Did you know that the way you sit has a lot to do with the way you breathe? Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time teaching my students about the relationship between their posture and their breathing. Our posture and our breathing affect each other, and both affect our central nervous system. Staying mindful of how we situate our bones on our chairs can help us to breathe more freely and reduce stress in our day. Our bones and muscles are wired to our central nervous system; they communicate to our brain the state of our being. Proper alignment of our bones and the proper relaxation of our muscles also have an effect on our breathing. When bones are stuck in poor positions due to muscles that are chronically contracted, they can jeopardize the flow of our breathing and cause an overstimulation of the central nervous system. The work of Progressive Muscular Relaxationby Dr. Edmund Jacobson of Harvard University explored how our muscles communicate with our nervous system and how we can and should learn how to actively relax. If we are relaxed in our posture we can keep ourselves breathing deeply and our nervous systems running smoothly.
The pelvis is the foundation for posture, and when it comes to breathing we want to breathe right down to that base. I try to help my students find the “neutral” pelvis. When we are at our desks, the comfort of the lower back, proper spinal alignment and quality of breath are all determined by how we are sitting. A relaxed pelvis can ensure that your diaphragm, the muscle that pumps your breath in and out, is able to have its full range of motion. Yourdiaphragm is attached through a network of muscles to your hips and lower back, and so tension in those muscles can prevent the diaphragm from moving freely. By finding a balanced position for your pelvis you can ensure that your hips and lower back are relaxed and that your diaphragm is free to move. Tilting your pelvis forward will arch your lower back, and tilting it backward will round your lower back. Fortunately, a relaxing position between those two possibilities does exist. It is one that will make it easier for your body to breathe deeply. Finding this balance could take a bit of time, so check a mirror, because people who habitually arch when seated will feel rounded when they relax their lower backs. If after you check a mirror your back is in fact rounded, you may have to prop up by sitting on a book. Next, completely relax your gluteus muscles. This is important, because many people are unaware of how the subtle gripping of these muscles tightens and shortens the breath. If you don’t believe me, try purposely gripping your buttocks while attempting a deep breath.
Once the pelvis is neutral, the back muscles and hip bones should feel free from tension; pay attention to how your inhalations are now able to move your lower belly and gently stretch your lower back.
When the pelvis is in a neutral position there is an element of balance. If you find that you can easily tilt your pelvis forward or backward, you have found the proper alignment. Developing mindfulness of our posture helps us to connect with our bodies and can make us aware of subtle tension. When we use only the muscles necessary to maintain our posture our breathing can become more relaxed and more efficient. When our muscles and bones are in balance, so is our breathing.