One of my lovely clients presented me with an amazing Christmas gift last year. It was a custom made cut out wooden sign, that said: "Breathe". She said I was always talking about the importance of breathing, so she thought this would be a perfect addition to my Pilates studio. I was overwhelmingly touched by her thoughtfulness and her treasured gift is now on display in my Pilates studio as a constant reminder to everyone just how important breathing really is, not just at Pilates, but it's essential for life itself. In these uncertain times, with a COVID-19 pandemic that attacks the respiratory system, sweeping the world, being in control of your breath has never been more important. In this post, I will share with you, a very simple but effective breathing technique to help you maintain calm at this difficult time.
As Joseph Pilates said 'Breathing is the first act of life and also the last. Our very life depends on it" He emphasised the importance of mastering correct breathing techniques. "It is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions who have never mastered the art of correct breathing," he said.
Our breathing is controlled by our autonomic nervous system which means it is automatic or out of our conscious control and we all know how to breathe. However, we can choose to control our breath. There are many benefits to developing awareness of your own breath and refining various breathing techniques, so you are able to ensure your breathing is as effective and efficient as possible. The greater your understanding of the breath, the easier it will be to use it to your advantage.
What Happens To Our Breathing When We Are Under Stress?
Due to the challenging times we are all facing, I have understandably seen anxiety levels rising in varying degrees in all my clients this past week in the Pilates studio. We want to spend most of our time in the "rest and digest" state, which is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. When we are extremely stressed or anxious the "fight or flight response" is activated by the sympathetic nervous system. This occurs in response to an attack or threat to our survival and can be real or perceived. Stress hormones including adrenaline are released. This causes our heart rate to become rapid, our breathing becomes shallow and fast, our pupils dilate as we become more alert to any danger around us and our skin can become pale as blood flow is directed to the brain, arms and legs. This is very useful if a lion attacks you, for example, and you need to either fight the lion or run away very quickly, but living with this level of stress on a daily basis is very harmful. It's a little like a car engine that is revving too fast and will eventually burn out.
How Can We Use The Breath To Reduce The Stress Response & Restore Calm?
Pilates requires a combination of two types of breathing, Abdominal or deep breathing where we send the breath down low into our abdomen and Diaphragmatic or lateral breathing where we send our breath into the side of our ribs using the diaphragm to create expansion. Many psychologists and some psychiatrists prescribe breathing exercises as an alternative to medication for lowering anxiety and stress levels because it is so effective in restoring calm. This is one of the many benefits of Pilates and over the years many of my clients have used it successfully to keep anxiety under control.
Breathing Technique For Relaxation
Either lie on your back or sit comfortably in a chair and place your palms on your lower tummy. When you have mastered the technique you don't need to use your hands. Inhale, sending your breath down low to your hands for 5 counts and then exhale making your breath last for 5 counts. Repeat this for 1 min. Rest for a few minutes and repeat the technique again for another minute. Keep going until you feel calmer. If you want measurable results, you can take your pulse at the beginning and then at the end and you should see a lowered heart rate. This will start to reverse the effects of the stress response as bringing your breathing under control and keeping it as relaxed and deep as possible sends a message to the brain the danger has passed and allows our body to return to the "rest and digest" state as opposed to the "flight or fight" response. Use this breathing technique as often as you need to as many people are now in "survival mode" and constant "flight or fight" but this weakens our immune system, just at a time when staying healthy is vital for our survival.
My Online Pilates Studio, JS Mind Body Pilates provides breathing techniques, guided relaxation sessions and of course, Pilates for all levels. If you would like to build on the technique you have learned here take the free 10-day trial now, self cancel at any time. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me at [email protected] . Remember to Breathe & Stay Calm!
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