“The breath is remarkable.
You can learn a lot from the breath. It is profoundly wise.
It’s true that every emotion, physical condition, resistance, disturbance, or tension you have is connected to your breath.
Do you ever notice that you are holding your breath? Remember what you do when you are afraid, or tense, or worrying about something? Or how your breath is when you are feeling happy? Or sad? Or when you’ve been sitting at your desk all day?
It’s the breath that is carrying the message.
The breath can be your best friend. It can be a tool to balance, release, and free your mind and body. It can bring you strength and courage. It can calm you down or give you energy.
Breathing is an art.
But you don’t need to be taught how to breath.
Breathing needs not to be taught, but liberated.
Gentle, conscious, flowing, moving –
the power of breath.”
– Bija Bennett
The breath. It is how we live. From the moment we are conceived, it is our life force. It can calm us, help us recover, lower our anxiety, boost our immune system, power us up, fuel every cell in our bodies, clear a foggy head, and lower the effects of aging. It’s no coincidence that breath is such an important part of both a Pilates and Yoga practice. It floods our body full of new oxygen that nourishes our brain and muscles.
In Dr. Belisa Vranich’s book Breathe, she states that “the strength of our breathing muscles and the balance of oxygen in our body are the cornerstones of our health.” A daily focused breathing practice works out your core, which includes your diaphragm (your breathing muscle) and your pelvic floor. So just breathing plays a significant role in your spinal alignment, posture, and overall core stability.
Shallow breathing, which is what you’ll typically see in today’s busy and stressful lifestyles, can wreck havoc on your overall health. By shallow breathing, you are inhaling oxygen only into your chest and shoulders, causing neck tightness and potential back pain. By inhaling fully into your abdomen, your diaphragm contracts down, putting pressure out of the abdomen wall down into the pelvic floor resulting in spinal stability. As you exhale, the diaphragm goes back up into the rib cage, the abdominal wall comes in and the pelvic floor rises back up. Without this core stability our breathing creates, the rest of our body will not be in correct alignment. This is significantly important when teaching prenatal and postnatal women experiencing any sort of dysfunction or pain.
As Dr Belisa Vranich’s states, “your body’s main source of energy is oxygen. As oxygen circulates throughout your system, it is released into the cells in your tissues and organs, where it can interact with certain enzymes, creating fuel for your body.” I visualize marathon runners here. Deep inhales through the nose… exhaling through the mouth. Creating more fuel to push their bodies farther. It’s important to note that oxygen plays an important role in creating healthy cells in order to not only fuel our bodies, but allow our bodies to break down our food, balance out our hormones, and think more clearly.
So how are you breathing? Do you find yourself tense, stressed, or having a hard time catching your breath while doing certain activities? Do you suffer from a foggy head, lack of energy, or sleep issues? Or is it more neck tightness, back pain, or digestive problems? A great way to test your breathing pattern is to lay down on your back, feet flat on the floor, and knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a nice deep inhale through the nose and notice where your body rises. Does your hand over your chest just rise or does it rise with your belly? Do your shoulders lift up towards your ears on the inhale? When you shallow breathe, your hand over your chest will lift while your belly stays the same or goes in. Sometimes your shoulders will lift up towards your ears creating stress on the neck.
What you want to feel and see in your body is more 360 degree expansion in your ribcage, similar to an umbrella opening, all the way down into your belly. As you exhale, think of that umbrella closing, drawing in your ribcage on all sides and belly in. Don’t worry if you do not get it on the first few tries. Lateral breathing takes practice and time, creating more mobility in the ribcage and increasing the strength of your diaphragm and pelvic floor.
I challenge you right now to take 5-10 minutes of straight breathing. Focusing on the things you have learned and listening to your body. Visualize the oxygen traveling all the way through to your organs and muscles, creating more space in your body, allowing more movement and flexibility. Your body will thank you for the breath of fresh air!
Want to learn more about breath and how you can move better every day in your body through Pilates? Click here!