Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pilates Breathing - to help you feel calm, connected and grounded at Christmas and at any time of year.

Everywhere you look these days people are rushing about with arms laden full of bags and panic in their eyes. There are the parties to attended, and ones to throw, cards to write and baking to bake, decorations to hang, gifts to buy and that endless “to do” list that seems to get longer each day. Ah yes, The Holiday Season is upon us!

It may seem too simple, but taking 3 or 4 minutes a day to simply breathe in a way that nourishes your organs and cells with fresh oxygen, lengthens your spine, calms your mind and central nervous system and leaves you feeling grounded and “pulled together” will do more to help you find your inner strength and peace at this time of year than that extra glass of eggnog. And is much more kind to your waistline!

STEP 1 – JUST BREATHE

Sitting upright with feet grounded on the floor and hands on lap, or lying down on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor arms resting beside you, close your eyes and focus on your breath. How do you naturally breathe? Through your nose, your mouth, shallow chest breathing? Do you hold your breath or “forget” to breathe? Do your shoulders lift by your ears? Can you follow the oxygen moving through your body? Take 3 or 4 breathes simply noticing what is going on for you right now.

STEP 2 – BALLOONS for expansion & space

Begin taking slightly longer, slower, deeper breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. Think of sipping in the oxygen with the nostrils like 2 straws, drawing the air into the bottom of the lungs and allowing it to expand and move the rib cage 3 dimensionally, front-side-back, like 2 balloons inflating. These inflating balloons will encourage a gentle stretch of the muscles between the ribs, the intercostals, and a slight lifting of the upper spine. Do not force this but simply notice your lungs gradually having greater expansion as the body starts to relax and open. This space will grow from the bottom of the lungs up to the top of the collarbones, creating length in the spine, more ease for the diaphragm, and efficient oxygenation of the blood. Follow the air as it travels through your body outward from your lungs to limbs, hands and feet and back to your trunk and heart. Sense the circulating blood carrying fresh oxygen to your muscles, organs, brain and all the cells of your body and washing away waste as it continues to refresh you and calm your central nervous system. Continue with a focus on the inhalations for 1 minute or approximately 10 breath cycles.

STEP 3 – THE CORE HAS A FLOOR for support & strength

Now take your focus to a slightly more active exhale to wake up your deep abdominals and pelvic floor. Continue breathing in through your nose to expand the ribs and lift the spine and then exhale slowly through pursed lips, like you are blowing through a long straw. While exhaling, notice the ribs deflating and actively draw the muscles of the deep abdominals and anterior pelvic floor softly inward and upward toward them. Contracting the anterior pelvic floor feels like lifting the front genitals for men or drawing up the vagina walls for women, and the deep abdominals slightly compress the belly and cinches in the waistline. Feel the deep support of your abdominal belt becoming snug and stable around your belly and low spine, and the floor of your core softly contracting with each exhale and releasing on inhales. Continue for 10-15 breathes or 1-2 minutes.

Please note that core stabilization does not come from contracting the muscles around the anus or by jamming the low spine down into the floor. Instead the back and pelvis should remain neutral, supporting the natural curvature of the lumbar spine. Also the belly should not pop out or feel hard and distended but softly “scoop” inward and back, like you are zipping up a pair of jeans. A feeling of pushing or bearing down actually destabilizes the core, creating tension and holding patterns not suitable for finding deep strength and ease of movement. Instead effective core stabilization, supported by the breath will help you safely transfer energy and force from the spine to the pelvis and legs for both grace and strength, decompress the vertebrae for better posture and mobility and give you a flatter stomach!

After 3 minutes of focused breathing you will feel refreshed, relaxed and re-centered, ready to take on your world with strength and ease!