Breathing to Reduce Stress

“How do I do the breathing?”

This is one of the most common things I get asked when people start Pilates. So this week I thought it would be good to take a moment to think about breathing. Not just how we breathe during your Pilates classes but how breathing can be used to manage stress too.


Breathing and Stress

Thankfully breathing isn’t something we usually have to think about, it happens automatically. However, the way we breathe can change, especially if we are experiencing stress in our lives. These stresses can be major life events or just the day to day hassles of daily life.

Stress can impact our body in many ways, changing the way we breathe is just one but this can often go unnoticed. When we are stressed our breath becomes more shallow and we start to breathe more in the top of our lungs. In order to get enough oxygen around the body our breathing rate has to increase. You have probably all heard about our “fight or flight” response? You may have noticed your breathing and heart rate increase at particular times of anxiety or stress. This is normal and helpful but only in short bursts. It goes back to primitive times when we used to either have to stay and fight or run away. The extra oxygen would go to our muscles to prime them ready for action!

The problem is our body only has one way to respond to stress, whether that be being chased by a bear or doing the school run! So when we have the stresses of daily life, when we are busy or trying to “multi-task” the response is the same and over time breathing in the top of our lungs can become automatic. Breathing from your upper chest requires much more effort as we are not using the diaphragm effectively. We have to use the muscles around the neck and shoulders to assist. Added to this stress makes our muscles tense, ready for action, but if we are not using the muscles then the tension builds.


So, what can we do?

Tension tends to gradually increase during the day and we don’t become aware of it until we start to feel uncomfortable. This maybe in the form of a headache, tightness in the neck or  a stiffness in the shoulders.  Once it has got to this point it is difficult to do anything about it. However, if we do some simple breathing exercises little and often throughout the day it can act to reduce tension and stop it before it accumulates.

If you are just starting out with your Pilates practise or if you want to manage stress throughout your day we have recorded a short video for you that goes through breathing using you diaphragm. These exercises can be done in standing, sitting at your desk or lying down.  If you are lying you may find it helpful to place your hands on your stomach instead. The exercises only take a few minutes but can have a massive impact.

We hope you enjoy the video and don’t forget to sign up to our online videos and newsletter to keep updated of new posts.

Happy Breathing