Pop-up Pilates Tutorial 3 – Meditative Breathing

As voted by you, the third online pop-up PILATES X MELISSA tutorial is on meditative breathing to calm the body and encourage sleep.  It will take place on Thursday 1 October at 1900.

This practical 30-minute session will guide you through a number of tension release and mindful breathing exercises, which you can take away and use to help manage stressful situations, reduce anxiety and encourage sleep.

Who the tutorial is suitable for

The session is suitable for everyone except those based in the US and Canada who for insurance reasons I’m unable to teach.  Apologies.

How will you benefit

The tension release and meditative breathing exercises when performed regularly can help:

  • improve lung function;
  • lower heart rate and blood pressure;
  • release tightness/holding patterns in the face, scalp, jaw and neck;
  • encourage greater movement of the diaphragm;
  • increase respiratory efficiency;
  • ensure the lungs and the cardio-vascular system are working together coherently;
  • improve your ability to focus.

How to get the most from this pop-up Pilates tutorial

Whilst the tension release and mindful breathing techniques can be done anywhere and anytime, it would be useful for this online session if you could:

  • attend from a quiet part of your home with low lighting.  Candlelight can be very calming;
  • wear comfortable clothes you can relax in, e.g. pyjamas;
  • have a duvet or blanket to hand to avoid getting cold;
  • minimise the chance of distractions, e.g. turn off your phone;
  • choose a comfortable chair or bed or have your Pilates mat ready on the floor.  The exercises can be done seated or lying down, whichever feels right for you on the day.

To attend this pop-up Pilates tutorial, please register here with Zoom. Once you have done so you will automatically receive a confirmation email from Zoom.  Please check your spam folder if it doesn’t arrive straight away in your inbox.  If you don’t receive this email you probably mistyped your email address so please re-register.  This Zoom confirmation email contains a link that only you can use to attend this tutorial. On the day of the session, 5-10 minutes before the start time just click on this link to join the tutorial.  The passcode for the session is embedded in the link but if for some reason you are asked to enter a passcode this is provided in the Zoom email.

Before the tutorial, if you’re using a tablet or mobile to take part you will need to download the Zoom App from the App store, which is free. If you’re using a laptop and want quick and smooth access to the session on the day, download Zoom Client for Meetings in advance and for free from their website. You don’t need any kind of Zoom account to attend my online classes and pop-up tutorials.

Please help me to help others by sharing details of this pop-up tutorial with any friends, family members and work colleagues you think might be interested in registering to attend.

The pop-up PILATES X MELISSA tutorials are free.  There is an option after the session to pay what the tutorial was worth to you or what you can afford.  I was very grateful to all those who contributed something after the last pop-up tutorial on the neck. How to make such a contribution, for those interested in doing so is explained in the confirmation email you will receive from Zoom after registering.

Breathing for Optimum Health and Wellbeing

Elephant seal breathing, Antarctica

I read an article early this month on the Buteyko Breathing Technique, sometimes called the Buteyko Method and have been adopting some of the thinking from this into how we breathe to perform Pilates exercises.  Based on the past few weeks of testing this modified approach on myself in my daily practice, I’ve certainly noticed some benefits, i.e. better circulation, no nasal congestion, greater sense of calm/stillness in the body.  I’m therefore planning to introduce the odd minor change to the way we breathe during the Pilates exercises I teach in class.  I’ll go into exactly how later on in this news piece. First, here’s some background information…

Useful Insights into the Breath and its Role in Stress Management

Breathing is often underestimated as a means of achieving optimum health and wellbeing. Breathing properly can improve the oxygenation of the body, especially the brain, and is a powerful way of relieving stress and anxiety.

When stressed, the breath becomes faster, deeper and noisier.  Similarly, we breathe more often through the mouth and with the upper chest rather than the diaphragm when we’re anxious.  To induce a state of calm it’s best to breathe slowly, using the diaphragm. You also need to breathe less, and breathing through the nose has important benefits.

The Role of the Nose in Breathing

The nose directs around 30 different functions in the body. Nerves in the nasal passages (which connect to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus) sense everything about your breathing and use that information to regulate the functions of your body.

For example, the nose releases nitric oxide during breathing, which is carried from your nose into your lungs. Nitric oxide is a gas that plays a significant role in homeostasis (maintaining balance) within your body.  Nitric oxide also sterilizes the air carried into your lungs, opens up the airways and increases the amount of oxygen taken up and carried around the body in the blood.

Maintaining the Right Balance of Carbon Dioxide in the Body

Contrary to popular belief, carbon dioxide is not just a waste gas. Although you breathe to get rid of excess carbon dioxide, it’s important to maintain a certain amount of it in your lungs.  To do that you need to maintain a normal breathing volume, which we’ll consider more fully in the next section.

The faster and deeper breathing associated with someone who is feeling stressed, results in too much carbon dioxide being lost.  This causes the smooth muscles embedded in the airways to constrict. When this happens there’s a sense of not being able to get enough air in.  The natural reaction to this is to breathe more intensely, which causes an even greater loss of carbon dioxide and constricts the airways even further.

Over-breathing or breathing which is too deep, e.g. taking deep breaths through the mouth in an attempt to take in more oxygen and clear the head, can make you feel quite light-headed.  This is due to eliminating too much carbon dioxide from the lungs.  This causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing the blood flow to the heart.  This results in less oxygen being delivered throughout the body.

Man breathing, Buteyko Method

Breathing Less to Be More Healthy

According to medical textbooks, normal breathing volume is between 4 and 7 litres of air per minute, which translates into 12 to 14 breaths a minute.  Clinical trials involving asthma sufferers show they breathe between 10 to 15 litres of air per minute, and people with chronic heart disease tend to breathe between 15 to 18 litres of air per minute.  This suggests breathing less is a sign of better health.

Conversely, the more you breathe, the more likely you are to experience significant health problems. Your tolerance to carbon dioxide is part of this equation as good carbon dioxide tolerance equates to higher levels of health and fitness.

When your body and brain have a normal carbon dioxide tolerance, your breathing will be light and smooth because your body is not constantly trying to get rid of excess carbon dioxide. Surprisingly, the main catalyst telling your body to take a breath is not lack of oxygen, it’s an excess of carbon dioxide.

You always need a certain amount of carbon dioxide for normal functioning. If you have normal carbon dioxide levels, you will have good tolerance to it, which means you’ll be able to hold your breath for longer. Also, when you exercise, your body generates more carbon dioxide, and if you have good tolerance to it, your breathing rate will remain much lower than someone with poor tolerance.  This of course puts less pressure on the heart and lungs.

Implications For Breathing During Pilates

  • Don’t over-breathe or excessively force the breath.
  • Take a shorter inhale through the nose.
  • Exhale through the mouth (again, not excessively or with too much force), drawing the navel to spine for the duration of the out-breath to engage the abdominal muscles.
  • Observe the pauses between the breaths, some of which may be longer for large movements so they can be performed with control.
  • Breathe normally between exercises.

Ooh good, another chance to post a Prodigy track…which means that Keith Flint bloke again…yikes!  Brace yourself…breathe with me…

How Pilates Can Keep You Young

Happy healthy active people

Developed from a news item on the About Health website by Alycea Ungaro, here are five key ways that Pilates can help keep your body young, healthy and active:

Encourages full breathing

Pilates teaches you to breathe fully and deeply. Cells saturated with oxygen boost energy levels as well as cognitive abilities, resulting in reduced tiredness and forgetfulness.

Works the whole body

Instead of rapid movements performed with poor control, Pilates favours low repetitions and good positioning. This avoids the poor body mechanics and repetitive strain injuries frequently experienced with high intensity exercise like Step or Zumba or indoor cycling. By working all parts of the body equally, Pilates, done on a regular basis, can help us keep strong and mobile throughout the course of our life.

Involves a complete range of movement

Pilates exercises take the body through a full range of movement. This keeps the joints lubricated and preserves the health of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that work them. As we age, maintaining the ability to sit, stand, kneel and bend is key to the body’s health and wellbeing. Pilates can help with this. By contrast, other forms of exercise involve a much more limited range of movement. For example, if you were to focus on cycling as your main source of exercise, over time the range of motion of your spine would diminish and the muscles in the chest and shoulders would tighten. Tight muscles inhibit movement. When movement is restricted you become more sedentary, which, research shows, accelerates the aging process.

Indoor cycling class

Encourages alignment

Pilates teaches you to move your body in alignment, by which we mean working the muscles and skeleton the way they are designed. Pilates exercises strengthen the body symmetrically so that nothing overworks and nothing underworks. Everyday life though creates imbalance in the body. For example, we carry bags or children, or sleep more on one side than another. Pilates provides us with a way to counter the imbalance caused by our daily activities. Golf and tennis are good forms of exercise, but they don’t work the body evenly; in fact most sports don’t. Keeping your body properly aligned as you move, particularly at speed, helps prevent injuries, avoid arthritis (particularly in the spine and leg joints) and reduces poor motor skills, all of which are synonymous with aging.

Assists with transitioning

Injuries happen most often when we transition from one activity to another, for example, getting up from the floor and running to answer the phone, or bending down to pick up a drill then reaching up to use it to mend a shelf. Pilates exercises train the body to bend, turn and straighten with control thus helping us transition more effectively. With less haphazard movements, accidents and injuries, which have an aging effect on the body, can be avoided.

Yoga kiss pose

All exercise has benefits but many sporting activities fall short of full body wellness. Indeed, some pursued exclusively and too often, e.g. indoor cycling or running can leave the body prone to injuries and illness. Regular Pilates, together with some form of cardio-vascular exercise, will help the body perform optimally and make it better able to cope with the demands of daily life.

Pilates with its five age-defying properties has a vital role to play in keeping us all as active as possible for as long as possible. But don’t take my word for it. Below are two pictures of Joseph Pilates, one taken when he was 57, the other when he was 82. As you can see, there is very little difference in the physical condition of his body…

Joseph Pilates at age 57 and age 82

If you’d like to try Pilates, why not drop into one of our small group classes run each week at The Wellbeing Studio in Clevedon.

The Diaphragm – The Hidden Hero

Some muscles are more appreciated than others. Toned abs are proudly displayed in celebrity selfies and on Men’s Health front covers. Bodybuilders show off their pecs and swollen biceps. But deep inside us all, a sheet of muscle quietly gets on with its heroic work. That muscle is the diaphragm, one we are completely dependent on, but take for granted every moment we’re breathing.

In order to inhale, the diaphragm contracts and flattens as the lungs fill up with air.  To exhale, it relaxes and moves back up into its original domed, parachute shape as the air leaves the lungs. The diaphragm delivers oxygen to us a dozen times or more each minute. That’s half a billion times during an 80-year life.

Animation of the diaphragm contracting and relaxing

All mammals, from platypuses to elephants, have a diaphragm. But no other animal has one.  Mammals have a very different solution for breathing than reptiles and birds. Before the evolution of a diaphragm, our reptile-like ancestors probably breathed the way many reptiles do today – they used a jacket of muscles to squeeze the rib cage.

Once the diaphragm evolved, breathing changed drastically. Mammals gained a more powerful, efficient way of drawing in a steady supply of oxygen. The evolution of a diaphragm probably made it possible for mammals to evolve a warm-blooded metabolism. Without a diaphragm, humans might not have been able to evolve giant but oxygen-hungry brains.

To experience the diaphragm, try this. Place both hands either side of your rib cage and take a Pilates inhale through your nose laterally into your palms. Can you feel a stretching out to the sides just underneath your ribcage? That’s the diaphragm flattening. Then as you do a Pilates exhale through your mouth and suck your tummy in, you will notice the diaphragm relaxing back into its original domed shape.

Downward facing dog

Now try this…ease yourself into the downward facing dog pose and hold the position while doing the Pilates breathing. You may find it a little more challenging to take a full inhale when the body is inverted, but a sense of the diaphragm flattening and returning to its dome-shape is arguably even more apparent when holding this pose.

Tips for performing the perfect downward facing dog:

  • spread your fingers wide so your weight is distributed evenly on your palms.
  • place your head in-between your arms. Don’t let it hang down below them. Your eye-line should be straight down at the mat rather than looking back at your legs.
  • actively press your shoulders down and back, squeezing them together.
  • here’s the key bit, try to make a straight line with your spine from the tailbone to the crown of the head.
  • push your tailbone up and back.
  • your knees should ideally be straight, but keep them bent if you have a back issue or are a beginner.