Breathing is the first and last thing we do in life. We do not have to consciously think about all the breaths in between, but efficient breathing habits contribute to maintaining good health, developing healthy movement habits, improving posture, and even reducing pain. Pilates teacher training Sydney develop a technique for breathing and posture improvement.

Attention to your current breathing habits can help you achieve better overall health. With a little time and attention, you can be confident that your breathing habits support your healthy body and active life.

You might discover that you breathe differently in different positions. (Standing might be different than seated, lying on your back, vs. belly, vs. side lying, kneeling, right-side up vs. upside down… ) It is not a big deal right now to know what you do in all of these positions, but in time you’ll want to notice how your breathing habits change depending on what you are doing.

To Get Started… Let’s Assess Your Current Breathing Habits:

Take a moment and focus on your breath. You can do this standing or seated. Focus on your basic, everyday breathing, so pick a position that is comfortable. If possible stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself breathe.

Where do you feel (or see) the air go inside your body as you inhale?

If air goes into your belly on the inhale: Your belly is expanding forward on your inhale, and you are losing the support of your abs and your lower back is going into extension. The result contributes to reduced core support, compression and lower back pain.

If air goes into your chest on the inhale: You are increasing the extension of your upper spine with each breath. This means your whole back is arching, creating tension in the mid-to-low back and eliminating the opportunity for you to fully fill your lungs with air. Breathing will be quick and shallow. It might seem almost impossible to take in a really good deep breath.

With the upper back muscles overworking it can be difficult to get the lower abdominals to function well for balance and support. High chest breathing also elevates the shoulders and increases neck & shoulder tension.

If air goes into your back and lower ribs on the inhale: You will notice that inhaling actually improves your tall lifted posture. Done well, you fill up your lungs from the bottom to the top, which lifts the ribcage up off the hips, and decompresses the spine, creating more joint space for healthy movement.

This “back and bottom rib breathing” is called Posterio-lateral breathing, and it is the Pilates-style of breathing that is ideal for improving posture and supporting healthy movement habits. Generally speaking, this in NOT most peoples every-day breathing method. But ideally, this is the breathing habit I would like to encourage you to develop!

Take a few minutes and focus on feeling this Posterio-lateral, Pilates-style breath in your body. Breathe-in so that the back of your spine and ribcage fills with air. Your lungs are located underneath your ribs and your ribcage spans the almost the whole torso. The ribs are attached to the spine, so when you breathe in think about filling up your lungs from the bottom of your ribcage all the way to the top of your spine.

Need a visual image? If you tied a water balloon to a sink and turned on the water, which end of the balloon would fill up first, the bottom or the top? The bottom, right! This is the same way you need to you fill your lungs with air, from the bottom to the top.

This back-rib breathing technique increases the natural curves of your spine. Done well, you will notice that you get taller on every inhale. Ideally, on every exhale you will gather a little more core support to keep you from slouching as you exhale and deflate the lungs.

Now, let’s take a look at your shoulders, neck, and head while you breathe.

For this it will be very helpful to stand in front of your mirror and watch what your neck head and shoulders is doing as you inhale.

  • Do you see the front of the neck grip and tighten as you inhale?
  • Do your shoulders actively hike up around your ears on your inhale?
  • Does your head get closer to your shoulders or farther away as you inhale?

If you notice, tight muscles in the front of your neck, see your shoulders actively hike up towards your ears (instead of just riding up with the fill of the ribcage), or notice that your head gets closer to your body as you inhale… you are jamming your head into your body with every breath!

These bad breathing habits can contribute to neck and shoulder pain or headaches!!!

Strive to carry the inhale up the spine with a relaxed neck, and continue the lift all the way up to the base of the skull. You should feel like your head is a helium balloon floating up to the sky on your inhale. Done well, the shoulders will rise a little, but only because you are filling with air not because they are actively lifting. If anything, you might almost feel your shoulders go down, the farther you fill the lungs with air to support lifting and lengthening the upper spine, neck and head.

The shoulders dropping (or pulling down from the bottom tips of the shoulder blades) can be an anchor point for leverage to ensure that your spine elongates as you inhale. This counter-leverage may stretch your neck muscles a bit if the neck is tight. By keeping your head up, lighter at the top of your spine and doing less gripping with your shoulders and neck muscles when you inhale, you will begin to notice a significant reduction in neck pain. For me personally, figuring this out and improving my breathing habits solved my weekly “Friday afternoon headaches” completely!

Find Yourself Feeling Dizzy?

It is normal to feel lightheaded or dizzy as you begin to practice different breathing habits. Especially when focusing on expanding the lungs and lengthening the spine for a deeper inhale and more forceful exhale. Do not overdo it. If you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy, go back to a shallower, more normal breath until the dizziness goes away – This might take only a few seconds, or possibly a minute or two.

The easier it gets to breath into your back the stronger your muscles become to accomplish the separation of the ribs and lift of the spine as you inhale.

Developing new breathing habits probably will not happen overnight. But throughout your day, when you have a quiet moment to check in with your body and focus on your breath, pause and take 5-10 breaths.

Strive to feel the air filling up from the bottom of your lungs to the top, lifting and lengthening to improve your tall posture. Inhaling lengthens the natural curves of the spine, lifts the ribs up off the hips, and the head off the neck. The more your shoulders relax, the easier it is for your neck and head to float up. As you exhale, maintain support with your abdominals.

In time, you will notice that your body naturally begins to use this as your everyday breathing habit. For now, conscious control of your breath can reinforce your new and better breathing habit for whole-body health.

Check out Aliesa George’s exercises for better breathing habits at the Centerworks blog:

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Improve Posture and Reduce Pain With Better Breathing Habits