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Rethinking Breathing

If you were told that breathing through your nose instead of your mouth could make your workouts, sleep and even your marriage better, would you try it? Take a moment to rethink your breathing. 

Let’s talk about breath. Breathing is an unconscious act that provides necessary oxygen to your body, without which your cells couldn’t survive, but are you breathing the ‘right way’? STOTT Pilates trained Bodytree instructor Anya Tarasiuk explains why nasal breathing is so beneficial and why it’s so integral to the practice of Pilates.

The Benefits of Nasal Breathing

Our bodies were designed to breathe through our noses, so it’s interesting that due to certain dental and sinus-related conditions many of us unknowingly breathe at no more than 10-20 percent of our full capacity. Having nasal congestion caused by allergies, colds or sinus infections can force you to favour breathing from the mouth rather than the nose, and such constrained breathing decreases our respiratory function, which then decreases our energy levels.

Feeling stressed out, overworked throughout the day and not getting enough sleep can also leave our bodies in a chronic state of distress and our breathing will mimic that. When we’re stressed, we take short and shallow breathes through our mouths and upper lung chambers, and that can cause us to hyperventilate. Breathing in and out through our nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths reaching into lower lung chambers, distributing greater amounts of oxygen throughout the body. 

Since breathing in oxygen is our main source of life and exhaling carbon dioxide is the way we expel most toxins from our bodies, poor breathing can contribute to so many of our health problems, from high blood pressure to insomnia and sleep apnea. 

People with the latter condition may not realise that it’s become habitual to sleep with their mouths open to accommodate their need for oxygen because they’re asleep, albeit restlessly, through the night. But anyone who shares a bed with a chronic snorer understands how he/she struggles for breath at night, leaving both bedmates sleep deprived. On top of that, sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease so it’s more than just a nuisance.

Before your noisy sleep drives your co-sleeper into the spare bedroom or worse, consider minding your breath and taking some measures to breathe better, such as sleeping on your back in an upright position or simply consulting a physician.

Breathe Better, the Pilates Way

Deep intercostal or lateral breathing is a technique used in Pilates, which allows us to maintain a contraction of the abs throughout an exercise. Pilates founder, Joseph Pilates, recognised 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 leads to fatigue. Taking full, deep breaths in through the nose is imperative if you wish to fully oxygenate your body.

Breathing facilitates movement, promotes mobility of the ribcage and helps maintain core contraction while performing exercises. The breath helps us lengthen and decompress the spine.

Breathing fully calms the mind reducing stress, improves activation of specific muscles, better circulation, helping maintain focus and correct posture during your Pilates workout.

Anya’s 3 Tips for Breathing Better

  • My favourite way to teach breathing is to use a stretch band. My suggestion is to either sit up tall and straight or lie down on your back and wrap the exercise band around the lower portion of your ribcage, crossing it over at the front of your chest gently pulling the band outwards. 
  • Next, inhale through your nose, bringing your awareness to the front, back and the sides of your ribcage. Breathe in imagining that your lungs are like balloons expanding and filling all the way up. You should feel the band tightening as the sides and back of your ribs expand and widen. Then, exhale through pursed lips as if you were gently blowing out a candle, feeling the air release from the bottom of your lungs. 
  • I then ask my clients to gently pull the band outwards to compress the rib cage expelling all of the air from your lungs and encouraging the abdominal muscles to contact.

Breathing exclusively through your nose is an excellent addition to any exercise regime, so why not give a try? Training yourself to breathe in and out through your nose will greatly improve your workouts and your sleep. If you suffer from sleep apnea or snore, learning to breathe better at night will help you sleep better and your partner by default. 

To learn the art of better breathing and to start feeling the benefits in every aspect of your life, have a look at the Pilates classes that we offer.

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