What is "Lateral Breathing?"
Lateral breathing is a pattern of breath that allows the abdominal muscles to remain engaged, while inhaling fresh air into the body. To do this, the low belly (aka the TVA) must remain engaged during the inhale and exhale. Rather than breathing into the belly, think of breathing into the ribcage and using the thoracic and back muscles to breathe. Visualize the breath expanding the ribs laterally.
Why use "Lateral Breathing?"
A primary component of Pilates is to take advantage of every breath – to inhale as much fresh air as possible, oxygenating the blood, and exhale out every bit of stale air. Joseph Pilates believed in circulating the blood to awaken the cells of the body and carry away wastes related to fatigue. For the blood to do its work properly, he maintained, it must be charged with oxygen and purged of waste gases through the breath. Thus, breathing deeply is essential because it increases circulation and rejuvenates the body. But, when we use the diaphragm to breath deeply, the lower abdomen expands with air, forcing the deep core to disengage. With lateral breathing, however, the abdominal muscles remain pulled in and engaged, all the while garnering a deep breath at the same time.
Practice makes perfect:
This technique is different from what many of us are used to, but the best way to get it is to practice at home. So, here are a couple exercises/activities to try:
1. Hold a towel around your ribs, cross it over at the front.
2. Breath in and feel the towel expanding.
3. Gently squeeze the towel as you breath out
1. Get a long exercise band and wrap it around the lower rib cage or you can even place your hands around the area. With the band, close it in front of the chest area and hold it.
2. Breathe deeply upon inhalation and imagine the breathe scooting down your spine, into the back and sides. You will feel the exercise band stretching along the sides and back with each breathe you take.
Place your two hands over your ribs, so that your two middle fingers come together on the sternum (breast bone) Concentrate on your breathing, focus on staying centered and allowing your ribs to fill out in width rather than height as in regular breathing. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth, always controlled breaths. The fingers should part as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, the fingertips should meet gently again.
See which method works best for you and let us know your thoughts or if you have any advise for others on ways to develop your lateral breath skills.
Be sure that during all these activities, you watch for doming – when your tummy rises as in normal breathing. Also, as you are practicing, imagine there are balloons under your ribcage expanding and deflating as you breath. As they deflate, visualize the ribs closing in and coming closer together.
Another great way to feel your lateral breath more deeply is when practicing your cat stretch with deep TVA engagement. From an all fours position, inhale, then, as you exhale, deeply engage the transverse abdominous, rounding through the lower back. Rather than exhaling to flat back, hold this engagement and inhale into your upper back and ribs. Exhale to deepen the contraction in the TVA once more, and then inhale to flat back. Do this two or three times a day to get a better feeling for breathing into the back, arm pits and ribs, rather than the abdominal region.
Try these methods to practice lateral breathing without conducting any exercises and then try to maintain this breath pattern in a couple exercises. You will notice how much easier the exercises are with the lateral breathing!