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Improving Breathing | clinical somatic education technique Lawrence Gold

July 10, 2015

This video clip shows a clinical somatic education procedure for freeing rib movements by gaining control of the intercostal (between-the-ribs) muscles.

Somatic education exercises to free breathing exist on this page:

To avail yourself of the procedure shown in this clip, visit

How do we sort out different patterns of restricted breathing and how can we correct them?

In general, breathing is an effortless affair. Effort and problems appear as people get conditioned into states of chronic tension accompanied with a loss of sensory awareness of the feelings of breathing (sensory-motor amnesia, or SMA).

The problem of breathing difficulty usually comes from arrested (or restricted) movements of breathing and usually from incomplete exhalation. The muscles involved — the diaphragm, the abdominal muscles, and the muscles that move the ribs (including the scalenes of the neck) — hold residual tension. As a result, people either exhale incompletely or inhale incompletely.

People who exhale incompletely may have a habitually-expanded chest; a big, rounded or hanging belly, high shoulders, and a shortened neck. The belly comes from a diaphragm that, being always partially contracted, pushes the abdominal contents down and out of their normal position; the high shoulders come from contracted scalenes lifting the upper ribs in a chronic attempt to get more air into the upper volume of the lungs. The person may also feel chronically tired or sore in the ribs.

People who inhale incompletely may have a hard, flat belly and ribs that are down and flattened in front. This flattening across the front comes from tight (1) abdominal and (2) intercostal muscles. These muscles, when chronically tight, (1) prevent the diaphragm from flattening and pulling air into the lungs and (2) reduce chest volume. (The dome-shaped diaphragm functions like a piston. When it contracts, the dome flattens and pulls away from the area inside the chest, sucking air in. It also lifts the ribs, something like the way a Can-Can dancer lifts her skirt.)

Tight shoulders encase the ribs and restrict breathing. Tight muscles of the shoulder girdle, attached to the rib cage, pull upon the ribs. Before the intercostals can function freely, the ribs must be free of the shoulder girdle.

The general reaction/movement patterns that underlie these patterns of tension are discussed in detail in “Clinical Somatic Education — A New Discipline in the Field of Health Care” by Thomas Hanna.

Closer observation may reveal that in breathing, certain ribs move more than others. Areas over less mobile ribs often feel ticklish or sore. Such areas deserve special attention.

To get your client to relax their neck, especially their scalenes, can also make a big difference in breathing.


The intercostals do more than mechanically move the ribs in breathing; they also create the sensations of emotion and attitude. Their patterns of contraction create these familiar feelings.

When the intercostals contract the ribs in chronic sorrow, for example, we may find asthma. They may also chronically expand the ribs, in the posture of boistrousness and self-aggrandizement (“puffing oneself up”) — a possible compensation for feelings of inferiority or fear (which coincide with a contracted rib cage). The following sequences address both conditions.

In general, Hanna Somatic Education Practitioners do a special Breathing lesson only after they have done lessons that address the major contraction patterns of stress and injury.


1. Free the diaphragm.
2. Free the shoulders from the ribs.
3. Free the ribs from each other (intercostals)
4. Integrate rib and shoulder movements.
5. Free the upper ribs from the neck (scalenes).

Other, substantially more sophisticated maneuvers that evolved out of this approach generate the other changes called for in the sequence listed at the start of the instructional section of this article.

Improving Breathing | clinical somatic education technique

Clinical Somatic Education | a New Discipline in the Field of Health Care