enhance your breath

Enhance Your Breath & Support your Abdomen and Pelvic Floor by Opening Your Ribcage

As discussed on our previous post, Breath & the Pelvic Floor: Basic 360 Breath, true diaphragmatic breathing is essential for stress reduction, optimal digestion and to allow for proper reflexive core muscle activation and relaxation (including the pelvic floor). With our full thorax expansion or 360 breath pattern, it is necessary that our back line open and be available to accommodate changes in pressure. This is traditionally a more challenging place to direct the breath as we don’t see it as well and there are more boney pieces to move compared to the front. But that’s ok – we can work with that! These parts of our body were meant to move.

I’ll get you to stop for a moment, and just notice your breath…

Not changing anything, but noticing where the breath moves easily or maybe not so easily. Does it stay shallow or does it go deep? What is happening to your belly, pelvic floor, back lower ribs?

Fortunately, there are some excellent yoga postures to support back line expansion and allow your breath to open in a 360 directional pattern. Our focus for all 3 poses will be to enhance your breath from the inside out, towards the back and sides of your rib cage, taking it into new spaces where it may not traditionally go.

  1. Cat Cow: You can do this traditionally, flowing through cat and cow on each phase on the breath (inhale / exhale). For something different, try staying in one or the other (especially cat) for a few breaths and see how that feels and changes things in your body. You can also try some side bends and shifting weight forwards and back. Repeat 5-10 breaths or until your body starts craving something different.
    a. Inhale (cow): Opening the anterior line, look up and let tail lift up towards the sky, belly sags as you hinge in the lower back.
    b. Exhale (cat): Tuck the tail and head by thinking about bringing pubic bone to ribs, engaging the front line to release and open the back line. Play here for an even deeper opening of the back and sides of the ribs.
  2. Puppy pose: An easy transition from cat cow, keep hips high and allow your hands to walk forwards, melting chest and head down to the ground. There are LOTS of modifications for this pose to limit and back or shoulder pain (see video for some options). Where ever you land, breathe into the arms pits, back and sides of the ribcage and that space between the front of your shoulder blades where they sit on the back of our ribcage.
  3. Child’s pose: Keep your arms where they are in child’s pose and let your hips sink back to sit on top of your heels bringing you closer to the ground overall. Again, modify as you need with a pillow under the backs of your legs or a block either supporting your forehead and pelvis. Arms can be active or restful.
    a. Add a side bend: Keeping hips where they are, bring both hands, arms & head to one side of mat, breathing into the opposite side. Rest here, expanding your breath from the inside out to gently stretch. Rest here for a minute or longer and switch sides.

Focus on these stretches to allow rib cage movement, to help diaphragm expand which assists in pressure and optimization of pelvic floor movement and recruitment and to enhance your breath. There are of course MANY more poses, stretches and movements that can also assist with opening the back body. This is a place to start, so feel free to let these evolve into whatever else feels good and nourishing.

For full demonstrations of all stretches discussed above, along with modifications, please view
the video. Play around, have fun and see how you can enhance your breath.

Andrea Plitz Physiotherapist

Written by Andrea Plitz, Physiotherapist and Yoga Teacher. Andrea has a clinical focus in women’s health including applied pelvic health, complex orthopedics and concussion rehab. She currently lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Disclaimer – Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.