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AND BREATHE.........

The first thing you do in life... is take a deep breath.

And it begins.

From here on out—before you give a speech, before you jump into the swimming pool, as you calm panicked nerves, gasp and before a big belly-laugh—you breathe.


I thought December might be a good month to delve a little deeper into the science and exercise of this life saving function!!!


For each one of us, breathing is essential to life, from our first breath to our last. Lungs in themselves are fascinating, composed of various specialised cells and tissues—not just simple tubes or pipes—that extract oxygen from the atmosphere and transfer it into the blood stream. The lungs play a critical role in the body – extracting oxygen and distributing it to each and every cell. To me, the simple existence of lungs and how they work are an important reminder of the fragility and wonder of life.


To ensure that we get an adequate supply of oxygen it is helpful to understand how we actually breathe.

There are two main types of breathing :

costal (meaning “of the ribs”) or chest breathing,

and diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing.

(Only when we take a maximum breath is a third variety used, known as clavicular breathing.)

Both main types are equally important methods and necessary for different people with different conditions/needs; ie: runners / COPD,,,,



COSTAL OR CHEST BREATHING

This type of breathing is characterised by an outward, upward movement of the chest wall. Chest breathing requires more work to be done in lifting the rib cage, thus the body has to work harder to accomplish the same blood gas mixing than with diaphragmatic breathing, and the greater the work, the greater the amount of oxygen needed, which results in more frequent breaths. Chests breathing is useful during vigorous exercise but it is inappropriate for ordinary longer periods of time and everyday activity. Since it is part and parcel of the fight or flight response it can also occur when the individual is aroused by external or internal challenges or danger. With chest breathing the breath is likely to be shallow, jerky and unsteady, resulting in unsteadiness of the mind and emotions. Until chest breathing is replaced by deep, even and steady diaphragmatic breathing, all efforts to relax the body, nerves and mind will be ineffective.

BELLY OR DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING

When we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes downwards, causing the abdominal muscles to relax and rise. In this position, the lungs expand, creating a partial vacuum, which allow air to be drawn in. When we breathe out the diaphragm relaxes, the abdominal muscle contract and expel air containing carbon dioxide.

When we are calm and composed our breathing is diaphragmatic, and since there is a reciprocal relationship between breathing and the mind, practising diaphragmatic breathing leads to mental relaxation. It is the most important tool available for stress management. It promotes a natural, even movement of breath which both strengthens the nervous system and relaxes the body. It is the most efficient method of breathing, using minimum effort for maximum oxygen.


The main benefits of diaphragmatic breathing are:

• Providing the body with sufficient oxygen.

• Expelling carbon dioxide adequately.

• Relaxing the body and the mind.

• Improving circulation to the abdominal organs.




Why Breathing Exercises Help

When you have healthy lungs, breathing is natural and easy. You breathe in and out with your diaphragm doing about 80 percent of the work to fill your lungs with a mixture of oxygen and other gases, and then to send the waste gas out.

Our lungs are springy, like a door hinge, but over time, with asthma and especially with COPD, our lungs lose that springiness. They don't return to the same level as when you start breathing, and air gets trapped in our lungs,

Over time, stale air builds up, leaving less room for the diaphragm to contract and bring in fresh oxygen. With the diaphragm not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels, and less reserve for exercise and activity. If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.


Pursed Lip Breathing

This exercise reduces the number of breaths you take and keeps your airways open longer. More air is able to flow in and out of your lungs so you can be more physically active. To practice it, simply breathe in through your nose and breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth, with pursed lips.


Belly Breathing, aka Diaphragmatic Breathing

As with pursed lip breathing, start by breathing in through your nose. Pay attention to how your belly fills up with air. You can put your hands lightly on your stomach, or place a tissue box on it, so you can be aware of your belly rising and falling. Breathe out through your mouth at least two to three times as long as your inhale. Be sure to relax your neck and shoulders as you retrain your diaphragm to take on the work of helping to fill and empty your lungs.



Breathing is one of the main principles of PILATES and its use is further promoted so that we exhale on the aspect of the movement that requires the greatest effort. This is because the core muscles are activated earlier during expiration, therefore by breathing out on the hardest exertion you will get the greatest engagement from your core muscles. This gives local spine stability and support. Exhaling through the mouth provides least resistance and encourages more air excretion than through the narrow nasal passage, giving further ease to the exercise.

Pilates Breathing Principles can be applied out into your everyday life. Try regulating your breathing with steady deep inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth when things get stressful or when you feel anxious and you should find that this calms you down a little. If you are gearing up for a challenging exercise or event, try adopting this regularly prior to the movement to aid a reduction in blood pressure and stress hormones, too so that you begin in a state of relaxation and continue this throughout.


Try these simple breathing exercises to familiarise yourself with your PILATES BREATHING!!


Abdominal focus:

  • Sit up tall and place your hands on the lower half of your ribcage with your finger tips from each hand lightly touching each other in the centre.

  • Take a breath in and feel your ribcage widening outwards and deepening. Your finger tips will move apart from each other.

  • Now exhale and imagine the sides of your ribcage sinking in towards each other. You should also feel your finger tips coming back towards each other.

Try this every time you feel a little stressed or anxious and repeat for 5-7 breaths, or as many as you feel necessary to return your breath to a slow, steady pace.


Pelvic floor focus:

  • Continue working on the exercise above, but this time as you take a deep breath inwards focus on relaxing your pelvic floor, feeling the release of these muscles downwards.

  • As you exhale now focus on the feeling of the pelvic floor rising upwards. Try not to squeeze your buttocks at the same time to ensure you are isolating the pelvic floor muscles.


And finally,,,, remember....

Becoming familiar with your natural breathing pattern can have a positive effect on your mental health, emotions, reactions to stress and anxiety, and muscular tensions. It's one of the most important things we should focus on, and exercise/practise..... and yet it is probably the most neglected function of our bodies.

So, let’s deep inhale together, hold it…and exhale all of the stale air and bad energy,,, and start feeling clear and strong.


Sent with light and blessings

Sharon x

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