10.3 Fuel: Breathe & Flow

When we are working with yoga students or even pilates students, breath work can be woven in pretty seamlessly. Our clients are used to us talking about letting the breath lead the movement, or about the quality of the breath. So they probably won't blink an eye, even if they come to you for a movement or relaxation experience, if you work with them on the breath.

But even though it can be woven in without drawing much attention to it, if we want to empower our clients to make lasting changes to the way they breathe, we need to explain to them why they should care.

We take somewhere between 20-25,000 breaths a day, so most of our clients' breathing is going to happen when they aren't with us! We need to give our clients tools to consciously practice breath work, multiple times a day, every day, and not just when they are on the yoga mat or working with you.

So why should we care about breathing mechanics? There are many reasons, but here are the four that top my list when I talk to my clients:

  1. Breathing mechanics are tied to posture. Not just the primary muscle for inhalation, the diaphragm attaches directly to the sternum, ribs, and lumbar spine, never mind the extensive and complex soft tissue (and pressure!) connections that tie the diaphragm and its movement with tissues as far up as the throat, as low as the pelvic floor, and to the abdominals as well as the muscles of the back. Unsurprisingly, then, the diaphragm is also important for trunk stability. Consequently, when our posture is compromised, so is our breathing, and vice versa, when the diaphragm is weak or unable to move with control and strength throughout its full range, the trunk will be less stable.
  2. Optimal breathing enables better movement (and athletic performance), since our muscles require oxygen to efficiently produce ATP (the form of energy used to create muscular contractions).
  3. Our concentration improves with better breathing, because oxygen is one of the brain's two main fuel sources. (The other source being glucose).
  4. Our breath is one of the fastest, most accessible ways to voluntarily regulate the nervous system, whether we want to up-regulate into fight or flight mode, or down-regulate to rest or relieve stress.

In the first half of this video, I reiterate a few of the key points about why attention to breath is so important, and about common cues and practices from different movement modalities (especially yoga) that can inhibit optimal breathing mechanics. (With a cameo from my cat, who is, apparently, deeply interested in why constantly contracting a muscle (group) impedes us from generating full force out of that muscle (group) when we need to!)

In the second half (starting at 8:00), I show an excerpt from a yoga flow I have been teaching variations on with my clients and classes throughout the past week. Please forgive the sweat and spinning attire--I tried to film this at home many times and was unable to get all the way through the sequence without one or the other of my little boys needing me. So after spin yesterday was the one time I could actually film uninterrupted this week!

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breath work, but I hope it gives you some ideas for how you can begin to integrate this into the work you do in your classes or with your clients.

As always, feel free to ask questions or share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!