I am frequently been asked some variation of the question: “If I only have 10 minutes to calm myself down/ to change my outlook to destress – what should I do?” Although the question and the situation differ from person to person, my answer is often the same: breathe. If there’s one thing that a person takes away from our meeting, I hope it will be this. There is a 1-to-1 correlation between our stress and our breath, so control the breath and you control the stress. And yes, it can be that easy.  

Although we like to think of the Winter holidays as a time of peace and joy, in reality, all those family gatherings, holiday parties and gift shopping can leave us feeling seriously stressed out.  But it doesn’t need to be that way. In setting the foundation for a relaxing and stress-less holiday season, we start with how we move our ribs. 

What makes the ribs so important? When we evaluate what’s really behind the stress response, we know that the brain is the primary location, both anatomically and metaphorically. When I say “the brain”, I am including everything in the skull, as well as the spinal cord and other nerve tissue traveling from the head down through the vertebrae and the spine. So, when all that is getting stressed and tightening up, it’s the ribs that can come to the rescue. The ribs are part of the breathing apparatus, and each rib is a fulcrum for moving vertebrae away from each other, and for taking stress off the brain. 

As stress creates tightness and compression in the brain, which in turn creates more stress on the system, relaxation is dependent upon creating elasticity and extension in the spinal cord. And here is where the ribs work their magic as they have the ability to mobilize and separate the vertebrae, creating space for the brain to operate unimpeded.  You see, each vertebra connects to 4 ribs – two on the left, two on the right. Along with being tightly bound to the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs, each rib head has an intimate connection with the central nervous system (aka the brain), via its connective tissue

We don’t often think of the ribs as part of the respiratory system but, in fact, the lung tissue is attached onto the bones.  The ribs and the lungs move as one. It is possible to breathe without moving the ribs but when we are breathing for relaxation, movement of the ribs is essential. Such movement of the ribs allows for enhanced circulation to the brain. If the breath is shallow, however, without expansion, the ribs and vertebrae get tighter. They are completely interconnected. Maximizing the movement of the ribs while breathing is one of the most effective stress relieving techniques there is.  And you can do it anywhere, any time. Check out this video to see what this looks like: 

So, if you have 10 minutes to calm down and de-stress, I suggest you place your hands on your ribs and begin to slow down the rate of your inhale and exhale while expanding the ribs from side to side.  You can do this exercise while sitting, standing or lying down. 

  1. Place hands on ribs with fingers facing each other
  2. Position your fingers over your ribs on both sides
  3. Use your awareness to focus on the breath
  4.  On inhale, slowly expand ribs -on exhale, let ribs relax
  5. Slow down both the inhale and exhale until you reach an elongated, yet relaxed breathing pattern. 

 The idea is to have an awareness about your breathing for 10-minutes.  If you do this, it will make a difference.  Try it for yourself and experience the powerful and immediate results. 

As for me, if I only had 10 minutes between the 1st tiger that chased me and the next tiger that’s coming after me, I’d use it to catch my breath.  So, while you are preparing for the Holidays (a modern day “tiger” for the nervous system), move your ribs, elongate your breath and you will feel better forever.