Welcome to breathing 101
Teaching a breathe practice is great fun. It is an opportunity to give health and wellness to everyone you meet. There is no real aesthetic gain but when you see the joy that improved breathing brings, it will bring you so much satisfaction.
When we actively try to change and ultimately improve our clients breath practice there is absolutely no right or wrong methodology. All we can do is try to find ways to increase the good and decrease the bad in the second-by-second process of daily breathing.
We most often think of a breath practice in specifically Yoga or Pilates classes, but assuming that it only relates to these areas lacks the vision to help absolutely everyone we meet.
EVERYONE will benefit from improved breathing techniques – they just don’t know it yet!
Breathing – A breath of fresh air!
I have always maintained that taking control of another persons breathing is an advanced concept. It is also one that takes a huge amount of consideration and understanding.
‘Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Our very life depends on it. Since we cannot live without breathing it is tragically deplorable to contemplate the millions and millions who have never learned to master the art of correct breathing. One often wonders how so many millions continue to live a s long as they do under this tremendous handicap to longevity. Lazy breathing converts the lungs, figuratively speaking into a cemetary for the deposition of diseased, dying and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of other harmful germs’Joseph Pilates
Before we start taking control of other peoples breathing lets take a few weeks to consider our own.
Become aware of your own breathing. Feel, watch and listen to your breathing as much as you can throughout the day and night. Pay attention to what causes you to take big breaths. Ask yourself – is your breathing a still, silent activity or does it involve inhalations and body movements?
Be aware of the differences in how the people around you breath again paying attention to sound, movement, deep sighing, yawning.
Decide to make change, it is these observations that will giver you the vocabulary to share when teaching a breath practice.
‘The perfect man breathes as if he does not breathe’ Lao Tzu
Breathing for Health
Here’s a little bit of background to fuel your passion for changing peoples health from the inside out. In the hope that someone – anyone might ask you WHY? You will be able to give them proven and logical reasons to take time out to consider “the breath of life.” When so many people consider better breathing to be the antidote to so much illness and disease, they will very quickly learn to come on board and be the first to make these simple and effective changes.
Breathing more than we need over long periods of time will result in low levels of carbon dioxide. Our bodies become used to over breathing and it becomes a habit even though our organs and tissues are suffering due to the lack of CO2.
Why is CO2 so important? It transports O2, which is relatively insoluble in blood so 98% of it is carried by haemoglobin molecule (4o2 – 1hm). The release of O2 from haemoglobin is partly dependant on the quantity of CO2 in our alveoli/arterial blood. If CO2 is below a level of 5%, O2 ‘sticks’ to haemoglobin and does not release to tissues and organs. (for further reading study the Bohr effect). Often when we breath too much and our organs receive less O2 – a side effect may be dizziness.
Dilation of blood vessels and airways. CO2 dilates the smooth muscle around the airways, arteries and capillaries. An increase in CO2 results in greater distribution of blood due to this dilation.
Over breathing can increase allergic reactions as Histamine levels increase during prolonged over breathing.
In order to get the most out of breathing we need to prepare ourselves to receive its revitalising strength by removing any obstacles that may hinder its good effects. Proper breathing depends on our eliminating tension, correcting bad postural habits, recognising our stress and our mental and physical attitudes. All of these effect the efficacy of our breathing and once we get rid of these obstacles it will come into its own and bring us vitality and good health.
General breath practices – inhalation & exhalation
During fitness & Pilates, precedence is given to the inhalation of breath. Yoga, on the other hand, maintains that all good respiration begins with a slow and complete exhalation, and that this perfect exhalation is an absolute prerequisite of correct and complete inhalation, for the very simple reason that, until a receptacle is emptied, it cannot be filled. Unless we first breathe out fully it is impossible to breathe in correctly. Normal respiration therefore, begins with a slow calm exhalation carried out by relaxing the inspiratory muscles. The chest is depressed by its own weight, expelling the air. This out breath must be as silent as every other action involved in breathing (you should not hear yourself breathe), and because it is silent, it will also be slow. At the end of the expiration the abdominal muscles help the lungs to empty to their fullest extent, by means of a contraction which expels the last traces of tainted air. The spongy make-up of the lungs does not allow them to be emptied completely – there is always a residue of impure air in the lungs. We must attempt to minimise this “residue” because with the fresh air provided by inhalation it makes up the actual air we breathe. The more complete the exhalation, therefore, the greater the quantity of fresh air to enter the lungs, and so the purer the air in contact with the alveolar surfaces.
The total volume of air which the lungs are able to contain is known as “the vital capacity”. A more apt term cannot be imagined, and innumerable techniques have been thought up aimed at increasing this capacity. Before we can contemplate this improvement we must make use of what we already possess by carefully exhaling. Here we recognise three separate forms of breathing full or abdominal/belly, intercostals or thoracic, and clavicular. Complete breathing combines all three, and constitutes the ideal technique.
Our target is the full breath
Complete breathing or complete respiration incorporates all three methods to be discussed in this module, integrated into one single, full and rhythmic movement. The method is best studied while you are lying on your back, here is a brief description of the various phases:
1) Empty the lungs entirely.
2) Slowly lower the diaphragm allowing air to enter the lungs. When the abdomen swells filling the bottom of the lungs with air.
3) Expand the ribs without straining.
4) Allow the lungs to completely fill by raising the collar-bones.
Throughout this procedure, the air should enter in a continuous flow, without gasping, straining and attempting to breath silently.
It is of the utmost importance to concentrate the mind entirely upon the action of breathing.
When the lungs are completely filled, breathe out, in the same sequence as when inhaling. Now breathe in again in the same way. You may continue for as long as you wish. It should not induce any discomfort or fatigue. You can practice it at any time of day, whenever you think of it, at work, walking, any time; breathe consciously and as completely as possible. Gradually you will acquire the habit of complete respiration, and your method of breathing will improve as you go on. It is essential to reserve daily, for a few minutes’ practice, a special time convenient to yourself (the morning when you wake up is a good time, and so is the evening before going to sleep).
Inspiration like exhalation must be silent, slow, continuous and easy. Do not blow yourself up like a balloon or tire! Breathe easily without straining. Remember that the ideal respiration is deep, slow, silent, easy.
Complete respiration Remember, Inhalation is made up of three partial phases:
1) Clavicular breathing from the top of the lungs, produced by raising the upper part of the thorax.
2) Thoracic or intercostal breathing brought about by expanding the rib cage.
3) Full or abdominal breathing induced by lowering and flattening the dome-shaped diaphragm.
Each of these phases has its own merits, but inspiration is only complete when all three are done in conjunction.
How can this full breath be learned? Before attempting to combine them – that is to say before we can achieve in one single, smooth and continuous movement complete and easy filling of the lungs, thereby supplying them with reviving air, and expanding the pulmonary alveoli (all 70 million of them) – we must learn to dissociate the three phases.
Now it’s the time to join me in a greater understanding of each facet of a clean and healthy breath practice.
J Nicholls – Director of GXT and author of our master programs.