Editor’s Note: Join Dana Santas for a four-part series to learn how you can breathe better to live better. Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.” Here’s Part II.
In the first article of our series, we established why breathing is your superpower, impacting virtually all aspects of your health and wellness. In this second installment, we take a closer look at how breathing can improve your posture, enhance your mobility, and relieve common aches and pains. I also share the same positional breathing exercises used by Yankees All-Star outfielder Aaron Judge and other professional athletes.
You might be wondering how exercises I use with pro athletes relate to you. In my extensive study of breathing biomechanics with the Postural Restoration Institute, I subscribed to its philosophy that “we’re all athletes in some form.” We all put physical demands on our bodies in the context of our own lives. How you breathe impacts your ability to meet those demands.
Why posture = breathing
At some point in your childhood, a well-meaning teacher or relative probably directed you to “sit up straight.” And, if your posture was deemed “bad,” you were likely given the standard cue to force your shoulders back to open your chest.
If you tried conforming with that cue, you likely found it impossible to sustain. That’s because you can’t fix something that’s inherently fluid by treating it like it’s static.
Posture is a living, breathing element of our being. In fact, our posture and our breathing are so intrinsically related I’d argue they are one and the same.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the metabolic process of respiration, which we covered in the last article, is what holds you upright. I’m saying that breathing, the movement pattern that fuels respiration, fundamentally impacts the position of your skeleton.
From a biomechanics perspective, it’s the axial skeleton, comprised of the head, spine and rib cage, that holds a human erect in what we call “posture.” Your rib cage takes up nearly 50% of your axial skeleton. Yet the common perception of bad posture remains focused on shoulders slouching forward, which leads to that well-intentioned but not-so-helpful, shoulders-back cue.
The fact is, no matter what you do with your shoulders, how you breathe is the biggest dictator of rib cage position and your overall posture.
Did you know that your diaphragm, your primary breathing muscle, attaches to both your rib cage and your spine, giving it a secondary function as a postural stabilizer? Your ribs also attach to your spine, and your spine to your head, further connecting all of these postural elements to your breathing. Therefore, as your breathing pattern impacts your rib cage position, your spine and head move in response. And because your shoulder blades are designed to glide over your rib cage, your shoulder position and function are also impacted.