Taking air into the lungs happens when a variety of muscles contract to expand the ribcage upwards and outwards. As well, the diaphragm muscle underneath the ribcage contracts downwards. In relaxed breathing, the diaphragm and small muscles between the ribs do the work. When we need extra oxygen, other muscles in the shoulders, neck and back are recruited to increase the volume of air intake.
If there are problems in any of these structures, then breathing is restricted. Lung diseases affect surrounding muscles, and problems within the muscles themselves need to be addressed. Injury, overuse, and aging can create areas of imbalance which need to be addressed. Psychological stress can also inhibit breathing through chronic anxiety and panic attacks. Pregnancy puts upwards pressure on the diaphragm and rib cage.
In a typical first session of Rolfing, the ability of the structure to support effective breathing is assessed. The posture of the client is observed to determine if neck, shoulders, spine and ribcage are inhibiting the ability to breathe fully and easily. The hands-on work then proceeds to improve both alignment and mobility within these structures.