There is life, power and healing in one’s breath.
Breathing is very important and powerful, yet it is so often ignored, taken for granted and people often live dissociated from their breath, which is necessary for life. With a single breath you can achieve relaxation, release stress, execute or sustain movement, all by controlling, adapting and harnessing the power of inhaling and exhaling. It is the unify thread between mind, body and spirit, allowing you to focus your mind, cleanse your body and rejuvenate your spirit. It is the fuel that provides energy for movement whether it is a burst, sprint, explosion of power and strength or a coordinate flow of movement. It is the foundation for educating, training, balancing and improving the performance of the neuro-muscular system.
Benefits of Breathing Include:
- Oxygenation of the blood and nourishment of the body and cells
- Expels toxins from the body
- Improves skin tone
- Improves circulation
- Centers and calms the mind and body
- Encourages focus and concentration
- Assists in the activation of targeted muscles
- Provides rhythm and power for movement
Breathing Principles & Mechanics
Breathing in a very intricate voluntary and involuntary process that involves various joints and muscles. Having a general understanding of breathing is important as it give insight into movement, exercise performance and patterns. The diagram is a dome-shaped muscle that makes an arch like shape under the rib cage. The diaphragm falls and rises during cycles of breathing, either increasing or decreasing the volume of the torso. There are a few different types of breathing patterns that are practices in different forms of exertion, mediation and exercise. We will cover diaphragmatic and lateral-posterior breathing that is used in Pilates(watch the video below to practice at home or in your next exercise class).
In diaphragmatic breathing about 70% of breathing effort comes from this muscle, it is often called “belly breathing” or practiced in various types of yoga practice. Then the diaphragm contracts, it actually flattens and increases the vertical dimensions of the rib cage, while the external inter costal muscles that exist between the ribs work to draw the lower ribs upward. The lateral (side-side) dimensions of the thorax increase because the lower region of the thorax expands as the diaphragm rises. As the upper ribs rise they increase the front to back dimension of the thorax and cause the sternum or breastbone to move forward. Inhalation results from the effect of increased volume of the thorax, decreased intra pulmonary pressure and air flowing into the lungs.
As the diaphragm relaxes it returns to its dome-shape because of the upward push from the abdominal muscles and organs of the abdominal cavity and cause a decrease in the vertical 9top-bottom) thorax dimensions. So exhalation is the effect of the elastic recoil of the lungs and chest wall to create decreased volume of the thorax and increased intrapulmonary pressure leading to the expulsion of air.
Lateral Breathing & Your Powerhouse (Core)
Pilates focuses on lateral or costal breathing, where with inhalation the focus is a lateral and posterior expansion of the rib cage during inhalation. This method of breathing actually allows for the continued engagement of the abdominal muscles throughout movement, exercise and helps with the stabilization of the trunk and spine. With exhalation in Pilates breathing there is an additional focus and effort to further contract the abdominal muscles to assist the diaphragm and inter costals to completely exhale air. It is often cued as like “wringing” out your waist, the effort to try to get every last drop of breath out , allows you to get a deeper inhalation and bring in more oxygen rich air to energize and fuel every cell of your body. Abdominal contraction = core-back stabilization. Your core and center is where all movement should originate to promote more efficient and safe movement and exercise patterns.
Is Diaphragmatic or Lateral Pilates Breathing Better?
While diaphragmatic breathing encourages the relaxation of the abdominal muscles during inhalation, lateral breathing (Pilates breathing) with the continual inward pull of the abdominals facilitates the continued abdominal contraction throughout the entire cycle on breathing , on the inhale and the exhale. Diaphragmatic or yoga style breathing isn’t in any way inferior, just different and is appropriate to achieve different goals or intentions. The lateral breathing of PIlates is more commonly the preferred method of breathing during certain forms of movement, exertion and high level performance.
Consequences of Poor Uncontrolled Breathing
Our breath is what fuels our bodies. more often that not many people breathe very rapidly or shallowly. This can lead to neck and chest tension and restriction, over time it can cause these muscles to become bulky and adversely affect posture, hinder movement patterns and cause pain or injury. Not only does shallow breath start to change the physical position, structure, strength and mobility of muscles and joints, prolonged labored, shallow breathing can internally affect the physiology and the ability to deliver all the nutrients to your cells, organs and expel the toxins in the body. Beyond physiological changes, shallow of inefficient breathing can be the consequence of or contribute to mental stress and anxiety.
How to Practice Powerful Breathing
I wanted to demonstrate the practice of “lateral or posterior breathing” that is practiced in Pilates.
You will see how this method of breathing enhances your ability to focus, control your movements and helps to strengthen your core and back.
When learning “lateral breathing” props like using a band or your hands can be helpful to give your brain and body the feedback it needs and to start to imprint these patterns to make your movement patterns more efficient and safe.
- Wrapping a stretchy band around your ribcage and holding the band taught in your hands and expanding your chest/rib cage into the band can be helpful. It can be practiced either in front of a mirror or on your back on a mat. The feedback of the mat sometimes is easier to grasp this concept.
- Lying on a mat with your knees bent and the pelvis and spine in a neutral position( I will cover this more in depth in another post and in the video) with your hands on the outer portions of your ribs you can feel the breath move outward and then with a forceful exhale draw them away and experience a deep abdominal contraction.
I hope you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for each breath you take and are excited to harness the power and healing that is in your breath.
Want to work on your breath and learn hoe to connect your breath and core so you can protect your back and body when you are active, exercising and just doing life?
Come join us in one of our Specialty Fitness Classes to explore how we work and strengthening the strength and stamina of our breath and bodies together.
In our Core and Back Class you will learn the foundation of Pilates breathing with emphasis on the core and powerhouse of your body.
The Power and Posture Class gets you up on your feet moving in functional, standing Pilates movements and integrates strength, stamina and burst of power, so you will learn to control your breath and strengthen your mind and body too!
The Cardio Sculpt Class is a steady flow and interval paced Pilates class, where there is a flow of short sprints and spikes of breathing that are then balanced by recovery periods that bring your heart and breathing rate down. It is a great way to train your breathing and be able to handle anything that comes your way.
A fan favorite is the Release & Restore Class where we practice “movement massage” with focus muscle and fascia release and stretching techniques, all paired with deep breathing. It is an amazing way to release stress, bring awareness to your body and mind and restore balance to your life.
Sound like what you need and your body is craving? Join us in Santa Barbara or online in of of our Virtual LIVE classes. We offer FREE taster classes weekly if you are new and want to sample our proven movement methods and classes. You can also access a weeks of FREE Pilates Videos in our Starter series where you learn the basics, Principles of Pilates and can sample some Pilates workouts that target your core, glutes, back, flexibility, mobility and help release and restore your body and mind.
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