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How to Breathe Deeply and Easily in Mind-Body Workouts

A breath can be rejuvenating. Sometime if you’re just feeling a little stressed, turn your focus inward for a moment. So before you get into a habit of holding your breath, put yourself into a habit of breathing deeply when stress builds.

If you ever sit back and watch a group of people in an exercise class or in a weight room, you may be surprised to see how many people hold their breath while they’re trying to accomplish a movement. Yet that very action marches them toward failure (and injury) more than many others.

If you’ve ever taken a group-exercise class, you probably remember the instructor constantly saying, “breathe!” Perhaps you’ve heard it so much that you tune it out. Now’s the time to tune in that voice, but make it your own in your own head instead of someone outside issuing commands.

If you’re having a problem accomplishing a strength move, or stretching as far as you’d like in a flexibility posture, a simple focused breath often brings you over the line to a moment of personal success.

That’s the first part, just the simple process of keeping air going in and out of your system for more success, safety, and comfort. The flow of oxygen also helps to center you, or bring you into the moment. Some mind-body disciplines may advise you to breathe loudly or with a sound for particular cleansing or meditative reasons. But that’s usually reserved for more advanced practice.

The second part is that some methods use breath work for more than just managing muscular or flexibility moves. Breathing consciously develops and facilitates a better movement of energy through your body. In fact, some mind-body forms may hold classes strictly in breathing to help clear people’s energy pathways.

So do you need to take a class in it? Oddly enough, many people do. Even if they do breathe, they often breathe so shallowly, never fully inflating their lungs, that exercise, energy, or feeling good in movement remains a stranger.

A full inhalation moves all the way down your abdomen and inflates your belly a little without causing your chest to move upward much at all. If you’re like many people, the breaths you take make your chest and ribs puff upward and then just stop there without moving down into the belly at all. If that’s true for you, try inhaling again, letting the inhalation move your belly out.

Then, there’s the matter of which way to breathe. What, you ask? There’s a wrong way? In a true and serious practice of some methods, how an instructor asks you to breathe differs. Some disciplines want you to exhale through your nose and inhale through your mouth, others want inhalations and exhalations through both nose and mouth, and some want you to breathe through your nose.

You also need to be aware of whether to inhale or exhale at certain times during particular movements. Although there may be some differences (even between different schools of one method), you generally exhale when you are exerting, bending forward (flexing) or sideways — such as on the curl-up of an abdominal exercise or a forward-bending stretch — and inhale when you are bending backward (extending) or during relaxation.

If you take a Pilates class that follows the authentic tradition of Joseph Pilates, the breathing pattern may be the opposite. Also, Pilates-inspired routines encourage very little belly expansion and more expansion of the ribs to the side and back.

So, in sum, the three main concepts about breathing pretty darn simple:

  • Breathe consciously

  • Breathe fully

  • Breathe with the movement

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