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Breathe Your Way to a Better You!

If you’ve ever been to a Pilates class, a Yoga class or any form of mindful practice, then there’s no doubt the instructor harped on about breathing. There’s also a big chance you found this the most confusing and most difficut part of the class. Why? Breathing is something we do each and every day (at rest, adults can take between 17,000 – 30,000 breaths a day) automatically. The answer is we simply don’t think about it and we only breathe in the minimum required to function.

“Breathing is the first act of life and the last” – Joseph Pilates

Due to breathing being an involuntary action, it’s easy to cast your attention away to how you’re actually breathing. Most of us tend to do what’s called shallow breathing, meaning we only take a small breath into the upper part of the lungs. Our lungs are in the shape of rounded pyramids – this means that the upper part of the lungs contain approximately only 25% of their volume where oxygen can be loaded into the blood, while the lower part of the lungs contains at least 75% of lung capacity. Think about it like this: say your car is empty and you only put in $5 – $10 worth of petrol and then you run out of petrol right away and have to fill up again. Again you only put in $5 – $10 worth – meaning you have to fill up more frequently. Shallow breathing is very similar.

This is why it is important when breathing in, to expand the bottom part of the rib cage and diaphragm, as well as the upper chest.

This is known as lateral or diaphragmatic breathing and is the most important aspect of many practices such as Pilates.

Like anything, diaphragmatic breathing requires practice and taking the time to learn this way of breathing can yield many positive benefits to your health. Some benefits of diaphragmatic breathing include:

  • Correct action of core muscle recruitment and strengthening – protecting the spine and leading to better performance (this is why you’ll always hear a Pilates instructor cue breathing for every exercise)
  • Reduces the effects of stress
  • Cleanses the body of toxins through the lymphatic system
  • Improves respiratory and cardiovascular function

“Before any real benefits can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breathe properly. Our very life depends upon it.” – Joseph Pilates

Steps to better breathing

1. It is best to do this upright or standing tall, as it can increase the capacity of your lungs to fill with air. Posture is fundamental to a good breath.

2. Place one hand on your chest bone and one on the belly, just below your ribs.

3. Breathe in through your nose for a slow count of four. The hand on your chest should barely move and the hand on the belly should expand.

4. Breathe out through an open mouth for a slow count of four. You should feel your belly contract.

5. Aim to practice at least five cycles of breathing this way at one time, or longer if you’re feeling comfortable.

6. If you find this challenging, it may be helpful to start lying on the floor on a mat or on your bed.

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