A Pushy Rib Cage
The first summer Olympics I remember watching is when Nadia Comăneci became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event. My sisters and I couldn’t do any of the gymnastic movements we saw but we could do a pretty good imitation of the final “Ta-daa!” with our arms overhead and our chest thrown forward.
I see this same movement every day in the unintentional way many people stand, especially when they try to bring their shoulders back.
When your back is tight and you need to move, the movement usually comes from the three places where you have the most mobility: your neck, the bottom of your rib cage and your low back. When you move from your mid back at the bottom of the rib cage, you create additional tension in your low back and pulling around your shoulder blades.
In addition to shortening your back muscles, pushing your ribs forward displaces your ribcage. Now your diaphragm (the muscle around the inner edge of your ribcage that is responsible for breathing) is tilted up in the front instead of being parallel to the ground. This action restricts a full diaphragmatic breath. It also tends to dump the abdomen forward without support, which in turn creates low back pain.
Too Much Ta-daa?
The first step in creating change is to become aware of what you do. In this picture, the yellow line shows how the model’s chest is angled up and forward. It looks like she has a wonderful, lifted posture but looks can be deceiving.
To find out if you press your ribs forward when you open your chest, stand in Tadasana or Mountain Pose (standing upright with your feet under your hips) with your hands on your lower ribs. Now press your shoulders back. Notice where you feel movement. If your ribs pressed forward into your hands, you know you tilt your ribcage instead of actually opening your chest.
Bringing your ribs forward creates the illusion that your shoulders are correctly aligned instead of rounded forward. Taking away the forward movement of the ribcage lets you see your true shoulder alignment. If the model kept her ribs parallel to the floor, her shoulders would probably come forward.
Now try to stand up straight with your ribs forward and lifted like the model. Can you pull your bottom ribs back without bringing your shoulders forward? Were you able to do it or, if you could, did it create a lot of tightening around your low ribs, shoulders and neck?
If you find that your shoulders came forward when you kept your ribs back or you were just using brute force to keep everything in place, work on opening the upper front of your chest and strengthening the muscles between your shoulder blades.
It can be frustrating to know whether you’re doing these movements correctly without someone to guide you. I’ve helped many people learn how to stand with alignment and ease. You can too! Contact me today to find out how.