“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”
– Maya Angelou
The best posture is your next posture
The typical way we are told to fix our posture is to stand up straight, lift your head, and throw your shoulders back. To maintain this position as the only way to gain true correct posture is very fatiguing and not evidence based.
Another common way we are told to improve posture is by strengthening our back muscles and stretching our anterior chest and shoulder muscles. Strength is a powerful tool to create postural changes. I would argue though that general strengthening is just as valid as targeting strength for specific postural muscles. So challenge yourself to be strong in many areas.
When it comes to changing your posture, move often and in a variety of ways. Incorporating breathing practices is another way to create postural change as it has an affect on stress, strength, and mobility.
Below is a video on ways to incorporate breathwork with postural mobility exercises.
Why breath work?
The diaphragm is a flat muscle that sits as a dome shape and lies in between our thoracic cavity and our abdominal cavity. When we inhale it lowers to make room for the oxygen entering our lungs. The lung expansion means our lower rib cage expands laterally, anteriorly, and posteriorly. When we exhale the rib cage narrows and the diaphragm returns to its resting position.
Breathing will always use the diaphragm muscle however shallow breathing refers to less expansion of the lower rib cage and a a short vertical rise on the upper rib cage along with a faster paced breath pattern.
Movement in a variety of different directions and positions can change the feeling of postural stiffness. Diaphragmatic breathing is another form of movement but from the inside out, thus creating change on how the body feels and moves.
One way to practice expansion with breathing is 360 breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing works on both the mobility of your thoracic cage through rib movement and the strength of your core due to its position as the roof of the core. Its activity as a core muscle works in conjunction with the transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, and the pelvic floor muscles. Read more here on the breath/ pelvic floor connection.
Core and pelvic floor function
Your core is not just your 6 pack abs. The core consists of muscles in the front of the abdomen, the back of the trunk, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor muscles.
Breathing is used widely as a strategy for creating change in pelvic floor dysfunction.
In a study testing the correlation of the pelvic floor muscles with the diaphragm, it was concluded that the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles have an equal co-contraction; use of one makes the other more efficient. The researchers explain, “Abdominal muscles like the pelvic floor and diaphragm contract together to protect the organs against the pressure…the pelvic floor muscles are indirectly involved in breathing.”
Breathing & Stress
One of the amazing qualities of the diaphragm is that it can improve both posture and stress. Yes, diaphragmatic breathing actually lowers your stress levels. There was a study out of Stanford that studied the effects of breath work in veterans suffering with PTSD. PTSD can be shown as a prime example of both emotional and physical tension. Breathwork is breathing with the diaphragm in specific patterns like inhale, hold, exhale. The results they found were amazing.
Through breathwork, the veterans experienced a calmer mind and a calmer body plus were able to reduce their medication. They were reported to have more focus and less reactiveness. How so? Not only through a better flow of oxygen to the brain and body but diaphragmatic breathing actually helps to reduce the fight or flight response of the body and enables the rest and digest response of our nervous system
Diaphragmatic breathing can improve your stress response, improving core and pelvic floor efficiency and improving spinal and trunk mobility. The breath is a pretty powerful tool.
Try slowing your breath to 6 breaths to minute