Cultivating The Conscious Breath
“Breath, Prana and Mind are all mutually and inherently related, cultivate one well and the other two will fall into line.” -Robert E. Svoboda
If you are reading this, you are breathing. The question is: are you breathing correctly? That seems like a weird question when breath is considered to be such an unconscious activity. The truth is, conscious breathing has long been a therapeutic way to de-stress, unwind and even enhance performance. Examples of this include meditation, pranayama, vocal training, Yoga, Pilates, swimming, etc... By bringing more consciousness to the way you breathe you can feel better in your body, even enhance daily activities with more strength and stability.
As a Pilates teacher, breath is our most important principle, it is the foundation of the Pilates work. We breathe diaphragmatically, In through the nose and out through the mouth. We live by the principle that “breath facilitates movement and movement facilitates breath”. Breathing correctly allows for bio-mechanically correct movement and sustained posture which will increase strength, stamina and stability.
Some of us are considered to be “accessory muscle” breathers. This is often considered a faulty breath pattern. It utilizes the muscles of the neck and upper back, which causes unnecessary tension in those areas. Breathing this way can restrict range of motion and inhibit freedom of movement (especially in the upper extremities).
What is the correct way to breathe? The diaphragmatic breath is considered to be the correct breath pattern. Diaphragmatic breathing allows the muscles of inspiration and expiration to collaborate efficiently with the diaphragm while allowing the accessory muscles of the neck and chest to be just that, accessories! This results in a sense of ease through the head, neck and shoulders (especially during inspiration). Benefits to breathing this way are: increased air exchange, stability of the thoracic spine, ribs and pelvis as well as freedom of movement with greater range of motion (mostly in the upper extremities).
Place one hand on each side of the ribcage (thumbs on the backside of the ribs, four fingers on the front side of the ribs). As you inhale feel the ribs expand out laterally into your hands. As you exhale funnel the ribs 3 dimensionally toward your pelvis.
Check for faulty breath patterns: Keep one hand on the side of the ribcage while placing the other on the clavicle. As you inhale make sure the clavicle is not moving upward with the breath (your hand should not rise with your breath). The clavicle should be still. This will ensure that you are not breathing with the accessory muscles of the neck.
* As you inhale always keep the ribs expanding out laterally. Keep the breath moving downward into the lower, lobes of the lungs. Always keep a sense of ease in the neck, chest and shoulders.
Become a conscious breather. Over time, utilizing the diaphragmatic breath will become an unconscious activity (just ask any Pilates student!). Practicing the diaphragmatic breath or simply being aware of how you are breathing is the first step in changing faulty breath patterns and feeling better in your body.
Megan Isola CPT-PMA