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Free Your Ribs and the Breath Will Follow

Maybe you’ve recovered from Covid and have some lingering breathing issues, perhaps you have Asthma, or allergies that affect your respiratory system. Or maybe, you just want a deeper understanding of breath to enhance your yoga or Pilates experience. Whatever landed you here, you can breathe easy (dad jokes are kinda my thing, and I’m not sorry) knowing that you’ll take away some useful tools for a fuller breath.

There is a ton of available and important information on lung health on the interwebs, but one piece that seems to be missing is how the movement of the rib cage, and more specifically the tension in the tissue in between and around the ribs, can affect your ability to take in a full inhale and release a full exhale. At the bottom of this blog is a short movement exploration to explore and let go of rib tension.

But first, breathing for a beginner’s mind. Inhale, the lungs expand and the diaphragm contracts down. Exhale, the lungs deflate and the diaphragm releases and domes up. Notice, in the video above, how the ribs (in a healthy breath) follow the movement of the lungs and diaphragm, expanding in all directions with the inhale, and how they soften and hug back in with the exhale. Obviously, there’s a lot more going on, but I think it’s useful to keep it simple for now.

When your ribs are sticky and held, it is impossible to feel a full breath.

The good news is: It’s easy to release rib tension on your own, all you need is a towel and a mat*. Find a comfortable place to lay down, and roll up a towel. Your roll may be thick or thin, depending on what feels appropriate for your body. You want to be able to relax both your head and your pelvis. A small pillow under your head may feel good.

Start with noticing your breath, and observing any tension you feel when you breath. I talk about being a curious observer of your own body here if you need a refresher.

The movement is simple. With the towel at your mid back, press into one foot at a time to weight shift into each side of your rib cage. You're looking for places that feel hot, hard or tender. Give these places a bit more attention, try melting into the towel rather than resisting. Now move the towel to your side ribs and eventually your front ribs (just below the breasts). In these places, you'll use your hands to weight shift and release the sticky places. Finally, sit up or stand up and take a breath. Is your inhale fuller with less force? Is your exhale longer and softer? Maybe your breath simply feels more relaxed.

I hope you can use this tool in your daily practice, and especially when you're feeling shortness or challenged breathing. Please reach out here if you have any questions, or need a modification for anything you see in the video. I’m always happy to hear from you!

*if getting down on the floor is challenging you can do these exercises on your bed, you just may need to use more than one towel, or a foam core roller, to feel enough pressure.


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