Are you able to take a true, full, deep, and cleansing breath? Gasping for more?
In the April newsletter our contributors discussed the involuntary process of breathing. Today I thought I’d touch base on how our postural alignment can negatively affect our ability to breathe effectively, and efficiently access the muscles of the abdomen. A handy tool for helping students image (visualize) the release of the pressure of performance, anxiety, and expectation has also been included!
As discussed in an earlier post, postural alignment is key to the health of the dancer as well as efficient and effective technique in all dance forms. It is also key to whether or not we are able to access the abdominal muscles and muscle of the diaphragm effectively as well. Fortunately breathing is a completely involuntary process – so we don’t have to think about making it happen. BUT we CAN change HOW we are breathing.
At the attachment point of our ribs to the spine a joint is made, its synovial in nature allowing the ribs to move slightly up and down – like a bucket handle, and slightly forward and up – like a pump. In the image to the left, notice where the ribs are attached to the spine. There are 12 pairs of ribs attached starting at the 8th vertebrae down to the 20th vertebrae – essentially a third of the spine that is involved in the process! The lesson? If the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach) has an altered alignment due to improper posture -the ribs will function in a less effective manner – ultimately affecting your ability to inhale and exhale deeply. As Monique indicated in her April article – this then has a direct effect on how much oxygen we are able to take into our lungs, and therefore our blood stream.
So let’s look at posture a little closer. Have a look at the image to the right, notice the mid-back (the thoracic spine). Can you see how each posture will affect the function of the ribs? Let’s look specifically at the Lumbar Lordosis, Thoracic Kyphosis and the Forward head positions.
Lumbar Lordosis: The abdominal muscles are extended and often the shoulder begin to pull back as well — essentially bending the thoracic spine in opposition it’s natural curve (slightly forward). Here the abdominals are unable to effectively support the breath, and the ribs, though still moving, are unable to use the full range of motion of the thoracic vertebral joint.
Thoracic Kyphosis: Here the shoulders are sliding forwards and the top of the pelvis is tipping back slightly – compressing the rib cage (and the lungs and diaphragm which are housed within the rib cage), shortening the front abdominals and waistline. Often this posture is partnered with neck and shoulder pain.
Forward Head Position: Here the chin pokes forward bringing the head forward of the neutral alignment (centre line of the body). In opposition the thoracic spine pushes back and upwards, again compressing the chest and preventing the full inhalation of oxygen into the lungs. This posture can also compress the organs within the abdomen (stomach & intestines in particular) and affect their efficiency as well.
In the April Newsletter Pilates Instructor Trainer Monique gave us a quick tutorial on breathing. Now let’s add a pressure releasing dimension to that exercise.
Checking in with your postural alignment, talk yourself/your students through the exercise – on the inhalation imagine a kettle of water coming to a boil on the stove, now on the exhalation imagine the steam shooting out of the kettle – your exhalation is the release of that steam. With each breath the pressure in your ‘kettle’ decreases so you can focus on the task at hand, allowing you to then bring your body more easily into alignment.
On the next breath focus on lengthening the spine by reaching the top of your head to the ceiling while also ‘feeling’ your tailbone lengthening to the floor. Encourage students (and yourself) to maintain this length as you move through your class/day.
Tip: Set a daily posture reminder on your phone or ipad. I suggest “Time to take a Break! Stand up and realign your posture – now take a few deep breaths – maybe add a stretch or two.”
Author: Jacqui Davidson