The Link Between the Mind and Body

It’s something you do every day, every minute, every second yet you wouldn’t give it a thought unless you couldn’t do it and then it would quickly become an issue. What is it? It’s breathing. Without it we die, with it we live and we can enhance our entire being by our awareness of it.

It’s interesting to watch people breathe. As Pilates instructors we are keyed into it not only for ourselves but for our clients. We watch them and ask them to be aware of their breath because it will facilitate their ability to exercise and to maximize their exercise experience. It’s amazing how utterly unaware people are of their breath.

When a new client comes to you, it’s a good bet that one of the first things you do with them is observe their breathing patterns (whether they know it or not.) From my perspective, I believe that only a small percentage of humans take full, deep breaths. Most breathe very shallow, barely inflating their lungs at all. You can see their bellies or chests rise as they inhale and when they exhale you wait for them to expel all the air but it doesn’t seem to happen. One of the biggest challenges we face is getting our clients to breathe properly and efficiently and become fully aware of their breath. Accomplishing this will help them better understand each exercise and ultimately reap more benefits from doing Pilates (and any other exercise.)

So what is it about the breath that makes it so important?

The obvious answer is that it draws in oxygen on the inhale and eliminates carbon dioxide and other waste and impurities on the exhale. The breath can also be a reflection of one’s state of mind. When nervous or anxious, the breath shallows and speeds up and it may become difficult to focus. This is the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system kicking in. For those who recognize awareness and control of the breath, those symptoms can be reversed by consciously slowing the breath and fully inhaling. It is an excellent example of how breath can be the link between the mind and body.

Consciousness of breath during exercise helps clients better engage their abdominals while providing some sort of rhythm for movement. Lateral ribcage breathing facilitates engagement of the deeper abdominal muscles and intercostals because these muscles are recruited to help expel air from the lungs, sort of a squeezing or wringing of the lungs. By having the awareness, clients can more efficiently use this wringing to fully exhale which in turn can help them feel the activation of the deep abdominal muscles.

Sometimes getting a client to understand the linking of breath to movement can be one of the most daunting tasks we face. It can be frustrating for both of you but the payoff is certainly worth the effort. You can almost see it in their faces when they finally “get it.” Once that is accomplished they will most certainly get more out of their workouts both physically and mentally. One of the best compliments you’ll ever get is when a client tells you how aware they’ve become of their breath when they aren’t with you.

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