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The Movable Rib Cage

You may be surprised, as I was, to discover how much movement should be available in a rib cage when it retains its optimal mobility. The majority of the joints in the body are in the thorax, where each rib connects to its vertebra in the back and to the cartilage and sternum in the front. The more joints, the more small adjustments can be made; there is a lot of movement possibility here if it’s not locked down.

Instead of rib cage, the Feldenkrais group uses the term rib basket to remove the impression of jailed immobility. When I heard that, I wished I’d learned it earlier; I really had no idea the rib cage was mobile. Happily, though, that lost mobility is recoverable once you discover the problem and start working on the fix.

Most of us have tight lats, and as you know, the lats encase much of the bottom and sides of the thoracic cavity. Any chronic tightness will restrain joint movement, and tightness of the lats, traps, serratus and intercostals are no different. Even the rectus abdominus—the six-pack—will stifle rib cage mobility when the region is overly tight and pulling at the bottom of the rib basket.

Respiration also inhibits movement of the surrounding ribs, and this is one reason restoring respiration quality is at the top of Evan Osar’s fix-it list. He talked about this at length in both of the IDEA presentations I attended, including a demonstration of crocodile breathing.

Get yourself on the floor and follow along with Dave Whitley and Geoff Neupert here:


Habit causes the majority of thoracic movement problems. The idea of suck in the chest may not happen in today’s world, but it sure did in yesterday’s. Actually, these days, if advertising is any indication, it’s the young men who inhabit this image, whereas in the previous generations, it was the young women. Having been one of those at the time and having carried that immobility forward into adulthood, my sincere suggestion is to break that habit now while it’s easy [easier, that is].

The forward head posture many of us develop as we get a little older, and especially as we spend more time sitting at these computers, will absolutely lock up the rib cage. When the shoulders are pulled forward, the shoulder blades lose their ability to shift in and out, up and down, and with that so goes the clavicles. When the entire shoulder yoke gets stiff and immobile, what do you suppose happens to the thoracic cavity it’s attached to? Bingo, you hit the jackpot on that one: Locked down.

Finally we get to the neurological factor, the brain part, where in addition to bad habits, we discover plain-old forgetfulness. Odd to think of forgetting how to move the ribs as we reach for over the counter for the latte, but it’s happening, and unless you make yourself aware, it’ll keep happening as the years and decades mount. Other than the fortunate few, the older we get, the more immobile the rib cage unless – or until! – we purposefully keep it moving.


Here’s a longer intro to learning this type of movement awareness at home.

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