Mobilize your thoracic spine through your breath

Breathing involves the action of almost every muscle in the trunk. Quite cool if you ask me. The fact that everything from the pelvic floor up all the way to the neck has a part amazes me. This is also one of the reasons why the breath is involved in both creating stability and mobility. And of course so much more.

But let’s focus on that - mobility and stability.


Breathing defined

It's of course about taking air into and expelling it from the lungs. If we take a look at the process of doing that we can see something more. It creates an internal pressure in the bodily cavities during this three-dimensional shape change that takes place when the lungs fills up and get emptied. The pressure between the upper and lower cavities is something that helps us to stay upright and hold stability in our trunk.

The structures that also help with both stability and mobility of the trunk is the spine in the back and the ribcage in the front. They support the breath with its bony, cartilaginous, ligamentous, and muscular structures.

The stuff that has a key role in creating this shape change and that divides these two cavities is our diaphragm.


The diaphragm

It’s the body’s primary breathing muscle, it’s shaped like a double-dome and 2–4mm thin. The right dome rises higher that the left because of the liver pushing up on the right side and the heart pushing down on the left. This muscle also divides the trunk in two cavities, the thoracic and the abdominal.


Lower attachments

The diaphragm has its lower attachments in three different regions:

  • Sternal - at the bottom of the xiphoid process

  • Costal - at the inner costal cartilage surfaces

  • Lumbar - at the crura at the front of the lumbar spine, L3 och right and L2 on left

Worth mentioning is that the diaphragm also attaches to:

  • Arcuate - the ligament that runs from the 10th rib to the lumbar spine (along the 11th and 12th rib, the transverse process, and body of L1)

According to both Kaminoff & Matthews (2012) and Bordoni & Zanier (2013).

Upper attachment

  • It attaches to itself in a central tendon. This tendon has a strong connection to the heart’s fibrous pericardium.


Mobilize through your breath

From a structural viewpoint we can use the breath to mobilize our spine and ribcage. Why? Because of the attachments and structure of the diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle. Taking a breath includes moving the structures in the thoracic area that commonly gets described as immobile. This could possibly be one way to work with it.

Here's one possible way of working with your breath


Voluntary and involuntary

Our breathing is something that goes by it self - it's automatic. Although it's seems quite common that people have issues with their breathing mechanics. At least if you assume what's being said within the yoga community. The good part is that we can steer our breath through different techniques and intentions. By increasing the amount of air we take into the lungs we’re also increasing the movement of every part and articulation that the diaphragm and assisting breathing muscles affect.

Steer the three-dimensional shape change, and help mobilize your thoracic spine.


The research?

Well, there isn't much quality research done on breathing from this structural viewpoint on healthy adults as a population. Not from what I’ve found. If you do know about any, please let me know.


What does this mean?

The diaphragm has many roles, one being creating stability and mobility in the crural region and the costal region. Our breathing affects the spine and the ribcage. The two meet in the thoracic spine. Possibly we could, through working with our breathing patterns and capacity, also incease our stability and mobility of the thoracic area.



Behnke R S. (2015). Anatomi för Idrotten - fakta om rörelseapparaten. 2nd ed. Stockholm: SISU Idrottsböcker. (Swedish translation of Kinetic Anatomy. 3rd ed. Human Kinetics.)

Bordoni B, Zanier E. (2013). Anatomic connections of the diaphragm: influence of respiration on the body system. J Multidiscip Healthc. 2013 Jul 25;6:281-91. DOI: 10.2147/JMDH.S45443.

Kaminoff L, Matthews A. (2012). Yoga Anatomy. 2nd ed. Champaigne, IL: Human Kinetics.