Day 55: Torso and Breathing
The torso is home to many vital organs. Breathing in particular can be affected by rope in many ways. For some people this can be a great sensation, for others, it is a discomfort that can lead to a panic reaction. Getting a better understanding of the internal composition of the torso and exploring your own tolerance with chest restriction can give you great tools to enhance your play sessions.
If we simplify, we can look at the torso in two parts, in the middle, along the base of the rib cage is the dome-shaped diaphragm muscle. Above is the thoracic region where we find the heart and the lung. Below is the abdominal region with more vital organs such as the stomach, the small and large intestines, the liver, the pancreas, the gallbladder, the kidneys, the spleen, the bladder etc. All these essential organs are protected by bones and muscles with the spine as the structure that holds everything in place.
The rib cage is composed of seven pairs of true ribs that are directly attached to both the spine and the sternum making them the most solid. Then we have five pairs of false ribs, three of them are indirectly connected to the sternum by cartilage, and the two floating ribs are only attached to the back. We have to be mindful of which bones we are tying on when we add pressure as true ribs are much stronger than their lower counterparts. In between those, the intercostal muscles. We also find several muscles connected to the arm and shoulder such as the pectoral, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, serratus anterior for a very strong upper chest.
The abdominal region is more soft with the spine and several layers of abdominal muscles protecting the organs. The strength of the abdominal muscles can have a great impact on the ties. Strong engaged muscle will keep the body hard while relaxed muscle will make the belly more malleable.
On top of all that, skin, fat tissues and maybe breast tissue. This adds up to what we can shape with the rope. Pressure might feel great, in other contexts, it might feel like an unpleasant pulling, different directions may feel completely different for the same person, and each person is unique in this aspect.
In the middle of the chest, right below the sternum, the solar plexus or celiac plexus is a cluster of nerves and ganglia that connects several organs. A blow to this region may cause spasms in the diaphragm muscle which may be quite painful and interfere with the ability to breathe. This can be triggered when we combine shock and bulky knots on this spot. Rest and deep breathing are recommended in case of injury. On the spiritual side, this region is also known as the solar plexus chakra, the center of personality and personal power.
This is just an overview of the chest anatomy, check out the references to deepen your understanding of the chest.
[Coming soon, picture of the chest with the regions]
Risks of Interfering with Breathing
Inhalation provides our body with oxygen while exhalation removes waste from our system. Different rope bondage positions and techniques will influence the ability to breathe of the person who is tied.
The risks of completely blocking respiration are very high. Brain damage can occur when the body is completely deprived of air for 3 minutes, and death can occur after 6-8 minutes. We can mitigate these risks by never fully restricting breathing.
Partially restricting breathing will progressively increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood which decreases the blood pH (acidosis) and can cause headache, dizziness, sleepiness and can increase risks of seizure. Meanwhile, some research shows that slow, controlled breathing can actually be beneficial for the body. Some athletes do hypoventilation training to increase their physical capacity, this is not recommended for those with pulmonary or cardiovascular issues.
Should someone faint due to air restriction, immediately remove the obstruction, place them in a recovery position and contact medical emergency services if the person doesn’t wake up within a few seconds.
[Coming soon, picture of recovery position]
Certain physical conditions, panic reactions and emotional states can also cause hyperventilation. The person will start to breathe really fast. When someone exhales more than they inhale, it changes the balance of carbon dioxide in the body, affecting the blood circulation to the brain. This can cause tingling, dizziness and fainting. Because rope may combine breathing restriction and psychological impact making hyperventilation more common than many other types of play. Should it happen, remain calm, remove the rope and from there you can try to get the breathing under control with techniques such as breathing in a bag, holding breath for 10-15 seconds, or belly breathing. Consult a physician if this doesn’t resolve promptly or is a recurring problem.
Communication can be a challenge when breathing is difficult. Make sure you have a way to signal problems besides using your voice such as tapping or dropping an object. Exploring slowly, and having regular breaks to check-in are great ways to mitigate the risks.
Ties made to restrict breathing should always be made in a way that they are quick to remove in case of emergency.
The mechanics of breathing leverage some basic physic principles. When the volume of the thoracic region expands, the air pressure goes down which transfers the air to the lung from the outside. When the chest retracts, this causes the air pressure in the chest to get higher than the outside, which creates the exhale. The lungs don’t function as a vacuum, but rather like a bag that we fill with air by stretching it.
To achieve this motion, the diaphragm is the key muscle that controls breathing. It works in combination with other muscles to expand and contract the thoracic cavity. It can combine with the intercostal muscles to expand the top of the chest, this is often called chest breathing. Alternatively,we can use the abdominal muscles to use the belly breathing.
Other muscles are also involved in the breathing process. When using the intercostal muscles to expand the chest, the abdominal muscle will act as a stabilizer for the abdominal region and vice versa. The pelvic floor lifts and stabilizes the abdominal region and the voice diaphragm can contract to create a larger passage for air movement. Other chest, neck and back muscles can also contribute to expand the chest.
The mechanics of breathing can be both conscious and unconscious. Unlike our heartbeat and digestive system, we have some control over the rhythm of breathing, and which muscles we use. Inhaling is an active mechanic while exhale is mostly passive. We can also contract the body to actively exhale, such as when blowing on a candle.
Beyond the chest, the air comes in from the upper airways via either the mouth or the nose and then travels through the respiratory tree to the lungs. We have to be mindful of obstruction that can occur higher up as well when breathing restriction is involved. We’ll continue to look at this part of respiration on Day 56.
[Coming soon, picture of chest and belly breathing]
Restricting Respiration with Rope
When we compress the torso with rope, tying the top of the chest will limit the use of intercostal muscles while tying the belly tightly restricts the abdominal muscle. Tying one will force the person tied to adjust their breathing and tying both will significantly reduce their ability to breathe.
[Coming soon, picture of chest compression]
Breathing restriction can also be positional. When we bend forward, the organs in the belly get compressed against the diaphragm. When we bend backward and bring the arms to the back, the abdominal and chest muscles are stretched and it becomes difficult to exhale. This is why positions like the shrimp tie and the hogtie affect breathing, and this might be an important aspect of their popularity.
[Coming soon, picture of positional restriction]
We can increase our breathing control with practice. It requires concentration, being present, in the moment and can become very meditative. I like to visualize the different muscles involved in the breathing mechanic when I do so. Normal-paced conscious breathing is good to regulate the body, and this is how we should breathe most of the time. Slowing breathing can have a calming effect, reducing the heart rate. Very rapid breathing can do the opposite and be very stimulating. We shouldn’t abuse slow and fast breathing as they have an impact on the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body.
Conscious breathing is important for both the person tying and the person being tied, it is quite common to hold our breath when we make a significant effort, which can cause unnecessary stress.
How you breathe can completely change a rope experience. It can also be very panicky to lose control over our own breathing, explore progressively to find the limit of your own body and mind. Establish a communication strategy, and regularly take breaks to check in as it may be difficult to talk when we interfere with breathing. There is not a single perfect technique to breathe, and rather a variety of ways that we can choose among depending on context.
Use a rope to progressively add pressure on the torso to find the limits of discomfort and explore how this affects breathing.
- Try at different locations (upper chest, mid-chest, floating ribs, belly)
- Try different methods to add tension in a chest harness: reverse tension, adding tension to previous ropes, inserting objects etc.
- What happens when several parts of the torso are compressed at the same time? (upper chest, shoulder, waist)
- Have the person tied up attempt to breathe using different accessory muscle,
- Try communicating in different ways to signal a problem (voice, tapping, hand signal, head movement etc.)
- Does it make a difference if you apply the compression when the lungs are full or empty?
- How does engaging the muscle affect breathing?
- Try different body positions, bending in front, back bending, how does it impact the capacity to breathe?
- Is there a point where the amount of pressure makes the experience unpleasant?
- It is safer to play with solo chest compression if you have someone with you in case of an emergency. If you don’t, make sure you keep some space for breathing.
Inspirations and Resources
- Control of Breathing by Rebecca Dezube
- Change Your Breath, Change Your Life by Lucas Rockwood
- The Science Of Yogic Breathing by Sundar Balasubramanian
- The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human by Marc A. Russo, Danielle M. Santarelli, and Dean O’Rourke
- The Science of Breathing by Sarah Novotny and Len Kravitz
- Why Am I Having Trouble Breathing? By Judith Marcin
- What to Know About Hyperventilation: Causes and Treatments by Debra Sullivan
- Breathing on Wikipedia
- Hypoventilation on Wikipedia
- Hyperventilation on Wikipedia