The use of Breath in the Pilates Method

Denise Small PT, DPT

The following series of Pilates blog posts will focus on the principles that define the Pilates method.  Joseph Pilates developed his methodology using eight basic movement principles: whole body movement, breathing, balanced muscle development, concentration, control, centering, precision, and rhythm.  Today’s blog will focus on the principle of Breathing.

pilatesBreathing is a natural phenomenon that is performed thousands of times a day. Our daily intake of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide is needed to cleanse our blood, and maintain the functioning of our body systems.  That being said, there are different ways to manipulate one’s breath to help facilitate certain physiological functions. For example, there have been many BBPT blog posts about diaphragmatic breathing, where one breathes into their abdomen to get a stretch of both the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles. Well, Pilates had his own approach to breathing, which was a variation on Diaphragmatic breathing.  Pilates approach to breathing was aimed at getting maximal air intake and release to give the body, what he called, “an internal shower” to rid the body of “toxins”. Pilates focused specifically on lateral expansion of the diaphragm, whereas traditional diaphragmatic breathing focuses on the vertical expansion of the diaphragm. In order to achieve this, Pilates encouraged maintaining the engaged tone of the abdomen, while breathing into the front, sides, and back of the ribcage. See the image below for further explanation.

 

Pilates- Ribcage/ Chest breathing versus Belly/Diaphragmatic breathing

This is an overly simplified view of the actual mechanics. However, both versions are very important. With the ability to differentiate between ribcage and diaphragmatic breathing you can offer your diaphragm a 3-dimensional stretch and the ability to work on abdominal contraction as well as endurance. If you have any questions you can ask them in the comments section. Or come visit me at Beyond Basics for a Pilates Private session!

BBPT Health Tip: Adding Pelvic Floor Relaxation to Deep Breathing

Amy Stein DPT, PT and Fiona McMahon DPT, PT

 

bookhppThis blog contains information adapted from Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein. If you are interested in learning more about pelvic floor exercises you can do on your own, please visit http://www.healpelvicpain.com/ , http://amzn.to/2ioSz2J, or visit us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy in New York City to get your copy today.

 

In an earlier post we discussed the positive benefits of adding diaphragmatic breathing to your routine to reduce stress. If you missed it, check it out here .

But why not go a step further. Did you know that you can add pelvic floor drops to your breathing routine to help relax a tight and painful pelvic floor.

 

What is a pelvic floor drop?

A pelvic floor drop is the relaxation of the muscles of the pelvic floor. It is like that feeling you have when you can finally relax the muscle in between your legs after holding urine in for a long time. It’s a great feeling of relaxation and here’s how you can mimic it when you don’t have to go.

 

But How do I do it?

 

  • Step 1: Get comfortable. Sit, stand, lay down, whatever suits you, relax your body and close your eyes
  • Step 2: Breathe deep. Inhale between 3 and 5 seconds
  • Step 3: Exhale. Exhale slowly, 5-6 seconds. As you exhale imagine your breath gently placing pressure on your pelvic floor into relaxation. Don’t push or strain.

Like diaphragmatic breathing, you can use this technique throughout the day to help reduce stress and pain in the pelvic floor. Happy breathing!

BBPT Health Tip: Diaphragmatic Breathing

just-breathe-in-cloudsFiona McMahon DPT, PT

WE LOVE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING! We do, we really do and we hope you will too. What is diaphragmatic breathing you ask? Diaphragmatic breathing is a form of deep breathing where you breath deeply into your stomach. As you breath in, you will actually see your belly extend and get bigger, and as you breath out, your belly will return to it’s old spot. It’s not like our typical breathing patterns where we breath from the chest; it is a much more deep and deliberate breath.

Why We love Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing accomplishes a lot in the body. First of all, it supplies the body with a large dose of oxygen, which is pretty obvious, but it is a much more robust breath than a simple chest breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing also works wonders on the tissues of both the abdomen and the pelvic floor. By taking a big diaphragmatic breath in, the diaphragm lowers and provides a gentle stretch to the tissues and organs of the belly as well as the pelvic floor. As you breath in you are actually providing a nice stretch to the pelvic floor.

Deep breaths can also calm down the nervous system and allow you to better relax. When you are more relaxed your body can attend to the day to day tasks such as digestion and healing. It really is amazing what some deep breaths can do.

How to breathe diaphragmatically

Start off by putting one hand on your chest, at about the area of your breastbone. Place the other hand on your stomach. You can do diaphragmatic breathing just about anywhere, so get in a position that is comfortable for you. Start by slowly breathing in. In order to tell if you are using your diaphragm, you should feel the hand on your stomach move more than the hand on your chest. As you breath in, bring your awareness to your ribs and feel them expand out to the side and back.  Finish by slowly breathing out. The out breather should be longer than the inhale. It is really that easy.

How does one actually use diaphragmatic breathing?

Really you can use it in anyway you need too. Some people find it tremendously helpful to do 10 diaphragmatic breaths every hour, while others employ deep breathing techniques in times of stress or pain. The important thing about diaphragmatic breathing, or any exercise for that matter is consistency. Try to at least get in 20 deep breaths a day.

Pilates: Year in Review

By Denise Vidal

This time of year is filled with family, friends, good food, and lots of laughter. However, with all of the goodness that the holidays bring, there can also be a lot of stress and anxiety that come with the season.  To combat these stressors, take a moment for yourself to review some of the Pilates exercises that we have done thus far. Whether you choose to focus on your breath, mobilize your spine, or stabilize your pelvis, these exercises can work as meditations to calm you during the stress of the holidays and new year.

In this blog we’ll review one of my earlier entries. As always, if your experiencing any back or pelvic pain, consult your doctor or PT before attempting any of these exercises.

You can do this exercise either lying down (preferable with knees bent), sitting or standing.

We’ll start by focusing on your breath.

Believe it or not, there are different ways to breathe. You can breathe into your belly, or you can breathe into your ribcage. The Pilates method focuses predominantly on ribcage breathing, however, for a healthy core one should be able to access both types of breath.

Put your hands around your waist and inhale through your nose. Imagine your breath swirling down to the base of your pelvis, and as you exhale imagine your breath floating up into your ribcage.

Do this 5 or 6 times to slowly open and extend your breath.

Once you have made this connection, use the following visualization to engage your core:
Imagine a soft, squishy ball inside you abdomen. Inhale as described above, then, as you exhale imagine both your navel and your spine moving towards each other to squeeze the ball.

On your next exhale, imagine that the sides of your waste are narrowing to squeeze the ball.
Progress your abdominal engagement by imaging both visuals at once: the navel and spine narrowing towards the ball as well as the sides of the waist narrowing towards the ball.

Do this exercise once a day to lessen your stress and increase your strength.
Have a Happy New Year!

A Diaphragmatic Breath of Fresh Air

By Riva Preil

The diaphragm is a cone-shaped muscle at the base of the rib cage and it is the primary respiratory muscle.  An essential component of any relaxation program is proper performance of diaphragmatic breathing.  This is an important technique to learn because it helps relax the autonomic nervous system. Proper performance of diaphragmatic breathing can help to quiet brain activity which results in relaxation of all the organs and muscles within the body. An up-regulated nervous system is associated with muscle guarding, tension, stress, and tightness.  The muscles are shouting loudly at high volumes, and this pattern can result in pain and discomfort.  However, diaphragmatic breathing alleviates the tension by “turning down the volume” of the system thereby creating a calming, soothing affect.
The proper way to perform diaphragmatic breathing is as follows:

  1. Lie on your back or recline in a chair in a relaxed position. Place your hands atop the lower portion of your rib cage.
  2. Relax your jaw by placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and keep your teeth slightly apart.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of five seconds.  Allow your widening of the rib cage and expansion/rising of the abdomen.  Keep your upper chest, neck, and shoulders relaxed.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of five seconds.  Allow your ribs to collapse inward and your abdomen to fall (return to starting position).
  5. Repeat this 10x every night prior to going to sleep or at any time during the day when you experience stress or tension.

Now doesn’t that feel AMAZING? Enjoy your calm and relaxed state of being!

One Lung Breathing

By Denise Vidal

In previous blogs, I took you through some fundamental Pilates’ exercises to exemplify how the breath aids in core support. I mentioned how the breath should be felt three dimensionally, moving through the front, back, and sides of your body. I also mentioned that the breath can be focused in either the abdomen or in the ribcage.

All of these posts asked you to explore your breath in a supine position (lying on your back), sitting and standing. However, sometimes accessing different dimensions of your body is difficult in a forward facing position.  The following is an awareness exercise that will allow you to increase your ability to expand the ribcage three dimensionally. In addition, this exercise can be done before your go to sleep to aid in relaxation.

Lie on your right side with a pillow under your ribcage and under your head. You want to have a space between the two pillows to allow for your upper arm and shoulder to rest. Wrap your left hand (top hand) around the bottom of your left side ribcage, with your thumb on your back ribs. Take a deep inhale and feel your ribcage expand into your hand.  As you exhale, feel your ribcage fall back down. Take 2-3 breaths with your hand here, feeling your ribcage opening more with each breath.

Slowly move your hand up your ribcage, wrapping it around your mid- ribs, then under your arm pit, then finally on the top of your shoulder (your first rib is underneath your clavicle and the top of your shoulder blade), taking 2-3 breaths in each position.

When you have finished, stretch your left arm over your head and feel your ribs lengthen away from your pelvis.

Sit up slowly and feel the difference between your left and right side ribcage.

Take a deep breath and feel how you can expand the left side ribcage more than the right.  Lift your left and right arm separately to feel how the range of motion differs. When you’re ready lie on your left side and repeat the whole exercise.

You can do this exercise as often as you would like to increase your awareness.

Give it a try and leave a reply to let me know how it goes.