Leonardo da Vinci, the Diaphragm and Students of the Internal Arts


Simply by breathing, we rejoice in prana.

In the Yoga discipline of deep breathing (pranayama) the diaphragm due to its structural location acts as a regulator of respiration and is one of the prime movers of the life force called prana.  Prana is the animating energy in the body.

You might say that the diaphragm is the centerpiece of the body whose main function is to conduct a fluid kinetic flow of energy through the body sparking life into every fiber, cell and synapse.

Through the controlled rhythm of the yogic breath this dynamic diaphragmatic pump with it’s expansion and contraction motion can organize the respiratory system and bodily organs giving positive repercussions and sustainable bodily health.

Perhaps the best way to visualize and sense the diaphragm is to imagine the body of a jellyfish, with their umbrella-like hoods floating in the current or pulsating and orchestrating the organs in a symphonic rhythm throughout the thoracic and abdominal viscerals.

The large double-dome has two asymmetrical hemispheres, the right dome being larger and higher do the placement of the liver underneath and the left side do to the placement of the heart on top. 

In da Vinci’s drawing you my see the ruffled edges of our respiratory diaphragm they rise and fall giving elasticity of the outer rim that moves with each breath while the rigid central movement you see in the drawing is minimal. 

7 organs: the lungs, heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, spleen and pancreas all surround and attach via ligaments creating a vital symbiotic bond. It is attached at the lumbordorsal junction of T12 – L1 and converge onto the powerful fibrous complex of the central tendon.  

Its movements along with those of the organs and vessels that intersect it are always continuous and cooperative moving in response to positive and negative pressures between the abdomen and the chest often activated by the movement of the breath.  

If the organs are healthy and unrestricted in heir mobility they will slide against one another as part of an orchestrated wobble, but chronic abdominal tension can also block the natural form of the belly altering this orchestration of the diaphragmatic breath. 

A skilled practitioner who is disciplined in the internal art of pranayama, can to some extent, isolate the movements of the right and left domes of the diaphragm by manipulating their right or left nostrils (nadi sodhana) using various equal or unequal ratios, holds on the inhale or the exhale and coupled with extended number of repetitions.   

The Yogis often use these centuries-old methods of shifting the breath ratios to kick-start the vagus nerve and to stimulate the “rest and digest” influence of their parasympathetic nervous systems. 

The next time you experience a rush of anxiety or fear, carefully observe the way stress affects your chest, measure the rise or fall or the gripping of the barrel of your chest and how it is dictated by the movement of the diaphragm, notice too the feeling of your abdominal organs as in a “gut reaction”.

Begin to contemplate the dynamics of the diaphragm and the diaphragmatic breath as the central action, that distils the rarefied prana, provoking the body/mind complex, for it is this association that becomes none other than consciousness (citta) itself.

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you” Shri T Krishnamacharya




Pam Johnson