“You are only as flexible as your… ribs.” These soft-spoken words from the mouth of my teacher gave my brain a little jolt. Up until that moment I had only heard spine as the end of this phrase, a cliché classic in the yoga and Pilates world. Of course, all of the ribs attach to the spine, so clearly she was onto something. What’s more? Even though we didn’t do a single lower back stretch in class that day, my spine felt lighter and freer from top to bottom.
Later that week, one of my students came in for a private session complaining of some lower back pain and tightness. As I watched her walk through the studio, I noticed her hips were swaying all over the place, but her thoracic spine seemed stiff and unyielding. My suspicions were confirmed when I had her lie down on the mat and witnessed a cavern of space under her lower ribs.
Yoga Tune Up® to the rescue! After a bit of gentle proprioceptive massage of her lower ribs with the Yoga Tune Up® balls, I guided her through Yoga Tune Up® mini-vini that reminds me of the classic Pilates exercise the Saw, (except you can be comfortably seated in a chair instead of sitting with straight legs on the floor – hint, hint office workers/computer junkies). Combining a thoracic flexion and extension with rotation helped free up her poor bound-up intercostal muscles. And freeing up movement in her thorax, balanced the movement of her spine, which calmed her lower back pain.
Watch Jill unwind her own ribs in this video of back stretches for rib and hip flexibility. Try slowing it down and taking a full breath for each position to get an even deeper feel for the natural movement of the ribs.