Why discuss breathing? We do it automatically, so should we pay any attention to our breath? Thinking about it, what an amazing concept: the activity that we must do constantly for life takes no effort at all! Unless there are special circumstances, such as an illness, or under water activity, it is easy to neglect this so important function. In this article I will discuss using breath for mindfulness, health, and the use of breath in Pilates.
Many studies have demonstrated the health benefits of meditation. By lowering stress and the associated hormones, meditation can have a positive effect on anxiety, pain, depression, can lower blood pressure, and help with creativity, just to name a few of the benefits. Meditation does not have to be complicated or take up a lot of time. Start with breath. Sit comfortably (can be on a chair, you don't have to assume the locus position!) and set a timer for 5 minutes. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Notice how your body expands with the inhale, and relaxes during the exhale. Bring all your attention to breathing. If your mind wanders, no problem! This will happen several times. Just notice that your mind has wandered, put a little smile on your face, and come back to attentive breathing. When your timer goes off, open your eyes and go about your day. Anyone can find this nice 5 minute break in their day.
The next time you are feeling stress, anxiety, or just general busy-ness in your day, notice your breathing. You may notice shallow breathing. Throughout the day, in addition to your meditation break, take the time to check in to your breath, and slow down for a few deep breaths. Full your lungs fully for a count of 5, pause, and then exhale for a count of 5. In addition to a calming effect, learning to breath fully has many other health benefits. Most of our body's toxins are released through our exhale, so deep breathing helps rid toxins. Other benefits when we have deep breaths include reduction of pain, massage and increased circulation to our organs, supplying muscles and brain with oxygen, encourage proper posture, and strengthening the lungs. The list goes on.
In fitness in general, and specifically with Pilates based exercise, breath is key. We need to keep bringing fresh oxygen to our working body. During Pilates we never hold our breath, but focus on full inhales and exhales to expel stale air and toxins, and replenish and energize the body with fresh oxygen. Breath and movements are often coordinated to encourage this replenishing of the body. One example is during the "Hundreds" exercise, breath is coordinated with pumping arms movements, where we breath in for 5 pumps, and out for 5 pumps.
Joseph Pilates, founder of the pilates exercise method, stated "Breathing is the first act of life and the last. Our very life depends on it.”
So sit tall, smile, and breathe.
PS - On the topic of meditation, if you are looking for a meditation app, I use and recommend Insight Timer. It is free and includes thousands of guided meditations and talks.