Different Pilates teachers put different amounts of focus on the breath & whilst it can add to the seemingly endless checklist of things you are trying to get right in an exercise. For me, it is key to the success of any core restoration & here’s why.
Once you understand the body’s breathing apparatus & functionality it becomes quite clear that we get an intrinsic core contraction (tensioning) with each exhale & an intrinsic expansion (or opening) with each inhale so only by harnessing this inherent bodily function will we truly get the core working optimally. Working against this pattern will help facilitate back pain, exacerbate a diastasis recti & generally leave you vulnerable to injury.
But as well as providing an intrinsic support system for the body, breathing correctly also helps reduce stress – controlled breathing can cause beneficial physiological changes that include:
- lowered blood pressure & heart rate
- reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
- reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
- balanced levels of oxygen & carbon dioxide in the blood
- improved immune system functioning
- increased physical energy
- increased feelings of calm & wellbeing.
Conversely when a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. Typically, an anxious person takes small, shallow breaths, using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in & out of their lungs. This style of breathing disrupts the balance of gases in the body. Shallow over-breathing, or hyperventilation, can prolong feelings of anxiety by making the physical symptoms of stress worse as well as facilitate adaptively shortened muscles along the neck & shoulders.
Try practising the breathing exercise described above whilst lying on your back in a quiet area – then begin to introduce some gentle core exercises as you do so & see how well incorporating the breath helps engage the whole core system.