By Jill Miller
Are you proud of your posture? Or do you feel a bit slumpy? Did your mom tell you to sit up straight? Does she still cajole you?
I’m on your mom’s side! Most people do not pay enough attention to their daily posture and everyday movement habits, and it can have long-term health consequences if left unimproved. I see postural issues daily in myYoga Tune Up® classrooms. And as a self-proclaimed “posture princess,” I want to motivate you to make better choices to improve your carriage.
The link between breathing and posture
Despite her great advice, what your mom might not have realized is that your breath and posture are undeniably intertwined. Good posture cannot happen if the breath is trapped, restricted or underused. But first, let’s get to the bare bones of “bad posture.”
Bad Posture: Holding your body structure inefficiently with respect to gravity as it relates to the task at hand in stillness or motion.
What’s more, your posture directly impacts the way your body breathes. Excess pressure on the body’s respiratory diaphragm and intercostal muscles alter the ability of those muscles to dynamically contract and lengthen to their fullest. Ever heard the term “chest breather”? This implies that a person is not fully using their diaphragm and has limited their breath’s movements to the rib cage, neck and shoulder muscles that kick in to help the body breathe when the diaphragm fails. A chest breather’s posture will alter over time to accommodate the habit of “bad breath.”Bad posture follows you around like a shadow. It shows up in the way you stand while cooking breakfast, waiting in line, or working at your desk, in your form while you exercise, within your yoga routines and even in the way you sleep. This shadow continues to grow more “shady” the more we ignore our body position. Our physical structure begins to adapt to our inefficient position and over time we can develop chronic aches and pains that are directly related to how we carry ourselves in the world.
On the flip side, simply slouching as a postural habit can give you shortness of breath, as can the habit of popping one hip out to the side all the time. As tension builds up in core and spinal muscles surrounding your breathing muscles, unwelcome spasms can occur that further alter the possibilities of a full breath.
That’s why improving your breath’s agility goes hand-in-hand with your postural ability.
Redefine your spine: Breathe into your back
The spine is intimately connected with the respiratory diaphragm, and understanding their symbiotic relationship will help steer your posture improvement in the right direction. The diaphragm is a parachute-shaped muscle that lines the lower six ribs and the last six vertebrae of thoracic spine. (The thoracic spine has 12 vertebrae, all of which attach to ribs.) The diaphragm also hooks into the front side of most of the lumbar (low back) bones.
Organizing these bones and toning the diaphragm helps rearrange the tension patterns of the spine from the inside-out and provides a more efficient lattice for the diaphragm to elongate and contract upon.
The following exercise targets the back of the diaphragm and the spinal bones and joints that connect with this most important breath muscle.
1. Lie on your back and place two grippy Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls (or you can substitute tennis balls) along the left side of the spine in the mid-back region.
2. Breathe slowly into the ribs and rock from side-to side and allow the balls to massage in towards the rib joints. Do this for 1-2 minutes on left side of spine, then switch sides. Next, move the balls slightly lower or slightly higher along the thoracic spine and ribs and repeat.
How it works:
This exercise uncorks tension along the upper back and spine so that the spinal bones regain fluidity and mobility. This frees up trapezius, rhomboids, erectors and intercostal tension, mobilizes rib joints, spinal joints, and posterior diaphragm rib connections, and massages deep back musculature.
For an even more detailed explanation of this exercise, please see the brief video I made with my colleague Dr. Kelly Starrett. And for additional exercises to improve your posture, check out my newest video, Coregeous.