One thing I always focus on in my classes is opening the chest to create space for more breath, and while we yogis always think about backbends and contracting the back muscles for chest opening, sometimes we need to bring our attention to the muscles on the front body. For example, the small pectoralis minor is hidden beneath the pectoralis major; despite its size, it is a vitally important muscle for shoulder health in particular, and overall health in general. The pectoralis minor originates on the third, fourth, and fifth ribs and inserts on the coracoid process of the scapula; thus, this little muscle connects the shoulder blade to the rib cage. Its major function is to help elevate the rib cage during inhalation, allowing for full, deep breathing. That is in a perfect world.
Most of us, because of our daily routines, do not have full range of motion in the pec minor. We spend so much time hunching with our shoulder internally rotated and the shoulder blades protracted—in front of computers, over our steering wheels, leaning on a counter while chopping vegetables and other food for meals, hunching over flower beds when gardening, and so forth—that this muscle is chronically shortened, pulling the shoulder blades forward, and compromising the ability of the rib cage to expand. In addition, when this muscle is compressed, the major blood vessels of the arm as well as the brachial plexus (nerves that innervate the arm) that run under it are also compressed and their function is compromised, causing numbness and poor circulation. We need to reverse this habitual posture for our breath, our shoulder health (range of movement and flexibility), and our general health (being able to reach overhead into a cabinet, and behind us to scratch our own back, for example).
The good news is that the “damage” can be easily repaired with a ball routine and a few stretches that take very little time. Since I spend most of my work day in front of a computer, I’ve developed a special fondness for rehydrating and mobilizing my pec minor. My favorite sequence is to take a YTU therapy ball and a block to the wall, placing the ball on the block and then rolling from just under the inner collarbone to the outer collarbone, pressing gently on the coracoid process (a nubby protrusion on the shoulder blade that pokes out into the armpit area) when I reach it. That movement also rolls out the subclavius which acts to elevate the first rib during inhalation—a bonus! Then I move on to Shoulder Flossing Variation #1 (using a strap to take the shoulder girdle back and forth through circumduction) for four or five sets (more if I have time). You could stop there and feel the benefits, but if there’s more time, I like to add Bridge Arms into Prasarita, and Open Sesame. Try these chest opening exercises — your breath won’t be the same.
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