Before I tell you about my homework, I want to take you back in time. These memories are what comes to mind when I think about diaphragmatic breathing. When I was in the 4th grade, my Mother came home from work one day with an ad in the newspaper (yes, newspapers were still around back then haha) that listed tryout times for a local children’s community chorus. This was an organization sponsored by the city at large and not affiliated with my elementary school. At the dinner table, she announced that I was going to audition the following week and handed me the ad. I was stunned.
Me: Um, audition? Sing in front of people? Why? Noooooo!!!!!
Mom: Yes, you are.
Me: But Dad? Please no!!!
Dad: Your Mother says this will be good for you. You should expand your horizons. I’m out of it.
Me: But I don’t know how to sing!
Mom: You will learn. Eat your dinner.
A week later we were in the hallway of the College of Fine Arts auditorium, and I made one last plead to go home. Mom sat there reading her newspaper and ignored me. Minutes later my name was called. Palms sweating, I followed the Choir Director into a room with choir risers, music sheets, and a beautiful black piano. She said my name was lovely and asked if I had singing experience. I answered “No.” She smiled as she hit a key on the piano and said repeat after me “Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-doooooo,” I tried it. Not very good. I was ready to bolt.
She stepped toward me and asked “May I?” as she pointed to my tummy. I nodded. With a finger she barely poked my tummy and told me to breath in pushing my tummy all the way out and then fill my chest with air without my shoulders rising. “Good job,” she said. “Now breathe out.”
“We use our diaphragm in singing,” she informed me. We do? Diaphragm? What’s that? I tried this a few times and on the last go she said, “Now again. Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-dooooo.” My singing was much louder and clearer. I smiled. Even I could tell the difference. She smiled with approval. She fixed my posture and again with the breathing exercises. Again repeating different notes on the scale as she hit various piano keys.
At home Dad asked me how it went. I said, “Well, she sounded like Mary Poppins and made me breathe a lot. Like this.” I poked him in the stomach.
The next day Mom and Dad got the call that I was in, and I spent the next two years diaphragmatic breathing as I sang, learned about people like Bach and Strauss, and sometimes sang in French and German. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my childhood. I was 9 yrs old when I learned about the power of diaphragmatic breathing.
Why does this matter over 3 decades later? This pesky lymphedema.
Breathing for Lymphatic Health
Research studies suggest that diaphragmatic breathing alone reaps all kinds of health benefits including activating the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is mostly about your gut, and your diaphragm helps kick it into gear. I don’t know all the medical stuff, but really smart people study this. I knew about breathing benefits in terms of delivering oxygen to your blood cells, but I didn’t know about the lymphatic system benefits.
CDT is a little scary for first time Lymphies. Hopefully your CLT is giving you suggestions to try at home. You can be out of your comfort zone for sure with the wraps and everything else thrown at you. My first assignment for this CDT round is deep breathing and truncal stretching. Last Thursday when I was all excited about the new patient intake form with the pain question, I was told to breathe for at least 30 minutes per day. Cue Choir Director flashbacks. Sounds weird huh? I mean we breathe all day long without giving it any thought. It can be difficult to carve out time to deliberately do and get started. I need to get my truncal swelling down though, and this is one of the best tools to have in the LE toolbox.
Note – While most people recommend yoga or pilates, I’m not a yoga pro so I can’t speak to it from personal experience.
Some little hacks I already had in my Lymphie toolbox are as follows.
Break out your karaoke machine. Don’t laugh! Around the house and in the car, my jams are pumped up! These days my voice is terribly off key, but I’m working on that 4th grade training again. Can you picture me twirling around my living room Mary Poppins style? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Why does lymphedema homework have to be boring? For songs I know all the words to, it has to be 80’s or 90’s music. A side benefit is that it embarrasses my son. Hehe
Lung Fitness Gadgets
A group member in one of my Facebook groups told me back in 2016 about some gadgets you can get on Amazon to work on lung fitness. Remember that time you had surgery, and the respiratory therapist walked in with this thing? Don’t throw it away! It can help you as a deep breathing exerciser.
This next gadget is used by some runners to improve fitness. Search on YouTube for videos. This is what I have been using lately.
Both of these things are experimental and anecdotal of course, but I like them. Don’t judge.
More Breathing Advice
This week I turned to Kathleen Lisson CMT, CLT for her thoughts and tips on diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a really clever hack for moving lymph through our lymphatic system. Unlike sitting around in a pump or practicing self-MLD (which are both essential), we can switch from breathing shallowly to breathing deeply and using our diaphragm anytime and anywhere, and no one will be able to tell!
The first question – am I doing it right? Many people will tell you to focus on pushing your belly out as you breathe. This is good advice, but I have found that it’s much easier to train breathing when we are lying down. An easy way to really experience what diaphragmatic breathing feels like is to lay down on our back with bent knees and pile some books on our tummy, right over our belly button. For a child, use a stuffed animal. Focus on moving the books or teddy bear up and down as we breathe. I found that it was a little harder than I thought it was going to be and did really train my body to breathe by moving my diaphragm.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also built into some movement practices that are good for getting lymph moving, like Qi Gong. I find that smelling or diffusing Frankincense essential oil helps to increase my deep breathing as well.
I talk more about diaphragmatic breathing in my book ‘Swollen, Bloated and Puffy,’ and for a deep dive into breathing, I recommend reading ‘Breathe’ by Dr. Belisa Vranich. — Kathleen Lisson CMT, CLT
Books on my belly button? Why didn’t I think of that? So simple, easy, and CHEAP. I’m going to try this out, and I’m also on the hunt for a Qi Gong class and the book called “Breathe.” It’s always good to get a fresh perspective on what others recommend.
Results So Far
The combination of breathing, changes in eating, and MLD already have my system detoxing hard. This was a phenomenon that I had not experienced prior to CDT for the trunk in 2016. I literally feel my trunk detoxifying. It’s kind of like you are coming down with the flu but with no cough or fever. A general feeling of tiredness, irritability, and some aches. I go to the restroom A LOT and have been drinking water and hot herbal teas to replenish. The good news is it’s a great sign my lymph is moving. You know what they say. Mom is always right. I can hear her voice saying, “You will learn. Eat your dinner.”
Do you have any tips for diaphragmatic breathing? Please share them below.
Wishing you awesome lymphatic health,