As we move into spring it is a wonderful time to find opportunities for simple movement. As a movement educator I believe that health and wellbeing are already present within our body . We have all that we need within us. We simply need to start thinking and sensing the body from within. We can then discover what it is like to really know or live in our bodies.
There is a relationship between our thoughts and how this directly affects how our body feels. For example, sad experiences and grief can make you feel like you are made of lead. Small physical tasks such as hanging out a load of washing can feel like a marathon the same way that lack of movement can make us feel sad.
A simple exercise to help us feel better and one that is definitely worth trying, is to simply stop and breathe deeply. There are two exercises at the end of the article that you can try. It feels amazing, it’s easy to do and you can do it anywhere, anytime! Inventor of the Pilates method of exercise, Joseph Pilates, expounded 6 principals of movement of which the first is breath. He famously wrote more than 100 years ago:
“Breathing is the first act of life, and the last. Above all, learn how to breathe correctly”.
Breath plays an especially important role in contributing to or alleviating stressful states. It is indeed, the very first act and the very last act of life for everyone. It is with us for our entire life but we do not pay it enough attention or realize its importance.
In his book ‘Return to Life’, Joseph Pilates wrote, “To breathe correctly, you must completely exhale and inhale, always trying very hard to squeeze every atom of impure air from your lungs. The lungs will automatically completely refill themselves with fresh air. This supplies the bloodstream with vitally and necessary life-giving oxygen. The complete exhalation and inhalation of air stimulates all the muscles into greater activity”.
As we know, breathing is the process of exchanging gases between the cells of an organism and the external environment. It is how the body replenishes itself with oxygen and eliminates waste gases such as carbon dioxide from the blood stream.
The human body requires fuel for survival, namely food and water. It also requires oxygen. Without food we might live a few weeks, without water only a few days. However without oxygen we will perish in a matter of minutes. Our ability to breathe easily commands how efficiently we can draw in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
If breathing is compromised even slightly we may not really notice it much but it can still affect our performance and wellbeing. The more breathing is compromised or becomes inefficient, the more we will notice the effect.
Deep breathing has long been utilised as a means of relieving stress and soothing the nervous system. If there is tightness or anxiety in our bodies, filling up our lungs may be compromised. What if we rarely breathe deeply? Could this increase anxiety and tightness in our bodies? We can be noticeably affected if we cannot breathe efficiently or deeply enough.
Try improving your breathing and see how energised you feel. Spend a few minutes each day paying attention to your breath and positively improving the capacity and strength of your lungs. Breathe deeply and your body will love you.
Here are some breathing exercises you can do anywhere, anytime.
Lie down on your back, with your spine aligned long and straight. You can also do this sitting up straight in a chair.
Breathe in as you count slowly to 4, pause and notice your ribs expanding to the sides, front and back – like you have balloons inflating inside you.
Breathe in further until you feel you cannot get any more air into your lungs and pause for 2 counts.
Exhale slowly for 8 counts.
Repeat this exercise 5 to 8 times. Be aware of how calm you feel. Ensure you do not get up too quickly.
Stretch and Breathe
Lie down on your back with your spine aligned long and straight and some space around you.
With your palms facing upwards, inhale deeply and bring your palms up to shoulder height as you inhale – like a snow angel. If your shoulders are mobile then take your arms up to be in line with your ears or higher if you can manage. Allow your ribs to flare upwards and your spine to extend.
Hold the breath in then exhale slowly with your jaw slightly open (make the sound “haaaa” – softly) as you move your hands back down towards your hips. Imagine you are sinking into the floor and allow your jaw and head to relax as you exhale.
Repeat this 6 to 8 times. Be aware of how relaxed you feel Take your time to stand up again.
Enjoy these exercises, they will help bring you peace and health. Something we all need right now.
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