Breathing

Even if you follow no other instructions, learn to breath correctly.

  • Breathing, we do it all the time. Doesn’t nature take care of that part? I am alive. What could be wrong with my breathing?
  • First of all, it is important to know that your breath and pattern of breathing have a big influence on your body. Your posture and alignment, energy levels, ability to release tension and discomfort are all influenced by your breathing.
  • When practicing yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and relaxation exercises, we learn valuable breathing techniques. Those techniques are appropriate to each individual activity. In pilates, posterior- lateral breathing is part of the centering principle. Commonly people breath into the upper chest or they direct their breath into the stomach as taught in martial arts or relaxation exercises. During pilates practice you direct the breath primarily towards the sides and the back of your ribs while inhaling. Then you support the exhalation by consciously using your core muscles – transversus abdominus and obliques.

Benefits of posterior- lateral breathing

When you maintain your posterior lateral breathing, your blood circulates effectively and awakens all the cells within your body. Your breathing improves the function of every system, including the nervous, endocrine and lymphatic system. It will also rid your body of fatigue related waste products. As you can see, the full inhalation and exhalation cycle is important during pilates practice. Holding your breath at any point will take away from the benefit of the exercise.
During your pilates practice you aim to align your body, your frame as we often call it, with the use of your deep abdominal muscles, transversus abdominus (TA). The spine and in particular the vulnerable lower back will be supported by the TA. By keeping your navel pulled in and up, the deep TA gets activated. If your breath would be allowed to travel into your stomach, it would be impossible for you to keep your navel pulled in and up and your TA activated which is needed for the support of your spine.
If the airflow only goes into the upper part of your lungs, your body will not be efficiently oxygenated.
It is to note that front breathing is easier than side and back breathing. Though with continuous practice you can be successful and you will find that fully incorporating anterior motion of the diaphragm with the upper body is the strongest base upon which to progress to the posterior- lateral breathing used in pilates.

Developing posterior- lateral breathing

Breathing awareness
You can lay down on a mat, sit on a chair or sit on an exercise ball to do the breathing exercise for building awareness. If you choose to sit upright, lean slightly to your right first to find your right sit bone. Then lean slightly to your left to find the left sit bone. Even out the weight over both sit bones equally. In case you chose to lay on a mat, you want to make sure you have your pelvis in the neutral position.
If you choose to sit up, picture a string attached to the crown of your head holding you in an upright position by someone gently pulling on the string towards the ceiling.
Now wrap your arms around your chest and let your hands rest on your ribcage.
As you inhale direct your breath into your lateral ribcage and feel how your ribs open and expand. Then use your exhale pushing the air out and feel how the ribs narrow. Continue breathing this way with a calm long inhale and an equally long exhale.

This type of breathing is used while performing the pilates exercises. As you practice building your awareness you might start to notice that with each inhale you create room for your shoulder blades to glide further down your back and your neck muscles can relax more. Holding yourself upright, picture yourself hanging from that imaginary string, and breathing calmly will further a more correct posture.

Balloon Exercise
Start with the lateral breathing exercise described above. Now place your hands on your ribs. Right hand to the right ribcage, left hand to the left ribcage. Take a few deep breaths and feel your ribcage expand and narrow.
Next imagine two long balloons inside your chest. (Each one representing a lung.) When inhaling lighten the left hand on your left rib cage and keep the right hand pressing down on your right side of the ribcage. Only let the air fill the left ballon / lung while inhaling. Then exhale and feel the ribs narrow down again.
Repeat the breath cycle a few times and then switch hand setting to the opposite set. Left hand holds the pressure, right hand lightens off. Continue the breathing cycle filling the right side of the balloon / lung only.
Notice how much movement you can achieve on each side. Are both sides moving equally or has one side more movement than the other in comparison?

You might find that the movement is close to equal. In case your alignment is slightly off, your tighter / stronger side will most likely give you less freedom and restrict some of the movement of your ribs – too much support and not enough freedom. The deep muscles between the ribs can become stuck in such a pattern, as well as the deep abdominal and back muscles and the superficial abdominal and back muscles. Some people have hardly any movement on one side of the ribcage as the muscles have stagnated to a tight hold. With this particular “balloon breathing” exercise a process of awakening these muscles and releasing the hold can be started. More length and flexibility can be achieved with the breath.

Forced exhalation
Often times the martial art practice takes advantage of the forced exhalation. Joseph Pilates taught that forced exhalation is beneficial to your body, because in order to take a full in-breath, you must fully exhale and empty your lungs of any stale air. Your abdominal muscles help with this task. When you cough you can feel your TA and obliques contract, forcing the air out of your lungs.
With practice you can take control and do this calmly and press your lungs empty with the help of your deep abdominals, squeezing them as deep to as reaching and engaging your glutes.
Going back to the previous balloon exercise you may notice that the side which was easier to expand, shows now more weakness with the exhalation. Weaker muscles on one side of your body affect your ability to center yourself and align correctly. By concentrating on your exhale and strengthening the weaker side of your body, you will help to achieve the correct alignment of your body’s frame.

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