Learn to Breathe Effectively

A Diaphragmatic Deep Breathing Exercise

Taking a moment to breathe
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Knowing how to take a full, deep breath is a quality of life skill. A full breath cycle spreads energy-giving oxygen throughout the body, gets rid of waste gasses like carbon dioxide, and stimulates the spine and internal organs.

Deep breathing is an essential part of maximizing any form of exercise you do. In Pilates, we use the dynamic of full breathing including big inhales and big exhales to initiate and power our Pilates exercises, and most Pilates exercises are taught with specific breathing patterns.

One of the first steps in learning to breathe well is to learn diaphragmatic deep breathing. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits below the lungs, horizontally bisecting the trunk of the body. When you breath in, the diaphragm contracts and flattens downward creating a vacuum that draws in air. When you exhale, the diaphragm returns to its dome shape, pushing air out of the body.

Once you know how to get your diaphragm working for you, you will find that diaphragmatic breathing is both energizing and relaxing. It is the way a truly efficient body breathes throughout life. Using diaphragmatic breathing consciously is a popular technique for stress reduction as well.

More: The Importance of Deep Breathing in Pilates

Try This Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise:

  • The Set Up: You can do this exercise lying on your back with your knees bent or even now, while sitting up reading. Either way, do it with one hand resting lightly on your lower belly so you can feel your breath expanding the abdominal wall and moving through your body. If both hands are free, use the other hand behind your low back for greater sensory input.
    • Your shoulders should stay down. Keep them relaxed and pulled down away from your ears.
    • Your spine is long, in what we call neutral spine, a natural position of the spine that allows the curves of the spine to be present.
    • If you are sitting, try to feel that your weight is falling directly down through your sit bones and your head is floating up toward the sky.
    • Your throat is open and relaxed to allow for maximum air flow.
  • The Inhale: Breathe in slowly through your nose. Let the air flow into your upper chest and down your spine -- expanding the sides and lower ribs, filling the diaphragm, back and lower back, and dropping all the way down into the pelvis. Allow the deep inhale to push your belly out a little bit. Don't try to resist or compress it.
     
  • The Exhale: Let go of your breath in the reverse order that you brought it in. Drop your lower abs, then your belly. Let your ribs pull in, and last, let your chest to drop as you fully expel all the air. Don't force the air out, simply allow it to flow out of the body. 
     
  • Repeat: Do this diaphragmatic breathing exercise a few times until you get the sense of how each part flows into the next. On each exhale draw the abdominals inward and upward gently driving the air back up and out of the body. This abdominal action will come into play routinely in your Pilates workout.

TIPS AND TRICKS

  • When you breathe in, try not to let it raise or tense your shoulders. You want your shoulders to stay down and relaxed.
     
  • Similarly, you want the inhale to occur throughout the entire torso both front and back. The chest does move with the breath but remains relaxed and the ribs maintain their cylindrical shape.
     
  • Enjoy! Almost nothing serves us more than deep breathing.

Now that you understand diaphragmatic breathing, it is time to move on to lateral breathing.

Lateral breathing is used a lot in Pilates exercise because it allows one to get a good, deep breath while the abs are deeply pulled in. This type of breathing requires some training. Be sure to master your diaphragmatic breathing first and foremost. 

Edited by Alycea Ungaro

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