Our lungs sit like an upside-down balloon inside the cage formed by our ribs, and as we breathe in and our upside-down balloon expands, the lower ribs are pushed outward in all directions.
As ribs recoil back to their resting place, the air comes out of lungs with no effort on our part. The ribs attach to the spine in the back, so with every breath, the joints of the thoracic spine are massaged and lubricated, which helps keep our mid to upper back healthy and mobile.
If you tend to feel stiff in your mid back, place your hands around your lower ribcage, thumbs to the back so you can monitor the back of the balloon, and observe your breathing. Feel for the movement in your hands and your thumbs. There should not be much rise at the chest.
If your thumbs are not moving much, try kneeling down on the floor, so that your chest is resting comfortably on your thighs (Child’s Pose for the yoga affectionados) and your head is on the floor. (If this position is hard on your knees, place a pillow between your lower legs and your buttocks.)
With your abdomen squished like that, it becomes much easier to feel the breath going into your back. Become aware of the ribcage movement. If this is an unusual feeling for you, do this frequently until breathing into your back feels normal.
When you come back to standing, try and get the same feeling of the air pushing gently on your lower ribs in the back and sides, not by breathing more air, but by breathing down the back of your throat and placing the air into the lower lobes of your lungs. Let the air come out by itself – don’t help by tightening your abdominals.
In standing, you may find it helpful to lightly wrap a piece of theraband elastic around your lower ribs, so that you can feel the ribs stretch the elastic in the back and sides.
Then, whenever you remember, practice breathing into your lower ribs, so that your brain learns to do this naturally. Breathing correctly can do wonderous things for your health, so taking time for the journey is very worthwhile!
Lee, Diane; Post Partum Health for Moms; An Instructional and Exercise Class for Restoring the Core Video; Diane G Lee Physiotherapy Corp.; Surrey BC, Canada.
Farhi, Donna; The Breathing Book Henry Holt and Company Inc., New York, 1996.