“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last.” – Joseph Pilates
’Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl.
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe…just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe
When Ana Nalick recorded this incredibly wise song in Dec, 2006, I was halfway through a very lengthy, painful divorce. I lost count of how many times I heard that song on the radio, or played it in my head, as I consciously inhaled and exhaled, grateful for the reminder. Deep breathing creates a sense of calmness, as we all know, because breath is the bridge that connects the mind and body.
Even though breathing is an essential and instinctive process (26,000 times a day!), most of us haven’t mastered the art of breathing correctly. The proper way to breathe is three-dimensional breaths through the nose. Try this: Take a deep inhale through your nostrils, filling up your lungs laterally (left and right) AND your back. Now exhale “trying very hard to ‘squeeze’ every atom of impure air from your lungs in much the same manner that you would wring every drop of water from a wet cloth.” (another JP quote, of course!) Did that breathing exercise feel a little awkward and uncomfortable? That wouldn’t be surprising, as most of us aren’t used to breathing into the lower lobes of our lungs where there is more efficient gas exchange.
So let’s try it again:
Deeply inhale – Which way did your spine and ribs move?
Fully exhale – Now which way did your spine and ribs move?
Hint: The answer to 1 & 2 should be opposite. When we inhale, our spine slightly extends and our ribs open a little. When we exhale, our spine flexes a little and our ribs close in and downward.
This deep breathing was exactly what my student, Nancy, was doing recently as she watched her aging father take his last breaths. Luckily she was able to make it back to WI in time and she texted me, “I’m so grateful you taught me to breathe. I’m still very emotional, but calm.” After her father passed, Nancy told me, “I honestly don’t think I could have weathered this challenge without my weekly pilates sessions.” That’s a huge testament to the power of the mind/body connection—the power of breathing. Not shallow breathing. Not diaphragm breathing. We’re talking deep, cleansing, invigorating breathing that purifies your blood, releases tense muscles, activates your stabilizing muscles (go Powerhouse!) and heightens concentration.
So follow Nancy’s lead and take your breathing out of the pilates studio and into your everyday life.
It will undeniably help you get stronger from the inside out.