“Breath is the first act of life and the last.” – Joe Pilates.
I was one of the lucky ones to attend Cara Reeser and Jeremy Lavendure’s Movement Science Made Simple workshop on Breath: Your Song is your Strength. Everything about the trip was graced with good omens, my Airbnb was 2 blocks from the Pilates studio, as was Whole Foods, the rain turned to snow and I was able to ski (definitely a passion), and I skied a few days with very good friends I’ve known over 40 years. The first evening was a bit of a challenge to find the Dance center where I snuck into the back row of a full house for Cara’s mat class, and at the reception after I was able to bring hope to new Pilates teachers by sharing my experience of opening a studio and staying open for 10 years through thick and thin!
My good luck continued! I am an amateur at best in my yoga practice (30+ years), so I never in my wildest dreams would have guessed the dynamic duo were about to introduce breath patterns from my Turbodog (a Forrest-style) practice. As Cara skillfully and authentically introduced the idea of “Contrology” of the diaphragm through unique breath patterning to our group, it was a huge wake-up call to my own practice, both of yoga and of Pilates.
How can we practice a “natural” diaphragmatic breath (i.e. Franklin, Melt Method) and move with ease and control. Would a different patterning make certain Pilates exercises more efficient? It was a thought-provoking and educational weekend as we studied both the anatomy of breathing and played with our own movement patterns.
Here are a few of the pranayama (breathing) techniques we use in Forrest Yoga:
Alternate Nostril Breathing
(to name a few)
Over the years of teaching Pilates, the only one remotely close to something I teach in Pilates is Kapalabhati, very similar to Percussive Breath. Ujjayi breath is inhaling and exhaling through the nose in a very specific “back of throat” kind of way that simply heats the body in a similar way that Pilates movement does – from the inside out. Alternate Nostril Breathing, when done in a breath hold pattern, is similar to what we tend to do in an exercise such as Chest Expansion. This is a debatable subject because I know some Pilates students can inhale the whole length of the head turning from side to side. It seems that Joe’s exercises “facilitates” breath, or so I share often with students to sense ease of movement with a calm breath. There are definitely Pilates movements that require a hint of “Udiyana” – the the low belly is pulled way back, in, and up! (all?)
Over the years I’ve noticed many students lacking the ability to inhale MORE. Our breath is shallow or short. This is due to many factors, posture being one (cell phone head, slump sitting, tucked pelvis standing), or in my late husband’s case, emphysema (when you cannot exhale fully, the lungs do not inflate fully), or perhaps as we learned more from Annette recently, an overtaxed Illiopsoas muscle. Exceptions seem to be swimmers, singers (a whole other situation of diaphragmatic repatterning when learning Pilates), runners.
Kathy Stanford Grant taught several different breath patterns that I was very excited to learn last year during the KSG Heritage Training with Cara Reeser. They are very “teachable,” and my experience is the student feels empowered to embody a new breath pattern quickly! Those are: Rib Cage Breathing, Straw Breath, Ball Breath. As much as I’ve incorporated a “drop into your body” “relax” “let go to move well” idea, so many of the exercises seem enhanced by a more intentionally controlled diaphragm. Think about Roll Over, for instance. If the diaphragm naturally pushes the abdomen out, it could put pressure into the low back . Perhaps “lifting in and up” like udiyana or inhale ball breathing, there would be length in the low back instead. It’s definitely worthy of consideration! (those of you who know, know) Or how about Rolling Like a Ball! I remember Pat Guyton changed my life teaching me how the diaphragm “pushed” the pelvis up quite naturally and I got a lot more “lift” and therefore more roll (no missing links in the roll).
Seems like the past month just flew by, not in a flurry of activity mind you, but a sincere look at my studio, my own practice (both Pilates, Yoga, and now swimming). I’ve decided some missing links at the studio are Meditation, Stretch class, Pilates Progressions (already started). The landscape of our community is healthy: we are growing in every widening circles of types of movers and connecting with other teachers and styles of teaching, more private and semi-private lessons, and realizing the restorative, health-giving benefits of Pilates.
Pay attention to your breath as preventative health care, but don’t get me started on that subject! You WILL be hearing more about that in the future as we continue to grow. In the meantime, I wanted to take a DEEP BREATH and tell you we are staying five more years and hope you continue to grow and love your practice as much as we do..