FITNESS FOCUS: Breathing. We know that breathing is the essence of life. It is our first act and last act on this earth. Our breath serves to invigorate our bodies by increasing oxygen to the blood, cleanses us of toxins, focuses and calms us. But, there is something else rather interesting about our breath…Did you know it is one of only 2 actions our body performs either completely voluntarily or involuntarily? (The other is eye blinking!) Dr. Andrew Weil, author and expert on integrative medicine states, “Breath is the key to health and wellness, a function we can learn to regulate and develop in order to improve our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.” He goes on to say that if we learn to control the breath when we use it voluntarily- he suggests slower, longer,deeper, quieter breathing for optimal benefits-then even when our body is breathing on its own, it will have the same characteristics. This is due to the connection between two sets of nerves, one belonging to the voluntary nervous system and one to the involuntary nervous system. The breath is actually the bridge between these two systems.
Breath control is key in many fitness pursuits. It helps to regulate the pulse, increase oxygen to the muscles, focus the mind on the work out, and, in Pilates, is used to engage the core muscles for maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
Here is an exercise to practice controlling the breath voluntarily. If you learn Pilates breath control during your exercise movements, eventually you will find that your natural breathing will have the same characteristics and provide your body with the same benefits. (Like, for example, engaging your core naturally!)
This exercise will help you feel the lateral expansion of the ribcage with the breath:
- Wrap your hands around the lower part of your ribcage.
- Hold your hands so that the fingertips touch in front of your chest.
- Inhale: Let the breath travel down your spine and expand into your back and sides so you feel your fingertips separate, ribcage moving out to the side and back, by your breath.
- Repeat for several minutes.
FAITH FOCUS: We can also use the breath to engage our CORE in Christ by practicing Breath Prayer. This centering prayer focuses our minds and hearts on the presence of God, His Holy Spirit, the Breath of Life, flowing through us. As we learn to incorporate God’s Word into our breath voluntarily, we will see that it becomes part of our natural rhythm, His daily Bread intermingled with our daily breath.
In her book, The Cup of Our Life, Joyce Rupp suggests these breath prayers:
Held in your mercy (inhaling) . . . held in your love (exhaling)
I stand . . . beneath the cross
Send your light . . . send your truth
Strengthen me . . . encourage me
Practice these breath prayers at the beginning of your devotion time, to calm yourself in the busy times of the day, or even during your Pilates routine…I hope that you will find that you are invigorated, rejuvenated, and strengthened as Breath of the Holy Spirit flows through you, engaging your CORE in Christ, moving you with rhythm through His will for you today and always.
More on Breath Prayer coming soon!