Breathing – That’s What Your Nose Is For!
Breathing…it’s fundamental. We don’t think about it in daily life…an autonomic action…but, boy, does it become an issue in Pilates. It seems that every school of Pilates teaches a different way to breathe. What was Mr. Pilates’ intention?
Well, Mr. Pilates just wanted you to breathe properly. Proper breath is both inhalation and exhalation through the nose.
Yes…through your nose.
Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nostrils. The entire system of your nostrils, to sinuses/nasal cavity to trachea to lungs is designed to heat, hydrate and purify the air you take in so that it is prepared to oxygenate your blood…the stuff of life.
When you breathe through your mouth, you dry out the tissues of your mouth, trachea and lungs as well as allow in every molecule of pollution. The dryness and particles add not only to bad breath, but also open you up for infection. The more dry your membranes, the more liable to crack. Those cracks become entryways for bacteria and viruses to enter your system.
The very small entryway of your nostrils is your first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. Your lips and mouth are far bigger than nostrils allowing a lot of danger in. Directly inside your nostrils are nose hairs. While they seem rather annoying, they are incredibly functional catching big debris and small. Air passing through these hairs is literally combed. Teeth and tongue don’t do quite the same thing. Those nose hairs also help heat and hydrate the air which is vital for respiration.
If that’s not convincing enough, the mucus in your nose is another catch-all for particles and gives a means of getting rid of these particles from your body. Blowing your nose allows you to expel the dirt and debris that you take in without letting it enter deeply into your body. If you take everything into your mouth, then you must swallow and allow every bit of polluted debris to go through your digestive track, liver, kidneys, etc. That takes up far too much energy. It’s inefficient. Why make your body work harder than it needs to? Use what you’ve got. Your nose and sinuses were meant for this!
One more thing, because the air has to pass through the wild caverns of your sinuses, warm and deep within your body, the air stays hydrated sometimes moistening the tissues it passes by and other times taking on more moisture. And the cilia (microscopic hairs) beat back and forth to move that mucus where it needs to get to get out of you! (Horrid, yes…but incredible!)
Breathing through your nose is brilliant! And all you have to do is close your mouth!
But wait…there’s more!
When you work to breathe through your nose in exercise…it’s actually work! Yes! And your goal in exercise is exertion. Mr. Pilates wanted you to learn to breathe correctly. Part of it is to have a complete and strong exhalation. When you exhale completely, not only do you rid yourself of stale, old air, but you create space to let in fresh, new air. A strong exhalation through your nose requires effort from your abdominals…your deepest abdominals. Your transverse abdominus is your deepest layer of abdominals. It’s the layer we’re seeking to connect with in Pilates. And a great way to connect is to work the exhale because the transverse abdominus aids in exhalation! While it works when you exhale through your mouth, it doesn’t have to work very hard at all. A strong exhalation through your nose with the effort of your transverse abdominus helps you make a healthy core connection.
OK…so what do you teach your clients?
Beginners have a difficult time coordinating their breath. Except for a few exercises that can teach them where to inhale and exhale (The Hundred, The Roll Up, Spine Stretch Forward and Breathing), there is little reason to teach breath in other exercises at the beginner level.. Wait until they are more intermediate before layering on many breathing cues.
The action of in and out through the nose can wait, too. It takes a lot of mental energy to get this physical coordination. If your clients ask, then have them try. If they can’t do it…that’s fine. Eventually, they will be able to coordinate it all.
If they can do in the nose, but can’t do out through the nose (the more difficult action, for certain) then they can do a modification for a while: Inhale through the nose, then exhale strongly through pursed lips as though you’re blowing through a tiny straw. That narrow passage way through the lips simulates a nostril. At least it will take effort from the transverse abdominus to push the air through that tiny opening and considerable focus.
When it is possible, when your client has become adept at this modified breathing, then advance the breath to the ideal breath: in through the nose, out through the nose. Don’t forget to advance your clients to idea versions of exercises and actions. This one in particular.
What about when your client’s nose is stuffed or because of other sinus problems your client can’t do this breath at all…no way no how? Then just make sure your client is breathing in and out and not holding his breath (unless that’s part of the action of the exercise, of course).
What’s beautiful about this breath (in and out through the nose), is that it is a simple example of how actions we do in Pilates are intended to be actions we do in the rest of life. This is how you breathe in Pilates…and how you are meant to breathe in life. Now, I hope it’s clear why.
Close your mouth and breathe through your nose! What else is it there for? Just to smell? Your mouth is for eating, drinking, talking and kissing. Your nose is for smelling and breathing! And it looks cute in the center of your face!
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