Posted on January 5, 2021
On my last day in the clinic in 2020 I was working with a contortionist and we got to talking about breath and how we can use it to support our movement. The concept of breathing out to get through a difficult moment seems appropriate for reflecting on 2020. So as we all took a big exhale at the end of a very trying year, I am taking in a hopeful breath for 2021. With that in mind, I am happy to share a blog post on breathing and how it can give you relaxation, power, and mobility.
Starting from the basics, breathing is how we get oxygen to our brains and muscles. So it’s pretty important to our day to day life and critical to getting our bodies moving. Every time we breathe in our diaphragm contracts creating more space in the ribcage and allowing our lungs to expand. When we breathe out, our diaphragm relaxes and the space in the ribcage decreases forcing air outward. If we are breathing more heavily then other muscles join the movement party to help with that ribcage expansion and contraction.
When we are moving, and especially when working on new or difficult skills, we can use these natural breathing mechanics to help make learning and training easier.
The secret is that our lower abdominal muscles (the transversus abdominus and obliques) help with exhalation. By harnessing the power of our breath we are able to improve our core stabilization. As we exhale our lower abdominals pull the ribcage down and in creating a connection from our ribcage to our spine and down to our pelvis. It is a way to find and recruit our lower abdominal muscles when we are doing movements that are challenging.
By harnessing our breath we may not have to think quite as hard about “pulling our belly button in” or “engaging our core”. We can get all that support and power with a well-timed exhalation. A core contraction isn’t a static position. It is one that changes intensity depending on the demands on the body. When you know you need a bit more to initiate a difficult movement beginning an exhale just before can give you a bit more oomph!
Ok, but what does that have to do with contortion? EVERYTHING.
First of all, contortionists are strong as heck and can generate movement and power from extreme ranges of motion. If they aren’t able to stabilize, transfer, and distribute those forces there is no way they would be able to actively move their legs while in a chest stand (not to mention breathe).
Secondly, our bodies are better able to relax when we have active control over a motion. It allows our nervous system and muscles to relax. Imagine you are walking on ice… now imagine a solid floor… Can you see how it is easier to relax when you have a strong solid base of support. Contortion isn’t about letting everything go, it is about strength and support that allows the body to move fully.
Breath is our body’s support system. It gets oxygen in and supports movement across the body. If this sounds complex, just breathe 😊 We do it all day everyday and as long as you aren’t holding your breath, it’s working
Want to learn more about how your abdominals work? Check out my online aerial anatomy courses. circusanatomy.com/aerial-anatomy