along the bottom of your rib cage. This muscle forms the floor of your thoracic cavity. As you inhale, the diaphragm pulls its central tendon downward. This creates a larger volume in the thoracic cavity, allowing for a deeper breath. In fact, according to The Concise Book of Muscles, the diaphragm is responsible for producing about 60% of your breathing capacity.

This increased breathing capacity is particularly beneficial to actors, singers, teachers, and other people who need to project their voice.

Common Dysfunction

Given the function of the diaphragm, it stands to reason that if it were damaged or dysfunctional, your ability to take a deep breath would be impacted. Therefore, some signs of dysfunction might be shortness of breath, the feeling that you’re unable to fully inhale, or pain along the bottom of your rib cage.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

If you feel like you may have injured your diaphragm, please consult your doctor. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate imaging, therapy, and medication to help you get better.

However, if you’re in good health and simply wanting to find a way to strengthen your diaphragm, try creating a breathing practice. I believe Viloma, Kumbhaka, Chandra Bhedana, and Surya Bhedana would be particularly beneficial. Also, you could try diaphragmatic breathing.

A diaphragmatic breathing practice is very popular among many singers and actors. Here is a link to an article by the Cleveland Clinic that explains how to practice this breathing technique.

More Information

I consulted [easyazon_link identifier=”1623170206″ locale=”US” tag=”custpilandyog-20″]The Concise Book of Muscles[/easyazon_link] by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. I love this book as a quick go-to guide for easy to understand anatomy.

For those who are more interested in technical terminology and smaller muscles, I recommend [easyazon_link identifier=”1878576003″ locale=”US” tag=”custpilandyog-20″]Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards[/easyazon_link]. Any time a client comes to me with pain, I use these flash cards.

How do you strengthen your diaphragm? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.