Pilates and Lateral Breathing
Pilates and Lateral Breathing
Breathe! Since it gives us life let’s talk about it a little more in depth. Your breathing can help you in so many ways other than just keeping you alive. The proposed benefits range from enhanced relaxation and decreased stress to lowered blood pressure, improved focus, activation of specific muscles, better circulation and respiration, and even lowered risk for cardiovascular disease along with improving the efficacy of your workout. Although some scientific research exists regarding the potential positive effects of various controlled breathing techniques, additional research is needed to better understand these benefits and create optimal training techniques. However, one cannot ignore the number of disciplines, both Eastern and Western, that use breath in a profound way—yoga, tai chi, aikido, karate, capoeira, dance, swimming, weightlifting, and so on. Some systems of training have endeavored to harness different effects of breath to enhance performance or foster health of the body, mind, and spirit.
Now let’s go deeper and discuss lateral, or intercostal, breathing. This is a special breathing technique we use in Pilates that allows us to maintain a contraction of the abs throughout an exercise. Joseph Pilates recognized that people generally breathe shallowly, only bringing air into the top portion of the lungs. This constricts the flow of air, can increase stress, and lead to fatigue. We need to take full, deep breaths to oxygenate the blood fully. In lateral breathing we breathe deeply, all the way down the spine and into the pelvic bowl, but emphasize expanding the breath into the back and sides of the ribcage. When the abs are pulled in properly, they protect the spine and act like a supportive corset for the whole trunk. This is in contrast to the type of breathing that emphasizes the lowering of the diaphragm during inhalation (often called diaphragmatic breathing), with the abdominal muscles relaxed so they are allowed to push outward. Knowing how to breathe correctly while keeping the abs contracted gives us extra support throughout an exercise. As you practice lateral breathing, you will find that you are able to perform Pilates exercises with greater ease. It helps make the scoop of abs easier and enhances the sense of lengthening the spine with the breath.
Benefits of lateral breathing
Helps maintain core contraction while performing the movements (protects the spine and leads to better performance)
Promotes mobility of the ribcage. By getting the ribcage to use its full movement potential, we can breathe better, move better through the spine, and allow the shoulder blades to function correctly.
Separating the ribs with each inhalation pulls every segment of the spine apart which reduces pressure on the discs and helps to develop the length and strength through our torso.
Breathing fully clarifies and calms the mind, and reduces stress.
Helps maintain focus and correct posture during your Pilates workout.
Helps to cleanse the body of toxins through the lymphatic system.
Trying to find your lateral breath
Place your hands on the sides of your rib cage–left and right and while inhaling, be aware of how your rib cage expands east and west. On the exhale, concentrate on expelling their air from your lungs as if you are squeezing air from an accordion. Visualize the left and right sides of your rib cage gliding away from each other on the inhale and gliding back toward each other on the exhale.
This exercise requires an exercise band or a yoga strap. If you don’t have either of those, you can use a scarf, necktie, piece of ribbon, or you can simply place your hands on your ribcage.
Sit or stand tall with your spine straight. Wrap the exercise band around the lower portion of your ribcage and tie it snugly at the front of your chest.
As you inhale through your nose, bring your awareness to your back and the sides of your ribcage, where your lungs are located. Imagine your lungs are balloons, gently swelling with air on your inhalation. You should feel the band tightening as the sides and back of your ribs expand and widen.
Let your mouth drop open softly as you exhale through your mouth, but do not puff your cheeks or tighten your lips. As you exhale, imagine the air is being squeezed out from the bottom of your lungs. You should feel the band loosening slightly as your ribs gently compress. Exhale fully, expelling all of the air from your lungs. Engage your abdominal muscles as you exhale.
Continue breathing laterally. Feel your ribcage expanding outward and back on your inhalations. Exhale fully with each breath, allowing your ribcage to gently contract. Breathe with awareness and focus.