Tightness in the muscles attached to and around your rib cage can affect your ability to breathe effectively. Stretch the muscles in your rib cage through breathing exercises, back-bending exercises and forward fold stretches.
Your rib cage has two major sets of muscle layers: the external and internal intercostals. The external intercostals lift your rib cage and increase lung volume. Internal intercostals help depress the rib cage and aid forced exhalations.
By practicing deep breathing, opening your chest and stretching your back, your rib cage flexibility can improve.
Read more: How to Lengthen the Spine With Yoga
1. Three-Part Breath
Perform breathing rib stretches, such as the three part breath, to improve rib mobility. Sit in a comfortable position and notice the flow of breath in and out of your body. Bring a hand to your stomach and begin deepening your breath. Notice how your belly expands as you inhale while your belly sinks down on the exhale.
Move your hand to your rib cage and feel your ribs expanding and contracting laterally as you inhale and exhale. Place your hand just above your heart and feel each inhale lifting this area of your body. Encourage these three movements on each deep breath starting with your belly, moving through your ribs and heart. Repeat for five to 10 breaths.
Move through Cat/Cow five to 10 times to warm up your spine and rib cage muscles. Kneel on all fours using a yoga mat to cushion your knees. Press your palms flat into the mat, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart.
Inhale and track your gaze slowly up to the ceiling as you arch your back, dropping your belly and spreading your shoulders wide. Exhale and track your gaze gradually toward your belly button, rounding your back and tucking your tail bone as your back muscles stretch.
Read more: Yoga Spine Alignment
3. Bridge Pose
Lie on your back for the bridge pose, using a yoga mat for cushioning and traction. Bend your knees, bringing your bare feet as close to your hips as possible while keeping them hip-width apart. Hold a yoga block between your knees to help maintain alignment. Place a thick blanket under your shoulders for support, if necessary.
Rest your arms along your sides. Inhale, pressing into the soles of your feet and arms as you lift your pelvis off the floor. Press your shoulders into the mat as you lift through your rib cage on each inhale. Stay in the pose for five breaths then gradually lower back to the mat.
4. Head-to-Knee Bend
Sit on your yoga mat with a cushion under the edge of your sits-bones to do the head-to-knee forward bend. Bend your right knee, bringing the sole of your right foot into your left thigh. Inhale, reaching your arms overhead then fold over your left leg, bringing your forehead down toward your left knee.
Hold for several breaths, feeling a stretching along your back rib cage. Stretch the side of your rib cage by rotating your torso inward and reaching your right arm overhead. Repeat on both sides.