Let's get with the times, ladies! Why do we still torture ourselves with underthings that pinch and poke?
Ever since I started practicing on friends and family as a Rolfing student, I noticed that women's ribcages are deformed by their bras. You read that right. The underwire and too-tight banding and straps is creating a pivot point when we bend which causes a bell-shape in our lower ribs. Yikes! This is more subtle than the ol' concave torso that corseting created up until about a century ago, but it's still significant enough to impact the core of the body.
The ribs articulate to the vertebrae, which, I'm sure you've heard is important to the spine and nervous system. What fills that three dimensional space between the spine and the breasts is our hearts, lungs, respiratory diaphragm, major nerves, arteries and veins, as well as the sac-like linings around the organs... ooohh, and all the muscles and that wondrous fascia that holds it all in place and gives it shape and stability.
Even without the trauma that underwires can impart to the ribs (and about half of women will experience this at least once) is housing a wee little human who deflects the lower ribs up and out to accommodate their growing form. So you can imagine what an underwire can do to a ribcage during pregnancy when her body is creating hormones to make her frame more elastic and supple to allow her body to be shaped by the growing baby inside of her. This is less than ideal for those organs and important structures and all of their attachments.
The good news is that I typically spend the very first session devoted to normalizing the relationship of the ribs to each other, the spine, the neck and shoulders, the lungs and the respiratory diaphragm. I don't even have to tell my clients what I'm doing but at the end of the session when they stand up to walk around the treatment room, at least 75% of them tell me they notice they're breathing better and they feel less tension in their shoulders. Many more will tell me they look and feel thinner because their abdominal muscles are now laying flatter and longer. Who doesn't love that?
So what to wear and buy? Start with a bra fitting at a department store because sizes and fit vary widely. Look for non-wired bras that you can at least slide 2-3 fingers beneath the band without fighting your way under the elastic. The straps should not dig in or leave marks on your shoulders. Make sure you can inhale your breath in all directions: up-down, side-side, and front-back. Don't be shy about getting a bra extender for Pete's sake if you can't afford a new bra, because even an inch of space with give you more breathing room!
You might need a new bra about every 6 months depending on wear and care, but especially if you've experienced change in your body composition or shape, had a child, are nursing, or are feeling like you're not as comfortable in your clothes.
Tight bras not only impact your breathing, but it's also believed that it can lessen the lymphatic drainage which helps the body to clean out waste products from all of the cells. Others in the alternative healthcare field have made study of the electromagnetic field and the interference in our bodies from the metal alloy being so close to our hearts and nervous system. There are current lawsuits claiming that bras are chemically treated and customers develop rashes and other sensitivities to the ingredients in the bra such as formaldehyde. There are plenty of articles on the internet, but be sure that you verify what you're researching because there are some loons out there. (It's quite possible that I could be one...) But I'm not at liberty to say whether all of the above are real threats or not because I don't have a lab and I haven't done my own clinical research. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm skeptical on certain things, but I never rule everything out completely.
If in doubt, give me a shout and we'll hash it out. :-)
Beth Pagel, Certified Rolfer and Women's Health Advocate