Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Diaphragmatic Breathing: A Skill to Improve Your Performance

Knowing how to take a full, deep breath will benefit you throughout your life in all areas of your life. A full breath cycle spreads oxygen throughout the body, gets rid of waste gasses like carbon dioxide, and stimulates the spine and internal organs. Additionally, deep breathing is an essential part of maximizing any form of exercise.

Diaphragmatic deep breathing is the first step to learning to breathe well. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits below the lungs, horizontally bisecting the trunk of the body. When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and flattens downward allowing the lungs to expand to draw in air. Exhaling allows the diaphragm to return to its original shape, forcing air out of the lungs.

In Pilates, the dynamic of full breathing -- big inhales and exhales – is used to initiate and power the exercises. Therefore, most Pilates exercises are taught with breathing patterns. Proper diaphragmatic breathing is efficient, energizing and relaxing. Not only does it help with maximizing exercise, it also is a fantastic technique for stress reduction.

Steps to Diaphragmatic Breathing:
  1. Begin lying on your back with knees bent. Place one hand resting lightly on your lower abdomen to feel your breath move your body.
  2. Relax and depress your shoulders.
  3. Relax your spine in neutral position, the natural curves of the spine should be present.
  4. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Be aware of the air flowing into your upper chest and down your spine. You should feel your sides and lower ribs expand as well as your upper, mid-and lower back. Allow the deep inhale to push your abdomen out a little bit.
  5. As you inhale, be sure to keep the shoulders relaxed and depressed.
  6. Begin to exhale by slowly pushing breath out in the reverse order that you breathed it in. Contract your lower abs, then mid and upper abs. Allow your ribs to pull in, and last, let your chest to drop as you fully expel all the air.
  7. Repeat this exercise a few times until each step flows smoothly into the next.

Imprinting: A Skill to Improve Your Performance

One of the key skills in properly executing many of the exercises in Pilates is engaging your core muscles. The correct level of activity in core muscles should be 30% of their maximum so that they have enough energy to contract continuously. Failure to contract your core muscles properly will promote unwanted contraction of the larger muscles surrounding the core. These will then take over the movements thus defeating the goal of the exercises.

Steps to Imprinting:
  1. Lie supine with arms by your sides, knees flexed, feet flat on the floor with a neutral spine (spine with natural curves present)
  2. Palpate the transversus abdominus to know whether you are contracting the correct muscles. Place your hands on your anterior superior iliac spines (asis) (the bony parts at the front of your hips). Move your hands medially an inch (towards your navel) and inferiorly an inch (towards your toes). Your hands should now be directly over the transversus abdominus muscle. Keep your hands in this position. When you contract your core correctly you should feel a gentle tightening under your fingers when they are in this position. If you feel a 'bulge' you are contracting too much.
  3. Inhale.
  4. As you begin to slowly exhale, relax your jaw and neck muscles.
  5. Depress your shoulders and relax them.
  6. Relax your ribcage. Allow the sternum to drop and the back ribs move to the floor.
  7. Relax your abdominal muscles. Let them drop down toward your spine. Focus trying to lower your belly button down towards the floor. Relax your spine. Let it get long and melt into the floor. Palpate for a contraction of the transversus. Now ease the contraction off to about 30% of its max.
  8. Relax your hips and legs. Use only as much energy as it takes to keep your knees up and legs in alignment.
  9. Next, visualize the imprint in your mind's eye.Visualize your spine lengthening and sinking down to the mat, lightly imprinting. Just let it happen. As you relax, you can breathe deeply into the spaces opening up between your vertebrae. . Imagine that if you were to get up, the print your body left would be perfectly balanced.
  10. Perform 3-5 repetitions of imprinting with diaphragmatic breathing.

Articulating Spine: A Skill to Improve Your Performance

This exercise is a gentle warm-up for the spine and abdominal muscles. It also works the lower body and helps coordinate breath and movement.

Steps for Articulating Spine:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart. Align feet, ankles, and knees.
  2. Spine should be in neutral with the natural curves of the spine present.
  3. Begin diaphragmatic breathing.
  4. Inhale and on the next exhale, begin to tilt pelvis posteriorly by engaging the abdominal muscles and pulling your bellybutton down toward your spine. Let that action continue so that the abs press the lower spine into the floor. Press down through your feet allowing the tailbone to begin to curl up toward the ceiling. The hips raise, as each part of your spine lifts off the floor beginning with the sacrum, through the lumbar and to the thoracic area lifting no higher than the inferior angles of the scapulas.
  5. Maintain a straight line from your hips to your shoulders. Do not arch beyond this point. Support this movement with by contracting the abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, adductors and quadriceps.
  6. Inhale.
  7. Exhale. As you let your breath go, use abdominal control to roll the spine back down to the floor, one vertebrae at a time.
  8. Inhale as you release to neutral spine. Prepare to repeat the exercise by initiating the pelvic tilt on the exhale.
  9. Perform 3-5 repetitions of this exercise.