It’s back to basics this April! Let’s talk about breath–one of the central principles of Pilates.
The primary type of breathing used in Pilates is costal breathing–the rib cage expands side to side and front to back allowing the abs to stay engaged. Think of lateral movement especially–side to side. And also think of puffing out the back of the ribs when sitting or standing. The benefits of this type of breathing are that you can increase your ribcage elasticity and stabilize the torso for motions that require mega-support from the abs. Exhalation could be passive or active, but remians controlled and smooth. However, breathing this way for too long can cause anxiety in some.
Research has shown that diaphragmatic breathing reduces stress and relaxes people. Diaphramatic breathing is allowing the diaphragm to drop and may give you the feeling of filling the belly with air, although the air does not travel down that far.
Your Pilates breath should be different than your all-day regular life breath. It’s not beneficial to walk around keeping the abs zipped up and breathing only into your ribcage. You train the muscles in Pilates to be there when you need them for stability…not so you are stuck like a statue the whole day. The torso should move freely.
It’s a good idea to take breaks in Pilates and allow 3 or 4 diaphragmatic breaths to calm the body and deepen your oxygen intake while in a pose that requires less balance and less stability for the spine–say, child’s pose or half-bend forward. This is also a great way to release/stretch the lower back.
After teaching 7am classes twice a week for the last 6 months, I must weigh in on what it’s like to unite mind and body in a morning practice. The Yoga Room is offering a special 7am challenge, so now is the perfect time to start.
Before we get to the good stuff, you should know that science says you’ll have less of an appetite, more energy, more mental acuity, sleep better and be consistent in your practice by carving out exercise time in the morning*.
But, what I’ve noticed is that the morning is full of possibilities! You have a blank canvas to paint on. A nighttime yoga or Pilates practice carries the baggage of the day with it and much of the class will be spent undoing the tension from that day. In the a.m., you have a brand new, and hopefully rested, body to utilize which will take your practice even further.
In the end, when everyone else is gone, you are stuck with YOU (and your body). Spend time with YOU at the very start of your day. Why not give gratitude, challenge your body, and create space before you press on and work to please everyone else? To live your whole day in a body that’s connected to your mind, breath, and spirit is a wonderful thing. It brings about a mindfulness that changes the way you think, move, connect with others, and make decisions.
For tips on how to become an early riser, check out Leo Babauta’s article in one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits.
It’s easy to think of women in lulu, drinking Starbucks and flapping their “Hundreds” hands whens someone says “Pilates.” But, Joe Pilates trained boxers, soldiers and dancers. No matter who you are, Pilates will benefit you in some way. Read the article on the subject I wrote for a friend’s eNewsletter here!
Melinda is an excellent health coach and fitness teacher in the city. I can’t recommend her enough! Visit her website for nutritional info, coaching, and holistic health.
If the weather ever gets cooler (and stays that way), one of my favorite things is to step outside and inhale a breath of invigorating, sharp air. That breath of fresh air can’t happen without the exhalation before–which is a passive action in our daily lives.
In exercise and in Pilates, an active exhalation is vital to getting the most out of an exercise. Typically, the exhalation is on the most active part of the exercise, also known as the the “work.” This is meant to help you!
When you voluntarily force air out of your body, certain abdominal and thoracic muscles have to contract to bring the abdominal wall in and the ribs down. We tend to lose our rib cage and abdominal connection when we get tired, so exhaling is a simple way to keep those things engaged and get your mind off of whatever else might be burning! Also, exhaling expels all the bad stuff (tension, impurities, recycled and unusable air) and creates the room to inhale again and give your muscles the fresh oxygen they need.
So, my advice to you is to USE that exhale. Make it noisy! Try to blow out a candle in the middle of your exercise, sigh a Pilates sigh, practice your Pranayama, give a gentle or great giant grunt…Whatever breathing method you choose, don’t underestimate the power of exhalation.