The Fundamentals of Breathing
We spent the penultimate Saturday of Body School exploring the muscles that help us breathe, the effect of breathing habits on posture and the brain, and how different exercise styles breathe in different ways.
We had already explored the respiratory diaphragm, so we spent some time looking at our intercostal muscles (between the ribs), some muscles in the throat and upper chest that can assist with breathing (like the scalenes, longus colli and longus capitus). Over and over again, we see this elegant design in our muscles, this beautiful and efficient cross-hatching pattern. We saw it in the decompressive muscles of the spine, in our internal and external obliques, and here again in the intercostals.
It’s All Connected
More are more research is coming out to support the idea that the way we breathe can change our posture, and our posture can change our brain chemistry. Think of it like this: A person is a chronic mouth breather, and belly breather, so the body adapts a kyphotic curve in the spine (a slouch) to make more space in the belly for the person to breathe. This posture is associated with defeat, and simply putting the body in this shape can trigger the brain to release chemicals associated with depression. By the same token, taking power poses before a job interview, smiling at yourself in the mirror, making yourself laugh all cause the brain to release chemicals associated with happiness and confidence. Even if you don’t feel that way to begin with, your brain fulfills the feedback loop of your actions. The way we breathe is a significant piece of the puzzle of posture and mood.
Different Styles of Breathing
In Pilates, we inhale through the mouth and exhale through the nose. In yoga, we inhale and exhale out of the nose. What is better?
The short story is that breathing is always better than not breathing. How you breathe can depend on the activity you are performing. In both Pilates and yoga, when you are applying pressure to the abdomen in a roll up or forward fold, you exhale to release intra-abdominal pressure. Although abdominal breathing is associated with that slouched position and defeated posture, abdominal breathing is a great way to calm the nervous system at the start of a yoga class. The key, as always, is variability and adaptability. We don’t want to get stuck in one pattern; we want our body to choose the best strategy for a given action.
The last day of this session of Body School is Saturday, May 6th! If you want to join the fun, register here!
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