Breathing is obviously an extremely important bodily function, however, did you know that the muscle responsible for respiration, the Diaphragm, also plays a vital role in core control, stress control, sporting performance and the management of high blood pressure, sleep apnoea and reflux? Who would have thought!?
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped ‘sheet’ of muscle and tendon, which separates the thorax (chest) from the abdomen, and can be found along the lumbar vertebrae of the spine and the inferior border of the ribs and sternum.
When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and is drawn inferiorly into the abdominal cavity until it is flat. At the same time, the intercostal muscles between the ribs elevate the anterior rib cage like the handle of a bucket. When we exhale, the rib cage drops to its resting position while the diaphragm relaxes and elevates back to its dome-shaped position in the thorax. This is all done involuntarily and is controlled by the phrenic nerve. We do, however, also have voluntary control over this muscle, which helps us to alter our breathing depending on situational demand.
You may have heard of the term ‘Diaphragmatic breathing’, which involves using ‘voluntary breathing control’ to improve body outcomes and is an important foundation for your Pilates exercises. Here are some tips on how to practice your diaphragmatic breathing:
You can do this exercise lying on your back with your knees bent or even now, sitting up reading. Either way, do it with one hand resting lightly on your lower belly so you can feel your breath move your body.
Things to check on:
- Your shoulders should be relaxed and dropped away from your ears
- Your spine should be, long, in what we call neutral spine, a natural position of the spine that allows the curves of the spine to be present
- If you are sitting, feel that your weight is falling directly down through your sit bones and your head is floating up toward the sky
Breathe in slowly through your nose. Let the air flow into your upper chest and down your spine – expanding the sides and lower ribs, filling the diaphragm, back and lower back, and dropping all the way down into the pelvis. Allow the deep inhale to push your belly out a little bit.
Let go of your breath in the reverse order that you brought it in. Drop your lower abs, then your belly. Let your ribs pull in, and last, let your chest to drop as you fully expel all the air.
Do this diaphragmatic breathing exercise a few times until you get the sense of how each part flows into the next.
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Learning how to breath correctly is the key to improve and get the most of your Pilates class. Remember this when you start our online Pilates program.