I sometimes take a maxim from our body mapping pedagogy and mull it over, almost as a mantra, to find more depth in the idea and more meaning for my teaching. One such idea “Anything that limits rib movement limits the capacity for a free breath” begs the next logical question, “What is limiting my rib movement?”. That question can lead us down a rabbit hole of awarenessing and somatic experience. To narrow our focus let’s start with the arms.
Studying videos of busy street scenes in both the Edwardian era and the present day allows us to compare how we have changed our habits with regard to arms in movement. These two short videos are particularly striking.
In the Edwardian-era video, people are rarely holding something in their hands or arms, except for a cane or umbrella, which seems to be used fashionably and expressively, almost as a tangible extension of personality through movement. There are no bags, purses, coffee cups, food, phones, water bottles, or books in the hands or squeezed between the upper arm and ribs. Their arms are free for arm movement and therefore their ribs are free for breathing movement.
We tend to organize ourselves to accommodate what our arms are doing and lose the sense of our whole bodies in the process. This is so relevant to playing an instrument or singing while holding a choral folder. Any extra effort in our arms can lead to whole body patterns of tension, including ribs held in place, thereby reducing the full excursion of the ribs on an inhalation.
How often do you walk without carrying anything in your hands or arms? Take an intentional moment to do so this week. Have your coffee before you leave the house. Go for a walk without your phone and let your arms swing freely. Let your muscles habituate to this free pattern of use. Allowing the ribs their full free movement in any activity will begin to translate to habit on your instrument.