Ribcage Breathing

Use Your Breath to Relieve Back Pain and Tightness

Sydney Video Training 11 Comments

Today’s exercise is a go-to solution I give clients for homework, especially if they are experiencing back pain, or chronic feelings of tightness in their backs. It’s inspired by an exercise from Marie-José Blom’s Smartspine™ System.

Your inhale and exhale are the most powerful tool for keeping your spine supple, nourished and feeling great and we’re going to learn how to use this normally unconscious process to make your back feel great.

Your diaphragm is your breathing muscle. It creates the floor of your thorax and separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity. It has many deep muscle fibre attachments to your ribs, vertebral bodies, psoas and quadratus lumborum. It also has visceral relationships with your heart, lungs, pulmonary and lymphatic systems.

“The constant descent and ascent of the diaphragm creates a constant ‘milking’ or massaging of these vital organs as well as the abdominal organs and contributes to enormous energy efficiency.”Marie-José Blom

We’re focusing on the diaphragm because it plays such a major role in your overall health and wellness. Specifically, today’s exercise addresses the diaphragm’s attachments to the front of your spine, called crura, and also your diaphragm’s attachments to your 11th and 12th ribs.

When you inhale your diaphragm descends, causing the attachments on the front of your spine to gently pull down on your spine in a really nice way.

And while this action is happening on the front of your spine, the descent of your diaphragm is also stimulating an upward rotation of your ribs.

This movement of your ribs results in each rib articulating with two vertebral bodies, which decompress one vertebrae, and as a result of this internal movement, an elongation throughout your entire spine happens!

These are just two of the actions that happen naturally with every breath you take. There are many more!

Sydney demonstrates resting your elbows on a flat surface during rib cage breathing to help you relax your shoulders.

Sydney demonstrates resting your elbows on a flat surface during rib cage breathing to help you relax your shoulders.

Stress and poor alignment habits can change how you breathe, resulting in shallow breathing, or breathing that inappropriately uses your neck and shoulders. Poor alignment and breathing habits can also contribute to poor spine health and can leave your back feeling chronically stiff.

I could show you a million stretches to relieve back pain and tightness, but if we never take a look at how you’re currently breathing and how it contributes to the health of your back, it wouldn’t matter.

This is my absolute favorite exercise for relieving my back.

If you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!

See you in the studio,

P.S. I don’t mention this in the video, but if you can warm your bath towel up in the dryer before the exercise, it feels even better and is even more effective!

P.P.S. If you have difficulty relaxing your shoulders during the exercise, try resting your elbows on a table like I’m doing in the photo above.


  2. FASCIA: The Tensional Network of the Human Body, Robert Schleip, Thomas W. Findley,  Leon Chaitow, Peter A. Huijing 2012, Chapter 1.10 Diaphragmatic Structures, Serge Paoletti

Comments 11

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      Hi Azita, Thanks for letting us know! We double checked everything on our end and didn’t find any issues. Have you tried watching the video using a different browser?

  1. Hi Sydney… wow – this is more powerful than I imagined on first watch. I have had huge problems getting breath into my t spine /rib area. Had breast cancer at 37 yo with implant reconstruction surgeries, and feel very tight bound up in the ribs. There is also this rib torsion thing I’ve mentioned twisting me to the right on top. I am going to work with this breathing exercise for sure. Do you suggest I concentrate on getting breath into my left back ribs since I twist right on top? Also is it ok to do this same exercise standing – say at a standing desk or counter for elbow support? Thank you soooo much!!!

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      Hi Robyn, Sounds like this will be an important exercise for you for sure! Directing your breath into the left side is a great idea! (In fact, that’s the focus of the next video!) You could also try using the towel to gently de-rotate yourself, and then direct your breath into the left side. Yes to standing up to practice this one. Especially, if it allows you to more easily rest your elbows and stay out of the tops of your shoulders and neck. And, if you can, warm the towel in the dryer. The heat is super helpful for releasing/melting the fascia in your back. Thank you for your question!

      1. I have just discovered your website and and slowly working my way through your very informative videos! Thanks so much Sydney!!!

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  2. Hi Sydney. I really enjoy your videos. I am a Stott Pilates mat instructor and I find the videos helpful as homework for my clients. This video wouldn’t load for me. Any tips? I have a Mac. Also, do you have any videos for people suffering from Quadratas Lumborum tightness?

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