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The Basic Principles: Breathing

Breathing properly promotes effective oxygenation of the blood, focuses the mind on each task and helps avoid unnecessary tension, particularly in the neck, shoulders and mid-back. Exhaling deeply can also help activate the deep support muscles of the body.

A three-dimensional breath pattern is encouraged, expanding the rib cage in all directions without neglecting anterior, lateral or posterior portions. During exhalation the rib cage closes in and down while the spine flexes slightly. For this reason, an exhale is suggested to accompany and facilitate spinal flexion. During inhalation, the rib cage opens out and up while the spine extends slightly. Therefore, an inhale is suggested to accompany and facilitate spinal extension. An exhale may be used during spinal extension in order to maintain abdominal recruitment to stabilize and support the lumbar spine.

In all exercises, the breath and awareness of stabilization should precede the actual movement.

Experimenting with breathing

Noticing Natural Breath Pattern

With body supine, breathe smoothly, noticing the natural breath pattern. Is one area affected more than others: the abdominal cavity, upper chest, sides or back of the rib cage?

Breathing while hugging knees

Sit on a Mat, upper body and head rounded forward, hands resting on knees or shins, neck relaxed.

Focus on sending breath into the entire rib cage, allowing the abdomen to expand slightly. Avoid a shallow breath solely into the upper chest and shoulders.

Facilitate this breath pattern by palpating the lower posterior-lateral rib cage and encouraging full expansion. There should be light engagement of the abdominal wall, allowing the diaphragm to depress, and subsequently expand the abdomen slightly.

Abdominal Wall Engagement

The abdominal wall (transversus abdominis in particular), which is a support for the inner organs, also aids in forcing air out of the body as it compresses the abdominal cavity. Contraction of the deep pelvic floor muscles will achieve co-contraction of the transversus. Activation of these deep stabilizing muscles should be incorporated into the breath pattern. Feel the pelvic floor muscles gently contracting and lifting. Try seated or on all fours. To feel activation of the transversus, lie in a neutral position and place fingertips just medially to ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine). On an exhale, perform a submaximal contraction of the transversus, feeling it become taut beneath the fingers. There may also be a flattening sensation along with a submaximal contraction of the pelvic floor. Avoid the feeling of hollowing or pulling the belly button toward the spine and there should be no muscle bulging beneath the fingers.

Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth can help regulate the breath and encourage a fuller breath pattern. Exhaling through slightly pursed lips may bring more awareness to the contraction of the abdominal muscles.

Breathing Supine (lying on back)

Inhale Breathe in through the nose, expanding rib cage three-dimensionally.
Exhale Focus first on gentle pelvic floor and transversus engagement. As you exhale more deeply, the obliques will be engaged to help press the air out.
Inhale Breathe in through the nose, maintaining engagement, feel three-dimensional expansion of rib cage and abdomen.
Exhale As before.
Hugging knees
Breathing supine