This week 6 years ago I lost my Mom to a myriad of breathing and lung related illnesses. Her illness showed me how difficult it can be for clients to breathe fully. Inhaling in particular seems to be the most problematic.
Lungs mature by age 25 then from 35 it’s normal for lung function to decline as we age, if action is not taken. Healthy lungs can be maintained with exercise that cause us to breathe more (aerobic) breathing exercises can also be valuable. For people with lung function issues breathing exercises can have a very positive effect in keeping the lungs efficient.
When lungs are healthy the Diaphragm does about 80% of the work to fill the lungs, then send the waste out. When lungs aren’t functioning at their best they lose their elasticity – air gets trapped then over time this stale air builds up, the result? – the Diaphragm can’t contract enough to bring in sufficient fresh Oxygen. When the Diaphragm’s not working well the body will use other muscles, neck, back and chest, this means lower Oxygen levels and less available for activity or exercise.
When shallow breathing is the natural pattern the domino effect is a restriction of the ribcage due to the lack of expansion and contraction, then stiffness in the thoracic spine. As a Pilates teachers we have a goal to help our clients who are affected by restricted breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is the chosen breathing method for Pilates practice.
This exercise can be done standing sitting or laying down. Standing or Supine place hands on the belly, as they breathe in deep and full they should feel their belly inflate, pushing out against their hands, when they breathe out it will naturally relax. You’ll be able to see this. I suggest a client repeats this deep breathing 5/6 times asking them to feel the belly protrude each time as the cavity of the ribs is filled. Sometimes it takes several breathes before they’re clear about the sequence.
You’ll observe – particularly in standing when the client uses the upper chest and back to initiate the inhalation – this is when they’ll have difficulty experiencing the protrusion of the belly. Now it’s time to suggest a supine position. In supine they can relax without the stress of standing still which can cause an older client to become tense, especially if they have balance issues.
When they’ve mastered the full breath I continue to offer this as a preparation or closing phase to a session by increasing the length of time starting with inhaling for 3 counts and exhaling for 3 gradually increasing to 10. This may take several weeks, or may plateau at anything from 6-8 depending on you physical health or if you suffer with any breathing issues.