Inviting softness into the rib cage

Dustienne Miller is the creator of the two-day course Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Dustienne passionately believes in the integration of physical therapy and yoga in a holistic model of care, helping individuals navigate through pelvic pain and incontinence to live a healthy and pain-free life. 


I’m one of the small business owners who has survived this difficult time. Day after day I would mask up, put on the filtration systems, and be filled with gratitude that I could still safely do my work in the world. Despite being vigilant on sleep, eating lots of veggies from the local farm, exercising, and staying well hydrated I still carry a deep covering of stress and tension.

We have been holding our breath literally and figuratively with collective humanity for the past year. I realized when I had an acute flare of lumbopelvic pain that I had to melt away layer by layer of holding tension in both my back and ribs and go deeper into my breathwork and meditation practice.

I share this to acknowledge that as health care providers we are caring for more than just the physical concerns of our patients. We are honored to witness their grief, which could be from any type of trauma (physical, medical, etc). We are chosen to be their trusted source of advice which often goes beyond the rehab lens. We also need to notice when we as clinicians (and humans experiencing a global pandemic) experience burnout.

We teach our patients how breathing patterns inform our digestion, our spine, our emotional state, our pelvic floor, etc. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have to inform our system that we are safe. Despite this knowledge, we will often find ourselves holding our breath or breathing in non-optimal ways without even realizing it. When we don’t want to feel something we don’t breathe. When we are afraid we hold our breath. We might even find our ribs stay tight even when we feel relaxed.

Let’s pause to notice and soften.

Notice your body without “fixing” your posture. Where is your ribcage in relationship to your pelvic floor? What does it feel like when you breathe in? What does it feel like when you breathe out?

If you are sitting, slouch down. How does breathing feel in this position? Now imagine your head is getting magnetically pulled up towards the ceiling and sit in a more lengthened position. Take a breath with a taller spine. Does it feel different?

Now try this with your eyes closed: imagine the intercostal space widens with each inhale - then softens during each exhale. Do you have a habit of holding your ribs open with tension? Picture your shoulders softening, as if the tension from the upper traps was melting away. The jaw softens, the tongue softens, the center of the forehead softens.

Now take another long, conscious breath. What do you notice?

As practitioners, we give so much to our patients. It serves us to stay grounded in our bodies and as relaxed as we can be while we work. It’s a tall order and hard to remember but it might help decrease fatigue, exhaustion, physical pain, and burnout. Let’s all try and keep our breaths long, jaws soft, and pelvic floors pliable. I hope this pause was useful for you!

Dustienne Miller can be found teaching her course Yoga for Pelvic Pain online for 2021 on the following dates:
May 15-16, July 31-Aug 1, and Sept 25-26

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