August 18, 2018

Just breathe, will you?

The Pilates breath! Diaphragmatic breathing! Costal breath! Call it what you will!

I teach Pilates to all ages and body types, including teaching Prepare and Repair my specialist tailored pregnancy and post natal classes and what is the one thing all these body types have in common - they all breathe.

How we breathe affects everything from our state of mind to our energy levels, Every cell in our body relies upon us breathing. The better we breathe the better our body can function makes perfect sense yes?

However modern life can mess up these patterns. whether its stress, being immobile for long periods due to your job, whether you have bad posture due to pain or habit or your mood! (hate your job - your posture will say that!)

We all know that taking a deep breath and relax is a great idea - when did you last take some time to take more than maybe 5 or 6 deep breaths before having to rush off and do something! I find that women are worse than men in taking a few minutes to stop and it is usually those people who need to.

Over the years my teaching has changed somewhat and those of you who have been on this journey with me will have seen. Moving away from the traditional Pilates teachings where you teach as Joseph himself taught. I have followed the contemporary path - meaning that the exercises are tailored to the bodies that are being taught - most of the people Joseph Pilates taught were ballet dancers at the top of their game - they have very different bodies to those I teach today!

This also means that we can benefit from the latest scientific research into movement, anatomy and sports science to really begin to understand how the body works.

Hence the exhale on the effort. This is a technique that babies are born with - when they lie on their backs and lift their feet up - look at their little tummies they go flat!!!! we are just relearning to move how we are designed!

Exhale on the effort - PREVENTION of Hernias, Haemorrhoids and Prolapse.

This technique is for everyone - having poor movement patterns and poor breath integration will not serve you well in the long term. Holding your breath to lift something heavy, holding your breath while in a plank! Do you pass wind doing some exercises - that's a sure sign that your bearing down on your pelvic floor!

Holding your breath to do anything that involves effort means that you are creating stability by pumping air into your core to create a pressure - like when you blow up a balloon it goes firm, however if you keep inflating and deflating that balloon its gonna have some wear and tear and as soon as there is any weakness in that balloon its gonna pop or split and its the same with your body - eventually that pressure will come out somewhere... Hernia or prolapse? - no thanks, let's prevent!

How posture affects your breathing

To breathe we need to allow the lungs and rib cage to move, the muscles of the torso to be balanced and allowed to move, we need the pelvis to be in alignment with the rib cage.

Unfortunately lots of people tend to think that to stand up straight they need to stick their chest out - no, no, no; that usually makes things worse.

Upper and Lower crossed syndrome - most people have this to some extent - can you recognise it in yourself?

If you have rounded shoulders you will be compressing your lungs at the front so your rib cage will be hindered in its action all the ribs should be able to move as you breathe. So you can't expand the ribs at the front. Try it - slouch forwards and try to take a full breathe and expand the front of your rib cage - it's a no go, yes?

If your pelvis is tipped - usually tipped forwards you have a shortening in your lower back that will also constrict the back of your rib cage. The majority of people do not breathe using the back of their ribs, (because they can't see them!) and they are usually constricted. Try it - concentrate on sending the breath into your lower ribs at the back - they are usually a bit unyielding, but after a few breaths should start to move.

When your rib cage can't move you will breath usually in your shoulders (so the upper chest and shoulders go up and down) or you may excessively breathe through your belly. The shoulders should not need to get involved in your breathing unless you are really exerting yourself and out of breath and then the muscles in your neck will pull upwards to really allow your whole lung capacity to give it its all.

This is what we are harnessing!

Make sense? As we exhale the diaphragm moves up and the rib cage contracts around the lungs this expels air from the lungs upwards and out.

As this happens the (TVA) Transverse Abdominus muscles that wraps around your whole mid section. also contracts wrapping itself a bit like a corset around your mid section adding stability to your center or deep cylinder (core).

Here is the magic!

Where this is really helpful is that we know that with good movement of the rib cage and diaphragm the Pelvic floor will move with the diaphragm! So as we exhale and the TVA wrap around our center and the pelvic floor will naturally draw up and engage so this means that the deep cylinder that we refer to in Pilates is working as efficiently as it can to support you.

I hope you found this informative - I could talk for hours about this! I know, I know but it can be life changing.

Next time I will talk about how the breath and Pelvic floor function are interlinked, - and this is where I will truly turn geeky!

Till then breathe well, lots of love Alex xx

Thanks to Jenny Burrell of Burrell Education for the use of the graphics.