Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”
– Maya Angelou
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.
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.
Diaphragmatic breathing is generally described as the opposite of shallow breathing. Shallow breathing refers to less expansion and more of a shallow vertical rise on the upper rib cage.
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.
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.
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. To dive in to this more, check out this article on why breathing is better than kegels.
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.”
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 a few years ago out of Stanford that studied the effects of breathe 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.
The fight or flight response is necessary, but we don’t want to live there continually. We need to stop thinking of posture as only a mechanical issue and consider that chronic stress can affect postural tension much more than maintaining a specific “poor position”.
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.