An Anatomy Lesson from Orphan Black

There are certain facts that we all agree on: Two plus two is four. Your heart is on the left side of your body.  Donald Trump will ruin diplomatic relations.  Orphan Black is one of the best shows on TV right now.  Orphan-Black-007

It’s been over a year since one of the Ninjas recommended the show, so Katie and I finally started the show last week.  Timely, I know.  We’ve been checking out an episode each night, and matched our turkey and TV binging this weekend.  We started the second season last night, and one thing is confirmed:

Tatiana Maslany is the most talent actor I’ve ever seen.

She’s played at least 7 characters so far, and at several times they’ve impersonated each other.  You can actually SEE the differences between each of them, as well as the depth of impersonation.  It’s incredible work.


While I’m drawn into the show, we learned something last night about one of these characters.  One of the characters, Helena, gets shot point blank in the left side of her chest.  After she was effectively kidnapped from the, the doctors realized something: Helena’s heart is on the right side of her body.


I know, it’s freaky, right?  For the record, this is what a normal set of lungs and heart look like:


So it’s backwards, and very uncommon.  The vast majority of us look like the bottom set of lungs, with our heart on the left side of our body.  To make room for that lefty heart, the left lung have two sections, called lobes, while the right lung has three lobes.  We’re using the space we’ve got.  Make sense?

To help our lungs due their job, the diaphragm helps them move up and down.  Meet your diaphragm:


Can you see the difference in height from one side to the other?  That difference matters.  If we look from the top down, we can see more asymmetry:


If you look closely, right in front of the spine, you’ll see a section of the diaphragm twist over itself.  It’s a small asymmetry, with huge implications.  Consider the small amount of pull from that tiny little section of muscle, then multiply it by the number of breaths that you take in a minute, during your workout, throughout your day… That adds up quick in the weeks, months, and years of our lives.

Over time, the diaphragms position amongst the lower ribs and thoracolumbar junction causes pull of such significance that it actually rotates our position.  Below you’ll find an example of a rotated ribcage, and a rotated pelvis.



These examples are certainly easier to see, and you might not have any visible difference of your own.  That doesn’t mean that you’re immune to diaphragmatic pull.  (<- That could be a super villian!)

This inherent asymmetry is one of the things that we’re currently considering in the world of training.  It’s impossible to be symmetrical; your heart won’t magically be centered one day.  While we can’t change our structure, we can change what we do about it.

Positional breathing is popular in well-designed programs right now, and for good reason: It helps us bring awareness to our asymmetries, and mitigate their effects.  That’s right, simply focusing on your breath can effect our position and affect our mood.  I’ve got three of my favorite breathing resets for you to include in your own warm-up, cool-down, or day-to-day activities.

Here’s some Belly Lift Breathing:

Here’s an example of the 90/90 Hip Lift from NYC-based physical therapist Aaron Swanson:

And here’s an example of deep squat breathing from anatomy wizard Eric Cressey.  Shoutout to Kyle for being Eric’s model:

These three positional breathing drills are some of the most popular from the Postural Restoration Institute, and while a full-blown assessment would best tell you what’s the most appropriate, I believe we can all benefit from using one of these three to build awareness and appreciation for how our bodies have evolved.

The inherent asymmetry of our diaphragm isn’t something we can change, but it’s something we can be aware of.  This awareness can inform our training choices, and something as simple as a positional breathing drill can reduce a bit of the inherent rotation we all have.  Give it a try and let me know how you feel!

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