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Yoga Anatomy

3 Ways to Improve Spine and Rib-Cage Mobility

Use these exercises to experience a different kind of strength and ease in your body.

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Try practicing these simple movements to improve fascial health in your back and shoulders, between your abdominal muscles, and all around your ribs.

Exercise No. 1: Side Bend

90 90 side bend anatomy
Christopher Dougherty

Start in a 90/90 kneeling position (each knee forms a 90-degree angle). Step your right foot forward so it’s below your right knee; rest your left knee on the mat below your left hip. Relax your left shin and the top of your left foot on the mat. Reach your arms out from your sides to just-below-shoulder level. Elongate your spine and lift up from your pubic bone.

On an inhalation, initiate a side bend to your right side. Reach your left arm overhead and lift from your left ear. You are actively lengthening and strengthening the muscles on your left side that hold you in lateral flexion, including your obliques and quadratus lumborum. Across your left hip, you actively lengthen your hip flexors. On your inhalation, breathe deeply into the left side of your rib cage; sense the expansion.

On your exhalation, engage your pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles, increasing the lift in your pelvis to lengthen your lower back and intensify the hip-flexor stretch. Maintain the position for 4–10 slow, full breaths. Then lower your left arm and center your upper body.

See also Poses for Your Spine

Exercise No. 2: Sit Back and Forward Fold

sit back and forward fold
Christopher Dougherty

In the kneeling position, take both arms overhead. On an inhalation, press your right foot lightly forward; let your knee extend and your pelvis shift back. Keep your spine centered and long as you fold your upper body forward, and lower your arms to shoulder level.

By letting your hip flex, you allow the fascia in front of your hip joint to soften. When you exhale, raise your arms overhead and lift into an upright position. Repeat the movement slowly 4–8 times.

See also Fold Forward, Turn In

Exercise No. 3: Side Stretch with Spiraling 

side stretch with spiraling
Christopher Dougherty

To transition into a 90/90 side stretch, place your left hand on the floor (or a block) in line with your left knee. Once your hand is firmly grounded, shift your pelvis directly over your left knee and reach your right arm over your head. Your spine is long in lateral flexion. Keep your head in line with your lengthened neck.

Press your left hand against the floor and firmly stabilize your shoulder by spiraling the head of your humerus out and down. Imagine that your arm is a strong pillar over which you can drape your upper body. Reach farther out with your right arm to increase the stretch in your latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, intercostals (muscles between your ribs), spine extensors, and abdominals.

See also 4 Ways to Satisfy Your Urge to Side Bend

On your left side, the muscles and fascia in your rib cage and waistline soften.

On an exhalation, reach your right arm down toward the floor. Sense a domino-like motion in which the reaching of your arm facilitates the slight gliding of your shoulder blade along your ribs, enabling the back of your left rib cage to spiral open and your spine to follow along. While your sternum revolves toward the floor, you can rotate your pelvis up toward the ceiling to intensify the opening in your lower back.

On an inhalation, raise your right arm overhead. Rotate your spine and rib cage toward the ceiling along with your arm. Let the front of your rib cage open. Continue to reach out with your right hand and turn your palm up toward the ceiling to intensify the chest opening and upper-body stretch. Repeat the spiraling motion 1–3 more times slowly.

Move into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) for a few breaths. Switch legs, and repeat the sequence on the other side.

About the Author

Karin Gurtner is the founder and principal educator of art of motion and the developer of Anatomy Trains in Motion. To learn more about muscles in motion, myofascial connections, and how to move with more awareness, join Karin Gurtner for her new online course, Anatomy 201: Applied Principles of Movement.
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