“Just try not to stretch the middle of your upper back.”
Those were the words of my dermatologist as she finished the last stitch on a small biopsy in the middle of my back.
“Umm, I’m a Pilates teacher.” I mumbled, wondering how on Earth I was going to teach Pilates without moving the middle of my back.
“Yeah. You’re going to have to be careful with that. You don’t want to widen the scar.”
Sometimes the best advice of doctors and caregivers is the hardest to follow. Our exchange was followed by several hours in which I tried to immobilize my upper-middle back as I ran errands around Manhattan. I returned to the Slope with a remarkably stiff back, muscles firing unnecessarily. The back’s feeling hypertonic. Our kids were arriving home shortly. My head felt like it was out of balance on the top of my spine.
Where did I turn? To the breath.
Many of us are familiar with some of the marvelous breathing practices of yoga. My personal favorite is the Ujjayi or Ocean Breath often used in the Vinyasa style. But many of us don’t know that Joseph Pilates had an important breath component in his method as well. It is one of my favorite zones of Pilates exploration, yet one that does not lend itself to an extended treatment in your typical Tuesday morning express class!
I was dealing with my own psycho-emotional reaction to a small break and stitch in my skin. I was (voluntarily or involuntarily) creating quite a bit of tension in the tissues around that spot. My natural reaction to a feeling of tension or tightness in one localized spot would be to stretch. Yet I had just been specifically warned off stretching the area by my doc.
With stretching and any type of pressure on the area foreclosed, I turned my attention to my breath. Standing, sitting, prone or supine, you can use your breath to unravel your knots and release your over-firing muscle fibers. I’ve had great success with the breath for myself and my clients.
For first-timers trying Pilates breathing, lie down on a yoga mat on your back, legs extended and arms relaxed, palms up, by the sides of your torso. From there, perform some exhilerating and restorative Pilates breathing:
- Draw your breath into your back bottom ribs. Expand that area like a balloon as you inhale.
- Fill up your back and side ribcage from there. Expand to the back and sides with the breath, as much as to the front.
- Exhale through your mouth, allowing your whole front body to soften down to the ground.
- On the exhale, try a soft “ha” sound, like you’re fogging a mirror. Like you’re a child frosting up a winter window pane.
Try a Pilates breathing meditation and see where it takes you. You cannot do too much Pilates breathing. (Or Ujjayi breathing!) Use your inhales to create a bouyancy through your body, all the way up to right under your collarbones. Use your exhales to completely soften your ribcage down to the ground. Let your mid-back tension melt away on your exhales. Create new space inside your body on your inhales.
If you’d like to see a Thursday evening workshop focused on Pilates and yoga breathing for stress relief and balanced body alignment, contact us.