Yes, you read that right. I no longer guide a deep expansion in the belly in my yoga classes.
Because I’ve learnt a bit more, experimented in my own body and have seen remarkable changes when we focus more on the ribcage.
For me, focusing on the expansion at the ribcage just makes sense. It follows the mechanism of breath. As you inhale the ribs expand, the diaphragm lowers and contracts, the pelvic floor lengthens and releases, the lungs expand and then air is pulled in. On the exhale the ribcage comes back towards the body, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up, the pelvic floor moves up and in, the lungs shrink and air is forced out of the lungs.
Sure, the belly will rise and fall with the breath. But it’s a result of the movement of the diaphragm.
Plus – the ribcage breath can facilitate the core four working synergistically together – which serves your every movement.
Here are my favourite ways to connect with the ribcage breath.
Rib-cage breath or the core breath facilitates movement in the diaphragm and pelvic floor with each inhale and exhale.
In standing, with feet pelvic width apart, outside edges of the feet parallel to the mat, keeping a little arch in the low back and checking that the front ribs are not starting to push forward – place one hand around the rib cage and the other at the lower ribs/top of the abdomen. As you inhale expand the ribs out to the side – think an umbrella opening. On the exhale the ribs will travel along the same path back towards the body – think umbrella closing slightly. Continue to expand side to side for a few breaths.
Now see if you can expand front to back. Feel movement in the fingers and thumb of the hand that is wrapped around the ribs. See how it feels to combine the two and expand the ribs in all directions – front to back and out to the sides.
Localize the movement to the rib cage. Keep the abdomen soft. Yes, there will be movement here, but don’t force any expansion (this is not belly breath). As the rib cage expands the diaphragm will contract and lower, this will facilitate the pelvic floor to soften length and relax. As the rib cage comes towards the body the diaphragm will relax back up under the rib cage and then pelvic floor will engage, draw up and in. Allow the movement in the pelvic floor to be involuntary – no need to kegeal. Become aware of the movement at the pelvic floor. Don’t worry if you don’t connect with this movement right away – trust and know that it is happening with each breath.
Seated with Strap
Find a comfortable seat, find head over heart, heart over pelvis.
Take a strap, tie, scarf, blanket. Any old thang you can wrap around the lower ribcage. You want this to be snug, but not constricting. I find it easiest to have the two ends cross in the front. This means the right hand will hold the left side of the strap and vise versa. Find a little more space between the shoulders and ears and just a gentle hold on the strap. No need to hang on for dear life.
As you inhale, expand through the ribcage. Feel the strap moving away from the body.
As you exhale, allow for the ribs to follow back along that same path. The strap will follow along.
Side Lying with Ball
As you inhale expand the ribcage and see if you can flatten the ball a bit. Then as you exhale you will feel the ball rebound and come in towards the body. You’ll want to do this on both sides.
You can also connect with any difference between each side of the ribcage. Often one side may be a little more shy than the other and the breath may not be as expansive.
For me, this is my left side. I continually work with facilitating more expansion on the left side. I had surgery to remove my spleen at a young age and unfortunately I have a significant amount of scar tissue. Being young and all and not knowing how to or take the time to heal properly I’m left with a little less movement on this side.
Prone and Supine
Lying prone is another great way to connect with the breath. I particularly like this option as I can assess if I’ve reverted back to my early yogini days and am taking deep forceful belly breaths.
You can also assess the breath capacity while lying on the back. You can have the legs extended long or knees bent and soles of feet on the earth (not pictured).
Here you can connect with the movement of the ribs towards the back or ground. It may be beneficial to place the hands on the belly and ribcage as we did in our standing posture.
Give these a whirl and let me know how they felt in your body? Was there one that you connected with more than another?