Most people tend to think of breathing and posture as two separate functions or conditions of the body. I believe, however, that they are inextricably connected with one another – actually both different aspects of our overall coordination that cannot be separated. Here’s an example:
Imagine a person stooped over, collapsed in the chest, spine compressed – a case of classic “bad posture.” But posture is not the only issue. With all that collapse and compression the whole breathing apparatus is compromised. The ribs don’t have room to move, so the lungs don’t have space to expand fully, and the diaphragm muscle is also restricted – all of which lead to problems with breathing, including shortness of breath. So – to solve the breathing problem, we need to actually solve the posture issue (or vice versa – to solve the poor posture we need to improve the breathing coordination). Coming out of the collapse and allowing our full stature gives the space necessary for our breathing apparatus to function properly.
The problem is that for most people this is not as easy as it sounds. Habits, created over many years and for many reasons, become solidified in our bodies and are resistant to change, to say the least. In fact, if you’ve been walking around hunched over for years it probably feels normal, even upright to you. Or if you are aware of it, you may pull yourself upright using lots of tension, in a way that is not only uncomfortable and un-maintainable, but is also just as restrictive for the breath.
I believe the Alexander Technique is one method that provides a very effective answer to these problems. Although more often known nowadays for its help with improving posture, the founder of the Technique, F. M. Alexander (1869-1955), originally promoted his method as “respiratory re-education” and was known by his students as the “Breathing Man!”
Through the Alexander Technique you gradually become more aware of what your body is actually doing and learn ways to change those habits that are not serving you well. This leads to improvements in overall coordination, including (of course) both posture and breathing.
Try this experiment: Let yourself round into a real good slump. Become aware of your breath. Does it feel shallow or full? Then slowly and gently (no pulling or tightening please!) bring yourself out of the slump. Notice your breathing now. Is there a difference?
Had you thought about how your posture affects your breathing before? Could you notice any differences in the little experiment. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.