First Step to Anything... Breathe!
If you've met me, you will not doubt have received a sermon about my utter devotion to Pilates. I am the reborn evangelical Pilates Preacher, not only for the benefits I have experienced in my body but also in my mind and spirit. The studio is my church and it is through movement that I find enlightenment.
Ok... So I'm a little extreme and it is not a prerequisite for all students to be this zealous, however don't be alarmed if you feel lost without a session of "hundreds" on a regular basis. What makes Pilates so fulfilling to me? What is its philosophy that I find so comforting and illuminating as opposed to other forms of exercise? I thought I would share with you the basic principles of Pilates and how they affect my workout and ultimately make me a better person as I exercise them throughout the day.
As it’s an essential part of life, I thought I should start with Breath. I've noticed many of my students seem embarrassed to breathe audibly and deeply while in class. While I can understand your hesitance, if one person starts, it makes it a little less embarrassing for everyone and eventually there is this wash of rhythmic swooshing; like an ocean. It has a truly meditative effect and is an absolute delight for your instructor.
Why do we breathe audibly during our Pilates workout?
The answer has many dimensions.
In no particular order of importance, firstly, it is that it assists us in bringing our consciousness to the task at hand. What is the first piece of advice you receive when you’re flustered, frustrated or angry? What do you do before a big presentation or a difficult conversation? What is a focal point of meditation or Yoga? Breath! Take a deep breath. We store many emotions and anxieties is ours abdomen and shoulders; taking a deep breath helps to disengage these muscles and reroute the mind, like Caesar Milan’s "tsch". Having something so mundane and natural to concentrate on helps us block out the "noise" of everyday life. I like to think of it as a massage for your insides as they unravel a little more with each inhale and exhale.
Next, a deep diaphragm breath helps to activate and engage the Transverse Abdominus - that lovely power house of muscle that corsets all of our internal organs and assists in protecting and supporting our spine not to mention assisting in childbirth (yeah, its pretty important). I would say that this is the first place to start when learning the Pilates method (Heres a great example of diaphragm breathing). The work actually starts on your exhale as you squeeze the air out of your lungs and depress your tummy, getting that TA (Transverse Abdominus) fired up. As you get more comfortable with diaphragm breathing you will start to work on Lateral breathing. Don't be alarmed if you don't get this on the first go. Lateral breathing, like anything that's awesome, takes practice to master. Lateral breathing assists us in keeping the Transverse Abdominus and Pelvic Floor 'turned on' while we execute our movements. (This is a post for another day :) but you can find out more here, or feel free to get in touch and I'll happily talk you through it.) So exercising and increasing the strength and stability of the Transverse Abdominus is just one, purely physical aspect of breathing in Pilates.
There is a whole science behind the importance and function of oxygen in the building, strengthening and stretching of muscles, which you are welcome to research here, here and here. Let me put it to you in the prettiest and simplest way I can. When we send oxygen to our muscles we are sending energy to them. Think of you breath as the Easter bunny, bringing along with it all the goodies that your muscles needs to get hopped up like kids on oodles of chocolate. (Only in a healthy, not screechy kind of way.) Your muscles are happy when they’re being fed and they work better faster, longer and stronger when we actively nourish them through breath. In order to get lots of air in, we have to ensure we send lots of air out so that our lungs can act like a vacuum sucking in fresh air into the depths of our lungs.
So now that I have you thinking about bunnies I want to go back to the first point I made. The rhythmic and conscious expulsion of air creates an atmosphere of concentration and relaxation. It tunes you in to your own physicality and you become encapsulated in a class. If you have yet to experience what I'm talking about, give it a try. Tune in and tune out, close your eyes and feel, you will experience a sense of who, what and where your body is in space. In addition to getting a better workout than ever! So this is how this Pilates freak says her prayers... just breathe!