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Release Your Diaphragm with Essential Oils

By Jodi Cohen

Your diaphragm – a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs – is your main breathing muscle.

Your diaphragm is also one of the main respiratory pumps for your lymphatic system.

When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and flattens and your chest cavity enlarges. This contraction creates a vacuum, which pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and returns to its domelike shape, and air is forced out of your lungs.

You might think of your diaphragm as the engine for your breath – the large, strong core muscle in the center of your torso that moves all the time as you breathe. Picture an open umbrella below your stomach attaching to the bottom of the ribs all the way round. When you inhale, your diaphragm moves out and downwards, just like an umbrella opens and gets bigger, which pulls your breath in. When you exhale, your diaphragm moves in and upwards, like an umbrella slightly closing and moving up, which forces your breath out again.

If your diaphragm is tense it will stay pulled up, tight and closed which restricts your breathing making it hard to get a deep breath in. When your diaphragm is tense and tight this will lead to tension in the stomach which is right beside it.

In addition to enhancing physical flexibility and respiratory movement, your diaphragm enables emotional flexibility. Breath is correlated to your ability to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and adapt. The act of breathing helps support your physical and emotional resilience, both by delivering nutrient rich oxygen to the cells and expelling waste, but also by helping to stimulate the vagus nerve which enervates the diaphragm.

Releasing your diaphragm may help “contribute to the transformation of physical and emotional habit patterns; which, although protective, may be limiting,” according to a study on The Role of the Diaphragm in Self-Awareness and Transformation.  The study found that “facilitating the release of the diaphragm helped to free the natural breath… A released diaphragm indicates an inner sense of safety and increased relaxation and contributes to the transformation of physical and emotional habit patterns; which, although protective, may be limiting our full potential.”  The study also found that the “pattern of our breathing is also influenced by the emotional centers located in the brain’s limbic system. The emotional pathway connects with the respiratory control center in the brain stem and travels through the phrenic nerves to the diaphragm.”

In addition to helping you breathe, your diaphragm increases pressure inside your abdomen, which helps move blood and lymphatic fluid, improve digestive, renal, adrenal, liver, uterine, ovarian, pelvic floor, bowel and bladder function.  When your diaphragm is relaxed and moving freely, it works harmoniously with the respiratory system and nervous system, helping to improve sleep, reduce stress, enhance concentration and improve digestion.


What Contributes to Diaphragm Constriction?

There are a range of issues that can contribute to your diaphragm muscle constricting and limiting the oxygen from entering your lungs which may contribute to symptoms like backaches, digestive issues, fatigue and headaches, including:

  • Stress
  • Poor posture
  • Injury
  • Excessive coughing
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Extreme activities

Stress, in particular, makes the diaphragm muscle tighten.  As you may know, your muscles are controlled by the nervous system and the brain. When your nervous system perceives a threat, it prepares to fight or flee by signaling your muscles to tense up.


Release Your Diaphragm with Essential Oils

One of the keys to releasing the diaphragm is engaging in diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, with can help you relax and strengthen the diaphragm muscle and increase oxygen intake and lung efficiency.

Inhaling specific essential oils blends in conjunction with your diaphragmatic breathing practice can further enhance results.  The natural expectorant properties of many essential oils can help open up airways to allow oxygen to flow more freely through the respiratory system.

Research has found that when the aroma from essential oil is inhaled, it activates a part of your limbic system – a section of your brain responsible for behaviors, emotions, long-term memory, and sense of smell. The limbic system plays a role in creating memories and modulating certain physiological functions, like heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

For example, Cypress essential oil gives energy to improve circulation and bring energy to the diaphragm to support the release of constriction and tension.  Cypress creates flexibility and supports letting go of stagnant energies to help you release the past.  Cypress essential oil is especially helpful when you are feeling mentally or emotionally stuck, stiff, rigid or tense or feel the need to control or force things in life, rather than allowing them to unfold naturally, Cypress encourages us to cast aside our worries and let go of control so we can experience trust in the flow of life.  Just smelling Cypress can help create a feeling of security and grounding to help enhance emotional flexibility.

On the physical level, Cypress oil is known to clear up congestion and eliminates phlegm that builds up in the respiratory tract and lungs. The oil calms the respiratory system and works as an antispasmodic agent.  Essential oils, like Cypress, can be warming in nature which helps them enhance blood flow and improve circulation by relaxing the blood vessels and supporting the health of the blood vessels.

Natural compounds, like essential oils, possess unique chemical constituents that support therapeutic properties. For example, essential oils can act as vasodilators, meaning they increase the size of blood vessels. This helps more blood circulate through them, improving circulation in the process. Essential oils can also be used to help the veins contract, stimulating blood flow. Essential oils may also help alleviate some of the triglycerides that can form and restrict blood flow.

Essential oils may also help release your diaphragm by relaxing the smooth muscles with additional blood flow. Plant compounds, including the highly concentrated essence of plants found in essential oils, have been shown to help the veins contract, stimulating blood flow.

Breathing is in charge of cleansing as much as 70% of the toxins from your body with the release of carbon dioxide as you exhale. It basically helps the lymphatic system detoxify the body. And by improving blood oxygenation to allow more efficient absorption of essential nutrients and vitamins, deep breathing also protects the body from bacteria, viruses and other illnesses.

Better oxygen supply significantly improves the quality of your blood. The more life-enhancing oxygen that is in the blood, the more energy you have, and the better your body functions. Deep breathing also improves the blood flow to your muscles, so increasing physical strength, stamina and drive.

The following essential oil blends may help you to release your diaphragm.



Formulated to support healthy circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the body and the brain, including Cypress, while simultaneously carrying toxins and waste to the kidney and liver to be eliminated. The Circulation™ blend contains a proprietary formulation of organic and/or wild crafted essential oils that work synergistically to support healthy circulation and blood flow to the body and the brain.

READ THIS NEXT: Essential Oils for Circulation


Fascia Release™

All the diaphragm muscle is fascia.  Fascia Release™ is formulated with Lavender oil which is known for its calming and soothing effects. Lavender is known to help relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation, which can indirectly support flexibility.  Cypress allows for improved flexibility and resilience.  Frankincense helps calm your nervous system and support mental flexibility.  Black pepper and Rosemary oil are stimulating and invigorating which may help improve circulation and alleviate muscle tension, which can support flexibility.



Your diaphragm is one of our main respiratory pumps for the lymphoid system and diaphragmatic breathing has a vital role in the lymphatic system. Since Lymph nodes do not have their own muscular layer, they must rely on pressure changes to empty their contents. Diaphragmic breathing helps change the intra-abdominal pressure, which causes a “wringing” effect on the lymph nodes, which stimulates flow.  You can enhance this flow by topically applying Lymph™ blend.  To enhance lymphatic flow and drainage, liberally apply 2 to 3 drops of Lymph™ over the lymphatic organs and key lymph nodes located under the arms, over the diaphragm and around inguinal ligament (bikini line area—think where your leg creases when you lift it) to ensure optimal drainage and health.



The vagus nerve passes right through the diaphragm, so when you are stimulating the diaphragm, you are also stimulating the vagus nerve.  You can also stimulate the vagus nerve by topically applying Parasympathetic® essential oil on the vagus nerve behind the mastoid bone to stimulate and release the diaphragm.


You can apply oils over the diaphragm or inhale directly from the bottle and practice the following diaphragmatic breathing exercises:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  4. Tighten your stomach muscles, so that your stomach moves back in, as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.