Are you proud of your posture? Or do you feel a bit slumpy? Did your mom tell you to sit up straight? Does she still cajole you?
I’m on your mom’s side! Most people do not pay enough attention to their daily posture and everyday movement habits, and it can have long-term health consequences if left unimproved. I see postural issues daily in my Yoga Tune Up® classrooms. And as a self-proclaimed “posture princess,” I want to motivate you to make better choices to improve your carriage.
The link between breathing and posture
Despite her great advice, what your mom might not have realized is that your breath and posture are undeniably intertwined. Good posture cannot happen if the breath is trapped, restricted or underused. But first, let’s get to the bare bones of “bad posture.”
Bad Posture: Holding your body structure inefficiently with respect to gravity as it relates to the task at hand in stillness or motion.
Bad posture follows you around like a shadow. It shows up in the way you stand while cooking breakfast, waiting in line, or working at your desk, in your form while you exercise, within your yoga routines and even in the way you sleep. This shadow continues to grow more “shady” the more we ignore our body position. Our physical structure begins to adapt to our inefficient position and over time we can develop chronic aches and pains that are directly related to how we carry ourselves in the world.
What’s more, your posture directly impacts the way your body breathes. Excess pressure on the body’s respiratory diaphragm and intercostal muscles alter the ability of those muscles to dynamically contract and lengthen to their fullest. Ever heard the term “chest breather”? This implies that a person is not fully using their diaphragm and has limited their breath’s movements to the rib cage, neck and shoulder muscles that kick in to help the body breathe when the diaphragm fails. A chest breather’s posture will alter over time to accommodate the habit of “bad breath.”
On the flip side, simply slouching as a postural habit can give you shortness of breath, as can the habit of popping one hip out to the side all the time. As tension builds up in core and spinal muscles surrounding your breathing muscles, unwelcome spasms can occur that further alter the possibilities of a full breath.
That’s why improving your breath’s agility goes hand-in-hand with your postural ability.
Redefine your spine: Breathe into your back
The spine is intimately connected with the respiratory diaphragm, and understanding their symbiotic relationship will help steer your posture improvement in the right direction. The diaphragm is a parachute-shaped muscle that lines the lower six ribs and the last six vertebrae of thoracic spine. (The thoracic spine has 12 vertebrae, all of which attach to ribs.) The diaphragm also hooks into the front side of most of the lumbar (low back) bones.
Organizing these bones and toning the diaphragm helps rearrange the tension patterns of the spine from the inside-out and provides a more efficient lattice for the diaphragm to elongate and contract upon.
The following exercise targets the back of the diaphragm and the spinal bones and joints that connect with this most important breath muscle.
1. Lie on your back and place two grippy Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls (or you can substitute tennis balls) along the left side of the spine in the mid-back region.
2. Breathe slowly into the ribs and rock from side-to side and allow the balls to massage in towards the rib joints. Do this for 1-2 minutes on left side of spine, then switch sides. Next, move the balls slightly lower or slightly higher along the thoracic spine and ribs and repeat.
How it works:
This exercise uncorks tension along the upper back and spine so that the spinal bones regain fluidity and mobility. This frees up trapezius, rhomboids, erectors and intercostal tension, mobilizes rib joints, spinal joints, and posterior diaphragm rib connections, and massages deep back musculature.
For an even more detailed explanation of this exercise, please see the brief video I made with my colleague Dr. Kelly Starrett. And for additional exercises to improve your posture, check out my newest video, Coregeous.
[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]
Learn more about Yoga Tune Up® solutions.
Breathing into the back can improve posture. The more I roll the YTU balls and breathe into the back, the more improvement I can feel overtime. This blog has opened my eyes.
The Rib Rock exercise was very helpful for me. I do a lot of rock climbing so my upper back and Lats get extremely tight and sore. I have been trying to work on my breath, and breathe through my belly more often to keep my parasympathetic nervous system from going into overdrive. I still have work to do to eliminate my chest breathing habit, but it’s coming!
Just finished with Level 1 and am on a plane. This looks amazing…..so doing when I get home! Thanks for all your hard work!
The more I roll out my upper back, the more my breath becomes free. The more my breath becomes free, the more ENERGY I have to move my body! Thank you so much for this work.
The more I practice my YTU exercises and rolling techniques, the more I care about my posture in my everyday actions, in my main sport (horseback riding) and of course when I’m at work. It’s becoming a reflex to adjust my posture so I stand or sit correctly and breath freely. Thanks for this great post.
Thank you for this post Jill. I received my first pair of yoga tune up balls in teacher training a few weekends ago, and I have to say that after rolling out my back with them, I feel as if I can stand up differently than I ever could. I had no idea that releasing tension in my trapezius could be done in such a simple way without having to spend money for regular massages! I also had no idea that my posture would affect my breat until I started learning from yoga tune up. This is really helpful.
Super interesting to learn that the diaphragm, the intercostals, QL and the psoas are all interconnected. I will certainly roll out all of those to get rid of pain in the QL and the intercostals. Sweet! Thanks
Love this article, the picture of the diaphragm with the crurae clearly visible, and especially love the extra breath I’ve found in my back-body from the therapy ball work. I sing for a church on Sunday mornings, and last Sunday I was able to sing through double-long phrases with ease. I think the freedom of breathing more into the back also helps relax the front (RIBS) and allows the diaphragm to have greater freedom and efficiency. So many benefits! If I had an Oprah page “A Few of My Favorite Things”
the Yoga Tune-Up® Therapy Balls and the technology of the whole program would be on it. I will now stop slouching at my computer and sit up straight (with some spinal curves).
Great article! The relationship of the diaphragm to the thoracic spine and the lumbar bones has help me generate a more robust proprioceptic map of the interior of my body. I just had my first day of Yoga Tune Up Level 1 Training with TT with Amanda Tripp and ToddLavictoire and Todd put us through a very similar exercise to the one you have demonstrated. The amount of space that I felt was now provided for my lungs to fully engage was staggering.
I love breathing!
Even for those who are breathing well can use this rolling/rocking exercise. There’s always room for more breath, we just have to create it. I find that my breath is pretty well rounded but when I attend to the tension in my upper back and rotator cuff muscles, it’s like the weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And that can make anyone breath more freely.
Rib Rock rocks (every pun intended)! It frees up my back especially the rhomboids. The access to breath really helps bring my yoga practice to a new level. Hopefully, at some point, it will become a little less intense.
I’m currently in TT 1, Day 5, and have noticed a pronounced difference in my posture and in my stance. I have found a “new normal”! I love using the balls and plan on giving them as gifts this Christmas! It’s so easy to do, feels so good, and its good for you. I will suggest we skip dessert and roll on the balls!
I am feeling like this relationship between the posture and the breath is something of a “chicken and the egg” relationship; which comes first? Interestingly I would never have thought of focusing on my breathing to develop my posture, although I had always looked for good posture when I practice breathing… it makes sense that it would go both ways!
I have become so much more aware of my posture since the YTU training. I am constantly checking to see if I’m in alignment, and now I check my husband too. When I got back to work, I adjusted my entire workstation so I could better align my posture, and keep from slumping towards the computer. I also take more breaks now, to get up and more around to keep my body from adapting to this posture.
Before practicing Yoga Tune Up, I did not realize the connection between posture and breath, but now having experienced the release of muscular tension throughout the muscles of the upper back; I can feel the difference it has made in my body. There is nothing better than the first full breath after ungluing the muscles of respiration!
Well, it appears that constant mindfulness in every activity in life may be what is necessary for me to embody and PRACTICE.
Sounds a bit like what was written in the old texts of Yoga. Many thanks to Jill for applying her knowledge in the training.and bringing her message to the Yoga world.
I love the term breathe into your back! It is amazing when people watching how much you can see going on with ones posture and whether they are “breathing ” or not. Feeling the expansion into your back as you inhale when lying down is a good way to recognize this.
As a professional dancer I was always reminded of my posture and how important correct alignment is, however, correct breathing was never really stressed all that much. Being a yoga put that all into perspective.
Connecting breath and posture like you did, and pointing out the possible negative effects it may have if you do not connect the dots certainly opened my eyes. Also loved the YTU ball sequence – thank you!
I think it’s really important to make the connection between good posture and good breathing. And of course having good posture benefits your whole body (as does good breathing!). I was more aware of my posture than your average slouching teenager for 2 reasons in addition to my mother… 1) I played the trumpet and in order to get in enough air I had to sit up and hold my trumpet up, and 2) my track coach would walk around the cafeteria correcting anyone on the track team who was not sitting up. Now as an adult, I practice yoga and this helps me with my posture (at yoga teacher training we spent about an hour of the first weekend going over mountain pose- tadasana- and it is amazing how much thought goes into standing up straight and of course “finding tadanasa” in your spine is important for many poses). But I am guilty of popping my hips to the side when I am teaching in front of my third grade class or standing and waiting for the subway. Why do we do that? I also think I pay less attention to my posture when I am tired… which probably makes me more tired. Finally, this reminds me of why teachers tell their students in classrooms to sit up straight so they can get enough oxygen and stay awake and learn!
Carrying heavy bags has contributed to me being completely slouched and starting to assume the ‘dinosaur’ shape. I went to physical therapy and had to do special exercises to strenghten my back muscles, but they never really thought about the interconnectedness of bad posture and breathing or using massages to release tension.
This really put into perspective how the way we live in this modernized world is negatively effecting our body. What a great quick fix! Can’t wait to try tonight.
I remember about tenish years ago now I looked over at my dad (who ps was also a heavy smoker) and realized that his posture was like a dinosaur, all slumped forward with his head way out in front of him and his whole chest collapsed. Then I realized that I sort of stood and walked that way too! It was a big wake-up call for me to do something about the way I stood and moved. It took a little while after that for me to get to yoga (where I first started building the connection between how I stood and how I breathed), but the more I learn about the intimate connection between posture and breath, the more I understand about how and why my dad ended up shaped that way. And with that understanding comes the opportunity for change, which I think is the most liberating part of our ability to manipulate the breath. Because being aware of your breath, or being able to deepen it deliberately for a few minutes is all well and good, but when you can actively transform yourself form the inside out with the breath, that is magical.
AMAZE- BALLS is what I say after reading this article. In the past, I used the balls to roll tension in the upper back & only focusing on the release of the trapezius, rhomboids. Little realizing that symbiotic respiratory fluidity, mobility – expansion was also being created while improving my posture. Its a win – win situation rolling on these balls on so many levels. WOW!
This is such a simple 2 minute self-care technique. I can take this with me anywhere. Its incredible how much tension I hold in my back. By the time i am done doing this my kidneys and floating ribs melt into the ground with ease and my breath feels unrestricted and deep. I do this when I am feeling cranky and tight from sitting for long periods of time and it really perks up my mood. Who needs medication when you got balls :). I agree with you on this Jill.
Hi Jill, catching up on some Diaphragm homework. As usual, something to steal …” improving your breath’s agility goes hand-in-hand with your postural ability” (of course I’ll give you the credit as I always do: 🙂 Diaphragm is my all-time favorite muscle. To not see the postural facet of it’s personality is so unfair to this multidimensional player. not just a pretty breather. .
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Jill, the way you explain the most complicated movements and attachments of the body and in this case our breathing apparatus is always brilliant. I am teaching a breathing/ core workshop this weekend and love to check in with your videos (coregeous is fabulous) and blogs so that I can see how to more easily explain to my students what I am trying to relate to them. I plan to use the ball rolling sequence from the video and will now add this in as well. AS for my posture… When I find myself shifting to one leg, I hear your voice from our teacher training! You have taught me to” stand on my own 2 feet” .
It’s really interesting to think about improving posture by better breathing. Usually when I find myself in a moment of having poor posture, the breathe is not something I think about. I’m going to try breathing to correct my posture instead of, for example, moving my shoulders back and down, and see if proper breathing automatically corrects this. Thanks Jill!!!!!!!!
Breath affects our posture and posture affects our breath. I do notice that when I am not carrying my heavy bag on one shoulder I breathe better. As a former ballet dancer we only used to breathe from our chest because our stomachs were held in tight. Now that I practice yoga, breathing thru my nose and using my diaphragm has become second nature. It’s interesting how breath and posture are connected.
I do agree with you about linking up our postures with pranayama. It works great. As an Indian we sit on the ground a lot, It’s a part of our culture. In each sitting postures our spine is curved to some extent. So it’s better to put a conscious mind into it and smart to incorporate breathing techinques while sitting. The thing is if we bring our attention to it we can sit up tall with our spine straight which would in turn will enable us smile at the end of our day and we’ll not be complaining about our back.
As a tall teenager , I developed the habits of popping a hip out to the side and slumping, and I did have a Mom who was always at me to “sit up straight” or “chin up – shoulders back”, but to me at that time – she was just “nagging”. And so, as time went on the bad habits became more and more ingrained into my body. I found yoga many years later, and while it certainly has helped my posture and breathing in innumerable ways, it’s still a struggle to keep it in mind – 24/7 (yes, sleeping too) – when “off the mat”.I too was in TO for YTU L1 TT – “Hi Roxanne” – and yes – Jill brought us so much awareness of our posture. You would think in a room full of yogis and body work professionals we would all carry and hold ourselves with poise – but for many of us those old habits can remain – until we replace them with our new ones. YTU delves deeply into the complex architecture of our bodies – the layers of muscles, bones, joints, fascia and the multiple interconnections of them all. Exploring the complexity of Tadasana with Jill’s “Tune Up Tadasana” is the best tool I’ve ever come across to cultivate poise. Add in the Tune Up Balls along the shoulders neck and spine, over hips and into the feet (really everywhere!) to release blockages and tightness, and Bridge Lifts with Uddihyana Bandha to stretch the diaphragm – and standing poised in Tadasana while breathing freely is available to us all – all day – every day! And it sure feels great!
There is something I find very interesting in Jill’s definition of bad posture : “HOLDING your body structure inefficiently with respect to gravity as it relates to the task at hand in stillness or motion.” I find that one of the biggest problems with posture is that people don’t pay attention to their habits (ex: the way we stand – either slouched or tall). Paying attention to the what’S happening inside the body – proprioception, honestly, my favorite word ever!! During the week in Toronto for YTU L1 TT, we were reminded on a daily basis to stand tall and sit up straight. Jill made us aware and those little reminders (like breathing) had a really big improvement on my upper body and thus posture at the end of the week. I felt good and was actually more aware because would often catch myself correcting my posture during other activities throughout the days of that week. So coming back to the word in cap locks, if people would just engage or activate the muscles, there would be a massive improvement for most of the population. A big factor and a major reason why we have lost the ability or natural sense to do this is our way of life now a days. We have back rests on any types of chair we sit on, either it’s a computer chair, dinning room chair, couch, a bus bench, etc. As soon as we make it a close chain (ex: having the back rest for all those types of chairs), we rely on the hard surface to do the job of our muscles so that they can take a break and relax. Technology has made us humans soo lazy!! 🙁
I tried it this morning and the rib rock feels so good! I’ve been trying to translate many of the things I have learned from yoga “off the mat” into my daily life. I’ve found that being attentive to my posture has really paid off. I have less aches in my knees, shoulders and neck since I’ve become more mindful of how I stand and sit throughout the day.
Since rolling with the YTU balls my posture has improved as has my ability to stand with good posture! Now while standing in line I find myself in Tadasana without even thinking about it. My body joint stacked, my weight evenly balanced between both feet. I was in a very long line int the heat this past summer for well over an hour. I stood in Mountain and breathed with Dirgha breath….it was amazing….I went into an aware meditative state, body comfortable and aligned….breathing into my posture. I watched the body around me. people shifting from one hip to the other, hunched over the handle of the baby stroller. Shoulders rounded all around. Feet going this way and that. I am so amazed and thankful for discovering YTU and those amazing balls!
I really enjoyed this article…..we never think of our posture affecting our breath. I have always known posture was important to spinal health, but never realized its affect on breath. I also didn’t know that the diaphragm tied into the spine. Of course it’s key to the breath, but now I see how it all ties together. This gives me a deeper knowledge for myself to understand why my body does certain things pertaining to breathing. It’s also great to be able to give this “why” knowledge to classes so that people walk away motivated to keep practicing and more easily recognize its benefits!!
What a great article regarding posture. I was brought up with the mom who was “sit up and straight back at the table”..but what about breathing? So hence it has opened my body to really feel what goes on inside. As I sit up now.. what is going on and the integration of muscle and breathe to really engage, not just the skeletal portion. doing the rib rock was very helpful and I actually feel such a stretching of my intercostal muscles I never felt before. thank you! I will take this along to my students!
Thanks to you, I see daily improvement in my posture!. For beginners, or for people who find that the placing their whole weight on the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls is painful, I would suggest that they start by using the wall to practice
I have had terrible posture most of my life. I had a pronounced slouch always looking down with shoulders hunched. After doing yoga for a few years, learning helpeful poses such as Tadasana, having a very patient instructor who spent quite a bit of time with me on proper pranayama, and merely looking up when I walked, people who have known me for many years tell me they can see the difference. I was told prior to yoga that I could be spotted from a distance due to my walk being identical to my 80 year old mother who has osteoporosis. I am glad to say that is no longer true.
I’m very interested and fascinated with trying to achieve great posture. I see both my parents with increasingly worse, but opposite back issues that have worsened with age. It makes sense that even something as simple (we think) as breathing can add to bad posture. It makes sense now that my mother, who has a very high profile/high stress job and is a type A personality would use more clavical breathing and has thus developed shoulders that are more and more elevated to her ears. On the other hand, my father is a philosophy professor and has always been caught hunched over reading for hours and tends to be mostly a “belly” breather. Yogic breath is so important to utilize as often as possible. I watched the video and tried this ball exercise and found more intensity on the right side of my back. Then, I felt my back and noticed some asymmetry with the muscle development, and that the right side is a little bigger. I’m guessing it might be from wearing my heaving shoulder bag on the side too often? Could it also have something to do with being right handed? I’m a dancer and Ive noticed that when working on someone’s choreography it tends to be concentrated on using one side of the body more (probably whichever side is more comfortable and natural for the choreographer). Could this be leading to asymmetry?
I’ve had horrible posture my whole life, and never knew that all I had to do to fix it was breathe correctly!
Working with the therapy balls for just a short time has shown me that I can relieve my own aches and back pains with a little self massage and deep breathing. As I was reading this I was taking bigger breaths to correct my slumped posture while sitting at my computer. Guess mom should have said to take a deep breath (instead of sit up straight with your shoulders back!)
After an extensive massage experience with the Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls during the training; the very next morning upon arising, I was able to “belt-out” some challenging vocal songs! The majority of the act of singing is breathing, or pranayamic!
I have been into the ytu balls for a few years now. What I find that works best for me is balls to the wall. I place the balls along my spine in different spots and use the wall to roll on. Might not be for every one but works great to relax the tight spots. I also think the different types of breathing we did in class tonight will also be a great way to relax the muscles around the spine and help general posture.
Using the Yoga Tune Up balls tonight for the first time was eye opening. I have always had shoulder tension and poor posture. My yoga practice has certainly helped improve my hunched shoulders but really understanding how the body is connected and how the breath is effected really changed the way I look at myself from the inside instead of in a mirror. After using the balls as directed in the Rib Rock, I watched my breath as I came out of the pose. It was much deeper and more full and relaxed. It also surprised me to see that my lower back lay flatter to the floor and was more comfortable that before I started the movements. This was a great example of how the body works in conjunction with all its different parts and how tension and stress can have a domino effect on the body.
Good posture has been on my radar for quite a few years now, but still I find my erector muscle (I’m assuming that’s what it is) getting sore after long periods of really focusing on it. Once that soreness kicks in, I go back into slouching, then correct, then my muscles get sore again. Will my muscles eventually begin to strengthen more, so I will be able to hold a correct posture for longer? I also almost wonder if I am actually holding my posture correctly!? When I am sitting in what I think is a correct posture I immediately create an inner- arch, (or extension?) through my lombard. I have a feeling that this new adventure my mind and body are embarking on will help me in through this curiosity! 🙂
Tonight I did work with tune up balls for the first time. Fantastic. I have terrible posture from carrying around heavy books on one side and I also have a slightly rotated right pelvis (sticks out a bit more than the left) that is related to muscle tension issues/post trauma. We did the initial muscle discovery with Tune Up balls, we didn’t do the rib rock; but I noticed that after just relaxing the muscles it took a lot less effort than I have become accustomed to putting out to sit up up straight. Usually I have to consciously lock my tummy and lift it and I was doing that with all the other muscles between the clavicle etc. somewhat contracted and contorted.Consciously breathing did for sure help. I was, however, really aware of my right pelvis though and am wondering what muscles have to be relaxed to help ease the tension there. Any views on how that part of the body affects posture? thanks.