Of course we all know that if we cease to breathe we cease to live, however, not many of us consider the way we breathe to have such an effect over the quality of our lives. A good breathing technique can play a vital role in the improvement of respiratory function, our mood, feeling relaxed, as well as our posture and physical performance.
It is thought that most people breathe shallowly into the top portion of the lungs, instead of a full breath pattern which gets oxygen down into the lower lobes of the lungs where the best gaseous exchange takes place before being transported around to all of the muscles of the body and of course up into the brain. For optimal breathing we must engage the diaphragm.
To gain diaphragmatic function, breathing exercises should be undertaken concentrating on EXHALATION and not concentrating on the INHALATION. Exhalation through pursed lips has been shown to relieve dyspnoea (medical term meaning shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing) and hyperventilation (overbreathing), slow the respiratory rate, and increase tidal volume (blood flow to the muscles).
First, ‘purse’ your lips as if they are holding a straw in between them or blowing out a candle on a birthday cake. Then exhale slowly for as long as it feels comfortable. Next, hold your first finger in front of your face about a foot away and imagine that it is a lit candle. Then exhale slowly as if to “flicker” the flame of the candle with the breath. Breathe in and on the EXHALE again “flicker” the flame. Emphasis should not be on the INHALE but on the EXHALE.
During breathing training, the aim is to adopt breathing tactics that restrict over-activity of the accessory breathing muscles (ie. scalene and trapezius muscles of the neck and shoulders) in order to reduce shoulder rising on INHALATION.
Lots of emphasis is placed on the importance of shoulder stabilisation in STOTT PILATES and during certain forward flexion exercises hands are taken behind the head with elbows wide (“beach pose”) to open the chest and reduce shoulder movement. This position can also be adopted when practicing this breathing technique.
In STOTT PILATES correct breathing ensures that enough oxygen is flowing to the muscles you are using, and helps prevent unnecessary tension. A relaxed and full breath pattern encourages focus and concentration. The breath pattern involves an expansion of the rib cage out to the sides and back without allowing the shoulders to lift. It is also emphasised to breathe into the lower part of your lungs, because there is more efficient gas exchange.
This breath pattern used throughout exercises will help engage your deep abdominal muscles and stabilise your torso. It also helps to increase flexibility in the thoracic (upper) spine and rib cage. Inhalation is through the nose, deep into the back and sides of the rib cage and exhalation is through ‘pursed lips’, allowing the rib cage to close.
With the adoption of “pursed lip” breathing you will begin to breathe using the diaphragm effectively. Perform the breathing exercises for 5 minutes, twice a day if possible. Lying in bed before you go to sleep (adopting the “beach” pose, if shoulders permit this, is a very relaxing way to practice diaphragmatic breathing).
For further information and specific help with this breathing technique or answers to any questions you may have related to breathing speak to one of the Posture Dynamics team.