Today I am going to share with you my #1 Tip for Strengthening your CORE,
(that you can do anywhere, at anytime, wearing anything, or nothing at all) LOL

Learn to Breathe Correctly!

Yup, that’s my #1!

99% of my students are not good breathers. I have seen it all and have been there myself. There are belly breathers, shoulder-lifting breathers, breath holders, chest breathers, mouth breathers, chipmunk-cheek breathers, panters, huffers and puffers. There are even those who forget to breathe! Which one are you??

I have played a lot of different sports and have had some great coaches in my life, but even with a Degree in Human Kinetics and certifications as a Personal Trainer, it wasn't until I became a Certified Pilates Teacher that I understood what the real "core" muscles are (not just the 6 pack!) and the important impact that breathing well has on a good functioning and stable core.

Some breathing practices can be used for the purpose of deep relaxation and meditation. That is a different topic completely where the breath becomes a focal point to harness a wandering mind. But, if what you want is a more stable core, less back pain, a flatter belly, better posture, and to have more fun in your daily activities and better performance in your sports, then learning to breathe “Pilates Style” is the key to success.

Your main breathing muscle is the diaphragm, which is a dome shaped muscle making up the top shelf of the core container, resting above your stomach and just under the bottom ribs. It initiates the inhales by descending, pulling air down into the lungs. Breathing is mostly an unconscious and automatic act, but like all muscles the diaphragm can be strengthened by becoming aware of its actions and practicing using it effectively and mindfully.

Without a well functioning diaphragm people tend to elevate their shoulders, which is an attempt to unconsciously create the vacuum effect needed to pull air into the lungs. Do you lift your shoulders as you inhale? Try to visualize the dome of the diaphragm moving downward instead, toward your pelvis when you inhale. Breathe in slowly through the nose and encourage the diaphragm to increase its active pull downward.

As air is drawn into the lungs, the ribcage fans open to allow more space. Encouraging the air out into the widening ribcage is referred to as deep, lateral breathing and doing so helps bring oxygen into the bottom of your lungs where it is best absorbed into your blood stream and gently stretches your mid back. If the ribs are stuck due to tight rigid muscles the breath has limited space to go. It might only get as far as the upper chest, resulting in shallow, rapid breathing and poor oxygen uptake. Often this will result in panting or mouth breathing as the individual tries to gulp enough air. However if practiced mindfully, the action of improving deep, low, lateral breathing will ultimately improve the rib and spine movement, and slow down the breath cycle.

Place one hand over your chest and take 3 regular breaths. What do you feel? Does your hand lift on each inhale? Are your breaths quick or slow? Do you breathe in through your nose or mouth? Now place your hands on the sides of your ribcage. Can you breathe like an accordion expanding, and feel your ribs open outward? Or do they feel tight and compressed? Try a few side bends, reaching one arm over your head to gently stretch the side body. Now try again, breathing this time a little slower and a little wider. Try to count to 3 or 4 or 5 as you inflate your lungs like a balloon. How does that feel?

Then on the exhales your deepest core muscles get involved. Specifically the pelvic floor muscles and the transversus abdominals (TA), or what I call your “corset" since it wraps all the way around your middle from front body to back spine, pull gently inward and upward. This gentle navel to spine engagement and lifting of the pelvic floor is the key to stabilizing your low back, supporting your internal organs and creating a visually pleasing result of holding the stomach in - much like an actual girdle would! It also helps to press the diaphragm back up and the air out of your lungs. You can especially feel this when you cough or sneeze. Feel this on your own body, placing one hand at the low belly and gently drawing the low belly in and the pelvic floor up as you exhale.

And so there you have it. The pumping of the breath works with the co-contractions of the deep core muscles (the diaphragm, pelvic floor and TA). If you practice utilizing a slow, full, lateral breath, and a slow, full, gentle compressing exhale, Voila! you are improving core function and strength with every breath. Plus you can practice anytime, anywhere, without breaking a sweat. I utilize my conscious breathing all the time. It has become natural to do this when I take my daily walks, when sitting and working on the computer, during activities such as lifting groceries, playing golf, hiking, and of course when I am practicing my Pilates.

Wishing you good health and good breathing!